From the Golf Journal Archives - Twenty Years After

Sep 17, 2010

by O.B. Keeler

(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 1950 issue of Golf Journal.)

Alexandre Dumas used it first, nearly a century ago, but some way, in this year of grace 1950, the same title seems to fit gracefully over a little article concerning a competitive golfing career which closed in 1930.

You see, this is Twenty Years After.

And the golfing career, as may be assumed rather readily, is that of Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., known as Bob Jones, and – somewhat coincidentally – rated by a number of pop-eyed sportswriters when on his way to the Grand Slam as the D’Artagnan of Golf.

No Thought of a Slam

To this day, I don’t know when Bob set his mind on the Grand Slam of 1930. Of course, after he had won the first three tricks, the British Amateur and Open and the U.S. Open, the great chance was there. The door was open. One more – it was a sports stage set with all the world for a gallery.

Yet after he won the British Amateur at St. Andrews, I remember talking with him about the British Open at Hoylake, a fortnight away. I asked him if the St. Andrews victory would inspire him for the Open.

He grinned cheerfully. “Quite the contrary,” he said, “I’ve won the British Amateur – at last! My little expedition is a success now, no matter what happens at Hoylake. And I’m going to relax a bit. Mary and I are going over to Paris.”

The charming Mrs. Jones was along on this “expedition,” as Bob phrased it. And I’m quite sure he wasn’t steaming up for Hoylake and certainly not for a quartet of championships of which no competitor except himself at that time had won as many as two.

Bob could use a spot of relaxation after that St. Andrews affair. He had played fairly well in the Walker Cup Match at Sandwich, defeating Roger Wethered 9 and 8 in the singles. And in his first bout in the Amateur he had uncorked a lead they probably are still talking about over there. His opponent was a chap named Syd Roper, and all we could find out about Syd was that he came from Nottinghamshire and was a “fair sort” of golfer who would shoot a lot of 5s.

Par on the Old Course for the first four holes is 4-4-4-4. Syd Roper played them 4-4-4-4, Jones played them 3-4-3-2, the deuce being achieved on a hole of 427 yards with a pitch of 140 yards from a clean lie in a bunker after a long drive downwind.

As the ball trickled daintily into the cup, I heard a man in the gallery say: “I traveled eight thousand miles to see this tournament, and that shot is worth it all, and twice over!”

Then Syd and Bob halved the fifth hole, a long par 5, in birdie 4s, and Syd went on to the finish of the match at the 16th green, still 3 down to Bob, who never let go of the lead he got on the first four holes. But Syd, the “5-shooter,” scored fifteen 4s in that round, and one 5. You never can tell.

Three more tough matches came on successive days, leading into the closing round with Wethered. Cyril Tolley, the gallant veteran who, at the age of 54, went to the semifinal round of the 1950 British Amateur, also at St. Andrews, was down five times to Jones in their bout, and five times the big fellow squared. Jones had to sink an eight-foot putt on the narrow green of the dangerous Road Hole, the 17th, to stay square, and after a half at the home green, he won with a par 4 when Tolley’s pitch missed the green and a loose chip resulted in a partial stymie for him.

Bob had Harrison Johnston, 1929 U.S. Amateur champion, 4 down with five to play when Johnston won three of the next four holes. Bob had to can a putt of seven feet for the half which won the match for him at the 18th.

And George Voigt, another teammate, had Jones 2 down with five to play, when George, sheltered from a stiff crosswind by the huge gallery about the 14th tee, played a tall drive too close to the wall on the right and the breeze carried it out of bounds. After which Bob had to can another desperate putt, of 12 feet, for a half in birdie 4s at the Road Hole. He won at the home green, 1 up.

Bob said a curious thing about that 12-foot putt, identical in length with the famous putt for a tie in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

“When I stood up to it,” he told me after the match, “I had a feeling I’d never had before – that all through this tournament something had been taking care of me and that, however I struck that putt, it was going down.”

