Bob Jones (he preferred Bob to Bobby, say the experts) has been on my mind a lot lately as we approach the 83rd PGA Championship, which will be held at his old club, Atlanta Athletic. Were it not for Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones would have been the most popular sports figure of the first half of the 20th century. Some say that by any fair measure, Jones did eclipse Ruth. But Ruth ' warts, hot-dog-eating marathons and all -- was the media star Jones never tried to be.
Therein lays some of the appeal of the Jones legend. Although we in the game often lapse into the mistake of thinking of Jones as a career golfer, in truth, he was a career lawyer and World War II veteran who happened to have been the best golfer in the world when he was young. He loved the game, he wrote eloquently about it, and he helped build one of its most revered clubs and tournaments.
But he was not a range rat. He hardly touched his clubs in the off-season. He didnt play golf at all after 1948, when he was 46 and an advancing spinal disease made anything physical too tough for him.
In this era of trash-rapping NBA stars, overpaid baseball players, TV deals and agents, there should be a clamor for the likes of Jones. Except there does not appear to have been a likes of him. A self-refereeing gentleman (You might as well congratulate a man for not robbing a bank, he said when lauded for penalizing himself on a rules call) who avoided scandal, provided an untrammeled life for his family, and fought his way through the thick and thin of golf to reach the games pinnacle: Name his like. Lou Gehrig, maybe. But no one today.
Thats why it makes me wonder that so few people have really tried to capitalize on Jones life. Is the Jones legend that sacred?
There is a new website (www.golfspast.com) that will concentrate on selling some high-priced Jones memorabilia, some autographed or otherwise authenticated. (Example: A framed letter from Jones to golf writer Charles Price is available for $3,500.) So far, it looks as if the effort is being handled with dignity.
A company called Jonesheirs, Incorporated -- which, as the name implies, was set up by the great man's heirs -- diligently protects Bob Jones' name, image and likeness from uses it considers inappropriate to his ideals and memory. Jonesheirs reviews license requests for various uses, and in the past has entered into agreements with Callaway Golf (the late Ely Callaway was a distant cousin of Jones) and Hickey-Freeman, which makes Bobby Jones sportswear. (The Callaway relationship ended amicably this year.)
Just to show how little I know about Hollywood (a friend encapsulated his advice this way: Be afraid. Be very afraid.), I asked an in-the-know person at Callaway why no one has made a serious effort to make a feature-length movie about Jones.
It wouldnt even need to be presented as a golf movie. Jones life was poignant enough on its own. Sickly kid finds golf, becomes a player, overcomes seven years of disappointment to surpass anything the game has ever seen, founds a landmark club and a major tournament that the sports world treats as the closest thing to heaven this side of St. Andrews, for the second half of his life stoically bearing a disease that slowly eats away his spinal cord and reduces his once athletic form to something he couldnt bear to let the world see near the end ' what a story! Whats it missing?
Bank. Thats a movie term for the quality Nicholas Cage, Bruce Willis and Angelina Jolie add to celluloid.
But if it could get made, try not crying in your popcorn during that film.
Perhaps its good that Jones legacy lives in a kind of bubble, safe from exploitation from careless business interests. I suspect golf likes Jones just as he is in our memories. Hes in that pantheon that includes the young Mantle, the proud Clemente standing on second after his 3,000th (and little did we know, final) hit, and the strong Gehrig, before his reluctant goodbye speech.
Not every profit is profitable. Have a good week, Mr. Jones, wherever you are.