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.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.