From The Golf Journal Archives - The Grand Slam and Bob Jones: Prospect and Retrospect

Sep 24, 2010

By Joseph C. Dey, Jr.

(Note: This article originally appeared in the September 1965 issue of Golf Journal.)

The farther you go in time from some deeds of human skill and spirit, the more towering they become. It is often that way with things you can see only through the eyes of memory and imagination.

It is that way with the only Grand Slam in golf and with its maker, Bob Jones. They were tremendous in 1930. They are stupendous in 1965.

“But how,” some ask, “could Bobby Jones make the Grand Slam? Wasn’t he an amateur?”

He was, and he did. Yet the questions are valid. Today many people think of a Grand Slam in professional terms: four big victories in one season in three championships (U.S. Open, British Open, PGA) and one invitation tournament (the Masters at Augusta). So far it is only a dream that has never come true. Ben Hogan won all but the PGA a dozen years ago, and that was the closest anyone has come to it. Only a professional could do it, because only a pro could win the PGA. It is a highly improbable thing.

With the original Grand Slam it was all different except that it, too, was highly improbable. Only an amateur could bring it off.

Only Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. In four months in 1930 he won:
• The British Amateur – for the first time;
• Then the British Open – for the third time;
• Then the U.S. Open – for the fourth time;
• Finally the U.S. Amateur – for the fifth time.

He was 28 years old, and he never again played in those championships, after 13 victories altogether.

All this points to a profound change that has come over major competitive golf in 35 years – the clear ascendancy of the professional over the amateur, in skill and in public attention. One consequence is that many promising amateurs are drawn to professional golf – young fellows with names that sound curiously like Nicklaus, Palmer, Venturi, Littler, Harris, Sikes.

As the ranks of the playing professional are swelled and their general level of skill pushes upward, the likelihood of a professional Grand Slam fades into almost a delusive mirage, so keen is the competition. Nicklaus for one might do it – but will he?

As the ranks of the amateur are constantly culled for fresh professional talent, the likelihood of another amateur Grand Slam recedes ever farther. Will there ever again be an amateur who can play shot for shot with the pros throughout the two Opens, American and British?

Thus, the chronicles of golf may well always record only one such Olympian peak, where lives the name of Bob Jones.

But the younger generation has another valid question: “Wasn’t the field smaller and inferior in Jones’ day?”

Smaller, yes. Inferior, no – not when it had such consummate professional players as Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes, Johnny Farrell, Denny Shute, Bill Mehlhorn, Leo Diegel, and an uncrowned champion of stylists in Macdonald Smith. And the Britons – Archie Compston, Abe Mitchell, Aubrey Boomer. As for amateurs, there were Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, Jess Sweetser, George Von Elm, Jesse Guilford, Max Marston, C. Ross Somerville, George Voigt and the rising youngsters, Johnny Goodman and Lawson Little. The British had Roger Wethered and Cyril Tolley, among others.

There was no year-round professional tour then to keep one’s game perpetually honed, yet there was more club-handling skill in some respects than today. Only skill could meet a new and delicate situation by changing the swing instead of the club – and a hickory-shafted club at that. It took skill to cut niblicks out of bunkers, rather than simply plowing out with cleverly flanged sand wedges.

And still the headlines almost invariably predicted “JONES AGAINST THE FIELD.”

Nineteen-thirty was a year of the Depression – the year after the stock market crash – but you would hardly have sensed it had you been present at any part of the Grand Slam.

At Merion, for instance. There the Grand Slam was completed – over the wondrous old East Course at Ardmore, in Philadelphia’s westerly suburbs – then part of the Merion Cricket Club, now a separate golf club. In the gate receipts there was no hint of depression.

Total receipts were $55,319 (last year at Canterbury in Cleveland they were $17,261 after taxes). For the six days at Merion season tickets cost $6, and 3,109 were sold (this compares with last year’s average price of about $14, with 1,065 sales). Merion’s daily tickets were $2 for each of the first four days and $2.50 for the last two days; 16,796 were sold (last year’s prices ranged from $2.50 to $3.50; 792 daily tickets were sold).

For the six days at Marion the total paid attendance was 35,450 – a daily average of about 6,000, plus perhaps several thousand non-paying witnesses, the course not being fenced throughout.

And yet the Depression was stalking and striking golf clubs.

Golf in those days had galloping galleries, and marshalling them was a job for an athlete. Or for the U. S. Marines; believe it or not, a detachment of Marines was on hand at Merion mainly to guard Bob Jones. Ropes around tees usually extended some 50 yards down the hole; most putting greens were protected at sides and rear by rope lines. But through the green, gallerying was a track meet: sprinting crews of marshals with hand-held ropes had to leap-frog one another to keep 1 up on the rushing spectators.

For this was a colossal spectacle, make no mistake. The air constantly crackled with the excitement of the moment – one more championship, and a man would have brought off the miracle of golf. Some of Bob Jones’ opponents could hardly have been blamed if they secretly hoped Bob would win through. There has never been another moment like it. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, on whose staff I was then the golf writer, had, as I recall, some 16 writers and photographers assigned to coverage.