Well, it went down. But I’ll say for Bob that it was struck with a beautiful precision.

Five Were Playing Better

In a good old 36-hole match at last, Bob defeated Roger Wethered 7 and 6 after the tall Englishman had held him level for the first nine holes. Then came the Parisian expedition, and Bob and Harrison Johnston won a fine match, 1 up, with the French Amateur champion, Andre Vagliano, and the professional champion, Marcel Dallemagne, at old Saint-Germain, and came back for the British Open at Hoylake, in which (a matter of strictly personal opinion) there were at least five other competitors playing better golf than Bob Jones.

These were the American professionals, Macdonald Smith, a transplanted Scot, Horton Smith and Leo Diegel, and the British professionals, Archie Compston and Fred Robson. Bob confessed afterward that he never worked so hard in any other tournament, or had so much trouble with his game. Boiling it down, on the first three holes in the first three rounds he lost five strokes to par – and they were holes apparently well suited to his play.

Yet, when he came to the 485-yard eighth hole of the final round, he was well in the lead and knew it. And a neat little birdie 4, or a par 5, in all probability would close the door on the pursuit.

A fine drive was followed by a careful spoon shot, a dozen yards from the left front of the green on a smooth downslope.

A chip and a putt? Maybe two putts? I think it was Bernard Darwin who said afterward that an old lady with a croquet mallet could have saved Bob two strokes from that spot.

Bob tried a run-up. The blade caught the turf too soon, and it was very short. The chip was short, by 10 feet. An exasperated putt slid 30 inches past the cup. He missed coming back. It was a 7. The door, which should have been closed, was wide open, and two grim faces were peering through.

Sometimes I think Bob’s finish of that round, after that smash on the button, was his finest stretch of competitive golf. At the last, on the greatest five finishing holes in the world, it came down to a blast from a bunker beside the green of the 16th, a hole of 532 yards, where Bob had gone out for everything with a spoon after a great drive. The ball was tucked up against the front wall of the bunker, so he had to stand with his right foot in the sand and his left up on the bank. And the blast – the ball came up, floating on a geyser of sand, flopping on the green like a weary frog and rolling, and rolling... it came within four inches of holing out.

That birdie 4 on the longest hole on the course was the margin. An hour later, Leo Diegel, playing the same hole, was tied with Bob as he stood on the tee. His drive was bunkered, and he took a 6. They each finished the round 4-4. Macdonald Smith later came in with a 71, the best card of the final round, to tie Diegel at 293. Jones was on top, with 291.

I’m pretty certain that after the Second Trick, Bob wasn’t thinking about any Grand Slam. Anyway, I remember asking him – I reckon I was pretty steamed up, myself – when he was going to quit this darned foolishness.

“Pretty soon, I think – and hope,” he said. “There’s no game worth these last three days.”

I heard Bob and Cyril Tolley, on the boat train going down to Southampton to board the ship for the U.S.A., rather embarrassedly agreeing that Bob never had played golf quite so badly for so long a stretch – six weeks. And still he had won the British Amateur and Open. Cyril and Bob were sort of solemn about it. Sort of made you feel it was in the book before a ball was hit. Predestination. That sort of thing – what?

Then – Interlachen

Anyway, Bob had got something off his chest at Hoylake, and shortly afterward, in the last round he played on that expedition, he scored a record 66 at the late Ted Ray’s club, Oxhey, in an exhibition match for charity with his old friends, Harry Vardon, James Braid and Big Ted. I honestly think that was the only round of the trip with which he was satisfied.

And then – Minneapolis, and Interlachen, where Bob went after the landing and the huge Jimmy Walker reception in New York, and suddenly he found his game working better than in either of the big British affairs. He started the program with a 34-37—71, a stroke under par and a stroke back of Tommy Armour and Macdonald Smith. It was hot at Interlachen and I mean HOT. On the shady side of the clubhouse the thermometer registered 101, and in the locker room I had to cut Bob’s necktie off with a knife because it was so saturated with sweat – you can’t call it perspiration – the knot wouldn’t loosen. I weighed Cyril Tolley’s costume, plus-fours, etc., and estimated there were six pounds of sweat in it. Charlie Hall, veteran professional from Birmingham, Ala., where it occasionally gets warm, said the championship probably would be won by the man with the thickest skull.

