Bobby Jones: Golf’s Greatest Amateur
Posted on March 8, 2017
Bobby Jones was born Robert Tyre Jones Jr in Atlanta on March 17, 1902. As a young boy he was encouraged to play golf to improve his health and strength. He quickly developed an affinity for the game and honed his skills at East Lake Golf Club. There he won his first junior tournament at age 6. At East Lake Golf Club the club professional was Stewart Maiden, from Scotland, who helped Jones but provided only basic instruction as to not overwhelm or detract from his natural talent. At 14 Jones won the Georgia State Amateur Championship, his biggest win of the time, at the Capital City Club in Brookhaven.Jones began touring the U.S. with fellow prodigy and training partner Alexa Stirling through 1917-18 playing exhibition matches to raise funds for the war relief. Jones won his first international competitions in Canada in 1919 and 1920 in an amateur team match. He also won the Southern Amateur three times in 1917, 1920 and 1922. In 1920 at age 18 Jones qualified for his first U.S. Open.
While he did experience early success on the course for Jones there was more to life than just golf. He was highly focused on school and earned multiple degrees. He studied Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech earning a B.S. in 1922, after which he went to Harvard and received an A.B. in English Literature in 1924, and then he went to Emory University School of Law in 1926. At that time there was a stipulation that students were able to take the Georgia bar exam before graduating, which Jones did after three semesters and passed thus earning the right to practice law.From the 1920s through the 1930s Jones dominated in golf tournaments, winning 13 major championships out of the 20 he entered. Today Jones is seen as the exemplary player when it comes to sportsmanship and honor on the course, but this was not always the case. In his early days Jones struggled with anger and club throwing. The most famous example was at the 1921 Open Championship which found a 19 year old Jones struggling to get out of a bunker on hole 11 at the Old Course at St. Andrews. A frustrated Jones picked up his ball and withdrew from the tournament. That moment was a turning point for Jones and he transformed his on course personality into the example of sportsmanship we all model ourselves after now.
Bobby Jones earned his first U.S. Open victory in 1923 with the help of his famed putter ‘Calamity Jane’. Calamity Jane was named after a popular female sharp shooter and was Jones key to victory. There was an incident where Jones misplaced Calamity Jane and the whole city of New York assisted in locating it. Jones eventually had to have replicas made as the original Calamity Jane’s clubface became untrue after helping him win his first three majors.After achieving success in golf Jones began to consider turning professional. Then in early 1926 Bobby Jones faced off against one of golf’s first professionals Walter Hagen. Hagen convinced Jones they should compete in a two weekend exhibition which was dubbed “The Match of the Century”. The event would be match play style and each golfer picked a course in Florida. The first weekend was played at Whitfield Estates, picked by Jones, where Hagen defeated him by 10 strokes. The second weekend Hagen chose the Pasadena Golf Club and pulled ahead of Jones with a win of 12 strokes. Some believe this humiliating defeat helped Jones decide to remain an amateur throughout his golf career. The defeat to Hagen also added more motivation to Jones to get even better.
Later in 1926, Jones became the first player to win both the U.S. and British Open Championships in the same year, dubbed ‘The Double’. To celebrate his achievement the city of New York held a ticker-tape parade in his honor. Jones continued to dominate the next few years winning more Amateur and Open championships.In 1930 Jones made history when he became the only player to win the single year ‘Grand Slam’, capturing all four major championships of the time: the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur. Jones was so confident in himself that he even bet he would achieve this at the beginning of the year. New York City held a second ticker-tape parade that year to honor Jones and celebrate his achievement, making him the only golfer to receive two ticker-tape parades.
Jones went to the Walker Cup five times representing the U.S. and captained the team twice, in 1928 and 1930. He won nine of his ten matches and helped the U.S. win the trophy all five times he competed. He also won two other tournaments against professionals; The Southern Open in 1927 and the Southeastern Open in 1930.
In 1931, at the age of 28, Jones retired from competitive golf and began developing the first golf instructional videos. He created short movies entitled ‘How I Play Golf’ which featured the big movie stars of the times and were shown in theaters. The instruction and insight provided by Jones in his videos and books still remain relevant today. He also assisted in designing the first set of matched steel-shafted clubs for Spalding.Perhaps one of his biggest impacts to the game was helping to co-found and design the Augusta National Golf Club, with Clifford Roberts and Alister MacKenzie. He also co-founded the Master’s Tournament played at Augusta and helped make it become one of the PGA’s modern major tournaments. Jones came out of retirement and played in the Masters on an exhibition basis from its inaugural 1934 start until 1948, but never finished better than 13th. In 1948 Jones was diagnosed with a rare central nervous system disease which forced him to never play golf again.
Jones matured to become known as a consummate professional on the golf course and a big advocate for sportsmanship. One example came at the 1925 U.S. Open when Jones called a stroke penalty on himself because the ball moved upon address, a penalty both his playing partner Walter Hagen and the USGA official tried to talk him out of taking. The penalty lead to Jones losing that year by a stroke. In his honor the USGA now annually awards the Bob Jones Award to the player who demonstrates great sportsmanship. In 1971 Jones passed away at the age of 69. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame with the inaugural 1974 group.
- U.S. Open: 1923, 1926, 1929, 1930
- British Open: 1926, 1927, 1930
- U.S. Amateur: 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930
- British Amateur: 1930
- Single Year Grand Slam in 1930
- Inaugural World Golf Hall of Fame Member
- Member of 5 U.S. Walker Cup teams; Captain in 1928 & 1930
- Co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club & The Masters Tournament
- USGA’s annual award for sportsmanship is named the Bob Jones Award