One man, for instance, had the job of following Jones when he was not on the golf course. And so it was that when the Jones entourage arrived in Philadelphia and went to the Barclay Hotel, the shadowing reporter heard the crash: a bellman in the lobby dropped a sizeable package reportedly containing glass which contained some of Georgia’s apple production in liquid form (this being the era of Prohibition).

Another Evening Bulletin man trailed Bob to Pine Valley for a practice round, and made too much of it in his story when Bob reacted strongly to the quacking of ducks on a pond near a green.

All this is to say that practically every move by Jones was closely scrutinized, carefully analyzed, and duly memorialized for posterity. That’s the sort of occasion it was.

Some incidents in Jones’ practice stay fresh in memory. The day before arriving in Philadelphia he played a neat par 70 in an exhibition match at the Columbia Country Club in Washington with Fred McLeod, Horton Smith and Roland MacKenzie.

Then, at Merion, came an unusual occurrence. As Bob drove off the first tee in a practice round, it became evident that his driver was damaged.

Now this had the makings of a situation. Was he to be without his favorite driver in the most important championship he ever played? The driver was hand-made by Jack White at Sunningdale, England. Jones had a name for it –“Jeanie Deans.” The original Jeanie Deans was a character in Sir Walter Scott’s “The Heart of Midlothian;” she was a rather plain Scottish girl who showed moral earnestness and courage in refusing to lie to save her sister from a death sentence. She went to London to present her case to the Queen, and her qualities of character so attracted the rulers that she obtained a pardon for her sister.

Well, “Jeanie Deans” the driver also came out well. The Merion professional, George Sayers, had a fine reputation for hand-made clubs, and his shop fixed Jones’ driver. Bob recalls that another fault in the club was disclosed at Merion; he says: “I remember that a small crack began to appear in the back of the head, and I was worried that the club might not last through the final championship. I remember determining at the time that I should not use the club again if it should survive.”

“Jeanie Deans” had earlier had another problem with her face: the head was made of persimmon wood, and a little hole had been dug just above the sole line, but not in the striking area, by the accuracy of Jones’ stroke. Bob says: “I had been in the habit of using ‘Yello’ tees, and constant striking in the same place made a quite small hole.”

“Jeanie Deans” is now enshrined at St. Andrews in the Royal and Ancient Golf Clubhouse.

Jones carried 18 clubs at Merion, all hand-made (the 14-club limit had not been dreamed of). They were not a matched set in the modern sense, although most of the irons were hand-forged by Tom Stewart at St. Andrews. There seemed to be some mongrels in the bag, but every one had been carefully culled and coddled by Jones. Clubs then had type names, such as midiron, mashie, and niblick – not numbers.

One of the clubs was a concave-faced sand wedge which Horton Smith had given to Jones earlier in the year. Bob reminisces about its part in the British Open phase of the Grand Slam: “I used it for what proved to be the winning shot at Hoylake (a shot from a bunker on the 70th hole to within two inches of the hole, making possible a birdie 4). But I used it only once during the Amateur Championship, when playing from a bunker in back of the third green in the afternoon round of the final against Gene Homans.”

Concave-faced clubs were ruled out by the USGA at the start of 1931.

The putter was Jones’ second “Calamity Jane.” The original had become worn and irregular in surface through buffing and polishing, and No. 2 came into the Jones bag in 1926. It was used in winning the last 10 of Bob’s 13 championships. Now it is in the USGA Museum in “Golf House,” along with the ball which Jones played in the closing holes of the Grand Slam, Most of the other clubs adorn the Trophy Room at the Augusta National Golf Club, of which Jones is president.

The Amateur of 1930 was the last championship in which the small size golf ball was legal in the United States. Its minimum diameter was 1.62 inches (today 1.68); its maximum weight was 1.62 ounces (the same today).

What of playing conditions at Merion? The championship ended September 27, and weather was favorable. The season had been very dry, on the whole; the year before, Merion had installed a watering system.

Merion’s fairway height was around five-eighths inch – a mixture of bluegrass, fescue and bentgrass (Merion bluegrass had not yet been discovered by Superintendent Joseph Valentine near the 17th tee). The rough was lush and very severe; water was poured on through the new system. Rough height was five to six inches – somewhat higher and more troublesome than the case today in championships.

One of the characteristics of Merion has always been its “white faces” – 127 bunkers at that time.

The greens were fine and fast, cut at about three-sixteenths inch – still the championship stan-dard in 1965. The greens have always been a strong feature of the course, and so they were in 1930. But on the short 13th a heavy blight of dollarspot disease invaded the turf, and no control was then known. Literally overnight, an alternate green was laid, complete with protecting bunkers, far to the right of the regular green.

But it was not used. A happier solution was found. The regular green was dyed a very green color! This was perhaps the first time artificial coloring was used in a USGA championship, and it served its purpose. The temporary green never had to be used.