I told Bob about that when it was all over.

“Maybe it was, at that,” he chuckled.

What they still talk about at Interlachen is what they call the Lilypad Shot. Personally, I don’t recall that that ball ever hit a lilypad. But it made a difference of at least two strokes in Jones’ score, and he won that championship by two strokes. It came about this way.

Going into the second round, Bob was not playing too well. When it was over (as I recorded it in those days) a gang of 10 were in a position to take him for a ride. In the big gallery following him were two small girls, with the autograph albums so popular in those days. They were after the Jones autograph. The gallery was being well handled, with ropes, and they hadn’t got within 10 yards of him for eight holes.

Then came the second shot on the par-5 ninth hole, of 485 yards, which you may play cautiously around the pretty lake or with a bold drive toward the water and a wood shot across, looking for a birdie.

As usual, Bob went for it in two shots, driving straight for the lake, but his drive faded slightly and stopped farther from the lake than usual, on a downhill lie. It was a tough spoon shot now, and as Bob’s backswing started those two dear little girls, in line behind the ball where his eye could not miss them, ducked under the rope and headed for him.

Bob will deny this. He says I am blaming one of his worst shots on two innocent little girls. But the cold fact remains that his half-topped spoon shot, traveling like a bullet across the lake, struck the water 20 yards from the far bank, skipped once, struck again and hopped out on the bank like a flat stone, 30 yards short of the green.

One Shot in a Thousand

Bob signed the autograph albums of the little maids while the gallery was getting its breath back. Then he walked slowly around the lake, probably getting some of his own wind back, stuck a wee pitch two feet from the flag and sank the putt for a birdie 4. That break saved him at least two strokes. He won that championship by two strokes. Those two strokes? Take it or leave it. It’s one of those things that wouldn’t happen again in a thousand shots.

Bob’s 73 that round put him level with par and two strokes back of Horton Smith. He went out the next morning and shot a 33-35—68, the best score he ever made in the U.S. Open, and apparently was on top of the world until he dropped three strokes to par on the first three holes of the final round that afternoon, and Mac Smith, playing an hour behind him, picked up six strokes in his first 13 holes and stood only one blow behind on the 14th tee.

As the boys in the press tent said, it was the D’Artagnan of Golf who finished that round. Bob Jones rammed down a long putt for a birdie 3 at the 14th after his wretched 5 at the 192-yard 13th. He picked up another birdie 3 at the 16th, sliced a wild drive off the face of the earth at the 17th for another dismal 5 and then, with one of the greatest galleries in the history of the American game assembled about the home green, sank a 40-foot putt for a birdie 3 on the last hole he ever played in the U.S. Open.

That putt barred the door for gallant Macdonald Smith, who, an hour later, stood on the last tee with two strokes left for a 430-yard hole to tie. He finished with a par 4, for a round of 70 and a total of 289. Jones’ 287 was a stroke behind Chick Evans’ record in 1916 at another Minneapolis course, Minikahda.

Last Stop – Merion

“Last Stop – Merion,” said the headlines a few weeks later. And now the pressure really was on. I remember writing something I fancied was great stuff, how “across the familiar fairways of Merion stood the last wall of the Impregnable Quadrilateral, which until now had been regarded only as the rosy dream of an impossible conquest.”

Bob was playing badly in practice and kept on with the rehearsals until the last afternoon before the tournament began, a most unusual thing for him. His last round was a 69, and it apparently braced him up for he went out and shot another 69 in the first qualifying round. He had par left on the last two holes for a 71 and a new record in the second round next day, but the old pressure and a long delay got him and he finished with a 73, for 142, tying the record of that era and winning the medal, with George Von Elm next at 143.

