The genius of Bobby Jones: Discovering the secret of golf

The genius of Bobby Jones: Discovering the secret of golf

He was born in Atlanta on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1902. Most of the world called him Bobby. His mother called him Robert, his father called him Rob, and he insisted that his friends call him Bob. His full name was Robert Tyre Jones, Jr.

Jones began playing golf at age 6 at the East Lake Golf Club. As he became aware that some people played better than others, he began to swing his clubs as nearly as possible to the swing of the club professional, Steward Maiden. Fortunately, Maiden was a good model.

Jones, however, did not observe how different golfers took the club back or measure their body turn. He learned by watching the club head strike the ball and how the ball responded. Then he tried to make his ball do the same thing.


His simple approach was well ahead of its time. However, like many golfers, Jones struggled with failure.

The two-time U.S. Open champion, Alex Smith, witnessed in the spring of 1915 a young Jones executing the fierceness of his anger. He violently reposed his club after hitting a bad shot. Smith then said, “It’s a shame, but he’ll never make a golfer. Too much temper."

Smith could not have been more wrong. Jones overcame his anger and developed the kind of precision and course management that may have only been rivaled by Jack Nicklaus.

Jones described the mental attitude he tried to attain in a tournament round as a concentration upon producing a desired result so intense as to preclude any possibility of concern with the manner of swinging.

He wrote: “I liked to think of erecting a wall or other vertical plane containing the ball and my left eye, and the focus my entire concentration upon producing the desired result in front of the wall. I wanted to leave my swing to take care of itself. I was confident that the movement behind the ball would adjust itself to the proper striking.”

Jones won his first of 13 major championships at the 1923 U.S. Open. Of the majors, he only won more U.S. Amateur titles (5) than the Open (4). In fact, in the eight years between his first U.S. Open victory in 1923 and his last in 1930, Jones finished worse than second just once. He won four times, including twice in a playoff, lost twice in a playoff and finished solo second.

In the 1926 Open Championship, Jones capture his first Claret Jug. He smashed all records for the first 36 holes with a 66-68--134 during the qualifying rounds at Sunningdale.

A 66 over a layout of 6,500 yards was, in the opinion of the British critics, the finest round of golf ever player in their country. On every hole except the short 13th, Jones was on the green in regulation, and he found the green on all of the par 5s in two. In shooting equal 33s, he made six birdies. His one slip from perfection came on the par-3 13th, a 175-yarder, with a 4-iron he pushed into a trap off the edge of the green. By chipping 6 feet from the cup and holing his putt, Bobby kept his card free from bogeys.

Jones won the Open Championship in three of his four attempts (1926, '27, '30; he withdrew in 1921).

However, the British Amateur, with its seven rounds of 18-hole matches before the 36-hole final, was the most difficult for Jones to win. It took Bobby three cracks before he finally won it. He did it in the greatest year in golf history.

In 1930, Jones achieved sporting immortality when we won the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open, then the four major championships of golf, in the same year. The Grand Slam, a term coined by sports writer and Bob Jones’s biographer, O.B. Keeler, was also known as The Impregnable Quadrilateral. It was the only time it has been done. The New York Times said that Jones had taken "the most triumphant journey that any man ever traveled in sport."

Although the tournaments comprising the majors has changed, Jones remains the only man to win all four majors in a calendar year. In 2001, Tiger Woods won the Masters to complete the feat of winning all four majors in succession, albeit not in the same year.

He was 28 years old when he retired in 1930. Retirement accelerated Jones' life; it didn't slow down his contributions to the sport.

In 1931, he helped found and co-design (with Alister Mackenzie) Augusta National Golf Club. The Augusta National Invitation Tournament began in 1934. Long-time tournament chairman Clifford Roberts suggested that the event be labeled the “Masters Tournament,” but Jones thought the title was too “presumptuous.”

At the fifth tee during the first round of the first would-be Masters in 1934, Jones realized that his return to competition was not going to be too much fun and that whatever part he might have in the Masters Tournament from then on would not be as a serious contender. As he stepped up to hit the tee shot, a motion-picture camera started whirring. He stepped away from the ball. But then he could not regather himself as he once could. He pushed his tee shot into the woods on the right. Jones simply had neither the desire nor the willingness to take the punishment necessary to compete in that kind of tournament. Although he played in twelve Masters, he never finished better than 13th, in the first Masters.

In 1956, he was diagnosed by Dr. H. Houston Merritt as a likely victim of syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in his spinal cord paradoxically destroying sensory feeling but producing a constant, deep-aching pain, usually in the neck or upper arms. Jones was eventually restricted to a wheelchair.

In October 1958, he was made a Freeman of the Royal Burgh of St. Andrews, the first American so honored since Dr. Benjamin Franklin in 1757.

On Dec. 10, 1971, mostly in a gesture to please his wife Mary, Jones took the vows converting to Catholicism, with Monsignor McDonaugh of Atlanta’s Christ the King Cathedral performing the service. He died peacefully on eight days later, at 6:33 p.m., while asleep at his home in Atlanta. His wife and children were at his side.

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Claudia Mazzucco

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