Bob Jones was an absolutely superlative putter, but he was spotty in that tournament. I had the great good fortune of seeing and writing a description of every shot he played in the 1930 Amateur Championship, and on the score cards I kept, the following vital statistics are revealed: Jones played 162 holes in a net of approximately 17 over par. He was 19 under putting par of two strokes per green; but he three-putted 13 times.

Three-putting then in match play was sometimes caused by a stymie. The pure stymie was the rule of the day – when the balls were on the green and your opponent’s ball lay in your line to the hole, you had to play your ball as it lay, with a single exception: if the balls were within six inches of each other, either of you had the right to have the ball nearer the hole lifted.

Score cards then had a six-inch stymie measure. The stymie rule gave rise to thoughtful, tactical putting. It was a natural part of match play. To this day, Bob Jones is in favor of the stymie. I second the motion, while fully recognizing that the stymie is contrary of the temper of the times, has elements which are called unfair, and is as dead as the dodo.

Merion was then, as now, only moderately long by championship standards – 6,565 yards, compared with about 6,700 now; but it has always been one of the architectural classics of golf. Its par was – and is – 36-34—70.

The eligible field of 170 for the championship was determined by USGA Committee selection to a considerable extent. First, players were eligible if they had qualified for match play in any of the three last previous championships. Other applicants submitted statements of their competitive records for the last two years, and the USGA decided whom to accept. That was the finale for such a system; sectional qualifying was introduced the next year and still is the basic method.

The championship format called for 36 holes of qualifying, with 32 to qualify, two 18-hole match rounds, and three 36-hole match rounds. Eight players were seeded in the match play draw. Their selectors were scarcely cheered when four lost in the first round and two in the second; but Jess Sweetser and Jones went to the semifinals. The defending champion, Harrison (Jimmy) Johnston, failed to qualify.

The golfing snails of today would have been outcasts in 1930. The general pace of play was fast. In the qualifying rounds at Merion the large field of 168 starters played in couples, and the interval between starting times was five minutes – an unheard-of interval in today’s championships.

Bob Jones set a great example in this respect. He was among the speediest of players. My notes show that it took only 2 hours 10 minutes for the 14 holes of Jones’ first-round match at Merion against C. Ross (Sandy) Somerville, of Canada. That's an average of 9.3 minutes per hole, or about 2 hours 48 minutes for 18 holes.

One of the most memorable players in the tournament was the late Maurice McCarthy, Jr., of New York. He needed a hole-in-one on the 35th hole of qualifying play to tie for last place. He made the hole-in-one. Next morning he won a playoff to get in the match-play draw. Immediately he became involved in a 19-hole match with Watts Gunn; McCarthy won. In the afternoon he and George Von Elm halved hole after hole after hole until, on the 28th, McCarthy’s birdie 3 ended the longest overtime match in championship history – 10 extra holes! Alan Gould, Sports Editor of the Associated Press, asked another journalist to go to a road bisecting the course and signal the winner’s identity back to Gould – he was to hold up his right hand if McCarthy won, his left hand if Von Elm. The reporter held up his left hand! It was some little time before Gould could unscramble the error that he had flashed over the wires.

The championship was more spectacle than contest, to recall the words of Bill Richardson of the New York Times. Jones started with a 69 to break par by a stroke in the first qualifying round, followed with a 73, and tied the 36-hole record of 142. He won his five matches by never less than five holes.

For all the glory of the Grand Slam, I’ll always feel that one of the great hallmarks of Jones the Golfer was his record in the U.S. Open. In simplest terms, he played in 11 Opens – he won four, was second in four, tied for fifth, eighth and eleventh. He was either first or second eight times in nine consecutive years. Twice he won in playoffs; twice he lost in playoffs. Truly, it was always “Jones Against the Field.”

All this, unfortunately, says little or nothing about Jones the Man. He was always first a person, then a golfer – a warm, charming man of outstanding intellect – and the most utterly natural sense of right and of the fitness of things. He played hard and gave no quarter – he felt it was not at all flattering to one’s opponent to play less than one’s best. Yet it was just part of the game to call a stroke penalty on himself when his ball moved as he addressed it in the rough – and this happened in the 1925 Open in which he ultimately tied for first, then lost a playoff.

There are perhaps meanings to the Grand Slam other than victories at golf. Here was a way of raising to the very pinnacle a splendid young man, in the prime of life, for all to see – a man from whom untold numbers could draw inspiration. Hero worship? Yes, indeed – and it is good to have such a hero to worship.

But the glory of the Grand Slam also serves as a contrast to shadows. It recalls things that went into the making of a life which for many years now has been severely tried by physical ailment. How that life has handled that ailment! Here, still, is a man from whom untold numbers draw inspiration but now a deeply different kind.

Perhaps this is the ultimate meaning of the Grand Slam and all that it signifies in the life of Bob Jones.

Jones plays from a bunker at the 12th hole at Hoylake during the 1930 British Open. (USGA Museum)

Opponent Gene Homans (at left in knickers) watches as Jones hits his approach on the 11th hole at Merion during the final match of the 1930 U.S. Amateur Championship, won by Jones 8 & 7 to complete the Grand Slam. (USGA Museum)