The strangest year of our lives marks the 90th anniversary of a truly unique year in golf history.
In 1930, Bobby Jones completed what remains the greatest single-year feat in the game: He won the Grand Slam.
Back then, the Slam, as dubbed by O.B. Keeler — or impregnable quadrilateral, as George Trevor wrote for the New York Sun — consisted of the US Open and US Amateur, as well the Open and the Amateur Championship. He first won the Amateur at the Old Course on May 31. Three weeks later on June 20, he won the Open at Royal Liverpool. Back in the States, on July 12, he won the US Open at Interlachen in Minnesota. On Sept. 27, 1930, Jones finished off an unfathomable achievement in winning the US Amateur for the fifth time in seven years with an 8-and-7 demolition of Eugene V. Homans.
It may have never happened in the first place were it not for the US Open the year prior, played in 1929 at Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]
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On the final hole of regulation, Jones faced a 12-foot putt to secure a tie with Al Espinosa. It was a downhill slider, testing the 27-year-old Jones, who was on the verge of convincing himself to retire to his law practice. The putt went in for a final-round 79 — mind you, playing in hickories on a 6,700-yard course — that salvaged a chance to win after letting an easier victory slip through his fingers.
Keeler wrote, “He would have blown a lead of six strokes, and one more, in the last six holes. I knew in a sort of bewildering flash that if that putt stayed out, it would remain a spreading and fatal blot, never to be wiped from his record.”
He added, “I will always believe that the remainder of Bobby’s career hung on that putt and that from this stemmed the Grand Slam of 1930.”
The next day, Jones and Espinosa and their spouses went to church together. The jokes goes that was the only prayer Espinosa had. Jones won the 36-hole playoff by 23 strokes, shooting an opening 72 and a closing 69 to Espinosa’s 79-84.
Jones’ achievement hasn’t been matched since. With each passing year, it seems increasingly unlikely it’s going to happen again, only raising its place in the pantheon of sports.
Over the years, but more particularly in the last decade, the Jones family has looked to use their patriarch’s namesake, as Dr. Jones says, to continue to tell his story through commercial partnerships.
It’s not without capitalism in mind, but another important goal is to raise funds for the Bobby Jones Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation.
One of those partnerships is with Piedmont Distillery in Greensboro, N.C., which produces The Clover whiskey, which is named after the four-leaf clover given to Bobby by his mother as a token of good fortune, symbolic because he was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1902. Jones wore the four-leaf clover in every match he played, with each leaft symbolizing a different virtue: hope, faith, love and luck.
A portion of the sales — approximately $20,000 both in 2019 and 2020 — goes to the foundation, which was created in 2019 as the combination of the Bobby Jones Foundation and the Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation.
Jones himself had syringomyelia, a degenerative neck and spine condition then without a cure. In 1926, Jones began experiencing neck and back pain, which he ascribed to a crick in his neck. However, it was more than that. His right foot eventually curved under and lost sensitivity to hot and cold. Jones underwent two surgeries on his spine, one in 1948 and another in 1950, but neither helped his deteriorating quality of life. In 1956, Jones was formally diagnosed at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.
Asked later if he was bitter that the condition robbed him from playing golf further into his life, Jones said, “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots — but you have to play the ball where it lies.”
Jones died from an aneurysm on Dec. 18, 1971, weighing less than 90 lbs. and paralyzed from the neck down.
Chiari malformations, which is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. This happens when the skull is small or misshapen, putting pressure on the brain and forcing it downward. It can be a congenital issue, but it can also be caused by trauma.
A total of 3 million Americans are affected by these two conditions or those closely related, and the foundation advocates for this community.
Dr. Jones is a proud advocate for his family’s name, the good that name is still doing nearly 50 years after his passing and the significance of the Grand Slam. So, what of the Tiger Slam? Tiger Woods won four consecutive majors from the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, where he was the only player under par and won by 15 shots, to the 2001 Masters, the first of back-to-back victories in the tournament Jones founded.
Dr. Jones had been inclined over the years to somewhat equivocate the achievements, but then he heard comparisons from Gary Player that cemented his view that what Robert Tyre Jones Jr. did was, in fact, a bigger deal.
Arnold Palmer, who coined the modern Slam with Pittsburgh golf writer Bob Drum in 1960, agreed back in 2001.
“[Tiger’s] not even close,” Palmer said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The Grand Slam is to win in one year and anybody who changes that is trying to sensationalize something that isn’t real.”