The Enduring Legacy of Bobby Jones
What is it about Bobby Jones that still captures the attention and admiration of the world? Why is he still held up as the ideal champion when other great athletes are remembered only because their name is on a trophy?
I think that one reason my grandfather is still revered is because he was the single most influential man in the history of golf. There is no aspect of the game upon which his shadow does not fall and there is no aspect of the game that he did not alter. I realize that a statement this brash deserves some clarification. Let me elaborate.
First, Bobby Jones lived during an interesting era in American history. He was born in Atlanta in 1902, less than 50 years after the conclusion of the Civil War. When he began to play golf competitively, it was the considered wisdom of the golf world that truly great champions could only come from the northern half of the country. This was accounted for by the fact that most championships were contested on bent-grass greens, whereas southern courses had much slower Bermuda-grass putting surfaces.
I suspect, but cannot prove, that there was also a good bit of regional chauvinism in this statement as well. Bobby Jones's success as a competitor put a quick and ignominious end to that theory as he won championships on all sorts of surfaces and on several continents. His popularity, both in the North and the South, served as a bridge between two parts of the country that still smarted from the bitter war of the 1860s.
Second, in addition to being a reconciler in his own country, Jones also served as a good will ambassador in the United Kingdom. When he began playing 'over there' in 1921, World War I had just ended. Many of us now don't fully appreciate the devastating effect that the Great War had on the British populace. The male populations of entire villages and towns either had fallen on the battlefields of Europe, were severely maimed, or had been rendered insane by their experience. At the time, there were some very bad feelings toward the brash Americans, the 'Johnny-come-latelys' who, in British eyes, came in at the end of the war, saw comparatively few casualties, and left claiming that they had secured the victory that had eluded their British allies.
My grandfather came into this potential hothouse and made a phenomenally poor first impression, withdrawing from the British Open at St. Andrews. The British press snubbed him, calling him 'a mere boy.' But a few years later, when he won his first British Open, he won the hearts of the British and Scottish people -when he asked if the Claret Jug - the trophy given to the winner of the British Open - could remain in Scotland rather than come back to the United States. The ice had been broken between him and the British.
His relationship with the Scottish people continued to grow and deepen until they took the remarkably unusual step of naming him 'Freeman of the City' in 1958. Adding some humor to his touching remarks at that ceremony, Jones said, 'Now I can officially feel as much at home here as I have unofficially presumed for years.'
In addition to being an ambassador for the game, Bobby Jones changed almost every facet of golf as we know it today. First, he affected the way we currently count major championships. National championships were always important, but did not assume their current significance until my grandfather won all of them in 1930. He set the bar by which all great golfers plan their career.
Interestingly, when the professionals needed a 'grand slam' (since they could not play in the amateur championships), they added the P.G.A. Championship and The Masters tournament. The Masters is the only major that is played on the same course every year, a course that Jones co-designed and a tournament that he founded.
My grandfather effected great changes in the technology of the game. Although he grew up on hickory-shafted clubs, after his retirement he designed the first set of steel-shafted clubs, with wood and iron heads specifically matched to the technology of the shaft. These were as radical to their day as graphite and titanium are to our day, and may even be more so. Why? Simply because in the Robt. T. Jones, Jr., clubs the vagaries of hickory were removed: for the first time in history, clubheads were designed to help the average player get the ball in the air. The golfer could focus more on the challenges of the shot and less on the whippy, high-torque shafts of the club and the knife-like blades of the day. This is why the Jones clubs remained the hottest-selling golf clubs for several decades.
Bobby Jones even changed the way we understand the golf swing. His writings are still viewed as outstanding examples of how to describe proper technique. Noted television commentators have said that Jones' instructional films are state-of-the-art by our standards today, to say nothing of the 1930s when they were filmed. Although top players have developed more efficient and powerful ways to swing a golf club, authorities no less than Byron Nelson and Jack Nicklaus have said that the average player can learn more from studying my grandfather's swing technique than from analyzing the form of any contemporary player. That's high praise from men who are not noted for hyperbole.
In almost every area one can think of in the game of golf, no name holds greater stature than Bobby Jones. The highest award the United States Golf Association gives each year is the Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship and contributions to the game. Scholarship funds in both the United States and Canada have been established in his honor that have raised millions of dollars to support student exchanges between Emory University, Georgia Tech and St. Andrews University. In Canada, a similar but separate exchange has been created between the University of Western Ontario and St. Andrews University. These exchanges are highly prized within their institutions and the Jones Scholars have gone on to very successful careers.
No discussion of my grandfather's impact on the world of golf, indeed on all sports, would be complete without mentioning his personal code of honor and sportsmanship. During his playing career, Jones conquered a fierce temper and played to a standard of impeccable integrity, several times calling penalties on himself for infractions that no else witnessed. One time, one of these even cost him a national championship.
When he was disabled by a painful, incurable disease he never complained, only expressed a determination to 'play the ball as it lies.' His character shines as brightly today as it did in his heyday, prompting Alistair Cooke to write recently in his book Memories Of The Great and The Good: 'I have done a little digging among friends and old golfing acquaintances who knew him and among old and new writers who, in other fields, have a sharp nose for the disreputable. But I do believe that a whole team of investigative reporters, working in shifts like coal miners, would find that in all of Jones's life anyone had been able to observe, he nothing common did or mean.'
Any one of Bobby Jones' achievements would make for a legendary career. That they are found in one man is remarkable. That they are found in my grandfather is personally humbling. He was, in many ways, one of the greatest men of our era, or any era.
Yet to me and my siblings and cousins, he was just 'Bub' ' our nickname for him, coined by his oldest grandson, Bill Black. And memories of the times I was privileged to spend with him, of the advice he gave me and the smiles he bestowed on me, I will treasure all my life.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early
The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...
Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.
McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.
Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.
“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.
And that was an offseason event.
“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.
As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.
So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.
His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.
It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.
There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.
There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.
While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.
There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.
Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.
He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.
Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)