On the board, Bob’s victories in the Fourth Trick look easy enough; his margin never was closer than 5 and 4. But a little episode cropped up in his 36-hole bout with Fay Coleman that perhaps reveals something of a strain under which he never had played before.

Coleman was not playing well, and Jones was only 2 up at the end of the first round. I went up to his locker, where Mickey Cochrane, famous catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and a very fair golfer, was talking to him. Mickey asked Bob how he felt, and Bob said fine.

“Never felt better,” he said, “but I can’t get the shots going right. I don’t know what’s the matter.”

As Mickey and I walked away, Mickey said he knew what was the matter.

Cochrane’s Explanation

“It’s that fourth championship,” said Mickey. “He’s got three in the bag, and that old strain is bearing down. It’s that way in baseball. When you simply have to win a series, and you’ve got it, all but the last game, you go out there feeling all right in every way, and everything seems to go all wrong. The old strain is bearing down.”

Bob beat Coleman 6 and 5, and that put him in the semifinal round with Jess Sweetser, who in the same round of the same tournament in 1922 at Brookline had given him the worst drubbing of his major tournament career. This match at Merion was a good example of the cumulative strain Mickey Cochrane was talking about.

Bob won the first hole with a brilliant birdie 3 and won the third, fourth and fifth to be 4 up. He then fired a shot out of bounds at the seventh and took three putts at the ninth and 10th greens and was only 1 up. Then he got going again and was 4 up at noon. At the 10th hole of the matinee round he closed the match by sticking a short pitch against the pin for a birdie 3, the margin being 9 and 8.

That inspired another affecting little memo.

In the locker room after the match, Jess came over to Bob’s locker.

“I surely did want to carry you to the eleventh green,” said Jess, with a grin. “That would have made it eight and seven, the same as at Brookline, Then I could have said, ‘Well, Bobby, we’re all square, after eight years.’ But I couldn’t make it. You’re one up!”

Remembrance of Things Past

Well, it was at the 11th green next day that the good old Marines charged on to rescue Bob Jones from a somewhat hysterical gallery at the close of his final match with Gene Homans. That was a great spectacle. But the one I’ll remember best took place on a steep hillside looking down on the fourth green in the afternoon as the Jones-Homans match came slowly down the long fairway opposite. I was standing there, with Big Bob Jones, Bob’s daddy, and he was always worried about any match Bob was playing, no matter how it stood. Out of the vast gallery a chap emerged and came along at a brisk trot over the brook and up the slope toward the clubhouse. Somebody hailed him:

“How’s the match now?”

He slowed to a walk.

“He’s eight up,” he replied. “It’s in the bag.”

Big Bob never said a word. His expression never changed a line. He just looked out across the smooth valley and the little stream and up the fairway, where a stocky figure, very small in the distance, was swinging along. Big Bob was humming under his breath. If he had been singing the words, they would have been:

“There’s a long, long trail a-winding into the land of my dreams.”

Well, that was it, at Merion, where it started 14 years before. Sort of like the working out of a Plan we don’t quite understand until it’s on the board and maybe not then. But there it is.

Bob Jones holes out from a bunker for a 2 on the 427-yard fourth hole at St. Andrews to go 3 up on Syd Roper in the first round of the British Amateur. The recovery traveled 140 yards. (USGA Museum)

Teeing off at Merion in the U.S. Amateur, Bob Jones was maneuvering the Fourth Trick of the Grand Slam when this photograph was taken at the start of the second round. His opponent was F.G. Hoblitzel. (USGA Museum)

The end of the trail. For this unique photograph, Bob Jones assembled, from left to right, the British Amateur trophy, the British Open trophy, the Walker Cup, the U.S. Open trophy and the U.S. Amateur trophy. His victories brought them together for the first and only time in 1930. (USGA Museum)