By Herbert Warren Wind
From the Golf Journal Archives - Robert T. Jones, Jr. – An Authentic Hero
Dec 16, 2011
(Note: This article originally appeared in the March 1972 issue of Golf Journal.)
As a golfer, as a sportsman, as a man of principle and determination, as the epitome of the ideal American athlete, Bob Jones had no equal.
Of the many great and admired sports champions America has produced, none has had quite the same hold on our hearts as Robert T. Jones, Jr. Some of the reasons underlying Jones’ unique position are eminently clear. Ruth, Dempsey, Tilden, Hagen, Grange and his other contemporaries in the golden decade of the 1920s possessed vibrant dramatic appeal and magnetism, but none of them – and few of the champions who came later – was as real and believable a person as Jones. He came across as exactly what he was: an integrated young man, pleasant in appearance, obviously intelligent, modest, and considerate in manner, and touched with humor, warmth, and sense in the right proportions. He was, in brief, the ideal young American athlete, and he remained at the top long enough for his countrymen to get to know him thoroughly and to appreciate his unusual qualities both as a person and a golfer. There has never been a more consistent champion. In every year from 1923 (when he broke through in our Open) through 1930 (when he brought his career to a stupendous climax with his Grand Slam), Jones won at least one major championship. This is a record no other golfer has approached, and so is the number of national championships he carried off: thirteen – five U.S. Amateurs, one British Amateur, four U.S. Opens, and three British Opens.
On the other hand, some of the reasons for Jones’ enormous and abiding appeal, for golfers and non-golfers alike, are not explained so easily. Perhaps it is best simply to say that just as there was a touch of poetry to his golf, so there was always a certain, definite magic about the man himself. Like Winston Churchill, another member of that very rare breed, Bob Jones was always a great deal more than the sum of his gifts and his achievements.
It was just about 55 years ago that Americans first began to hear of Jones. In 1913, when Bobby was 11, he played an 80 over the testing East Lake layout in Atlanta, the course on which he grew up. Three seasons later, as the 14-year-old Georgia State Champion, he confounded the golf world by qualifying for the United States Amateur and winning his first two matches. It took him seven long years more to win his first national championship, but after that, with his shots and his maturity consolidated, there was no stopping him. It literally was “Jones against the field,” for on the days when his wondrously fluid stroke production was off a shade, his resolution and competitive fire often saw him through. On or off, he had a genius for the game.
When Jones, at the age of 28, retired from competition following his Grand Slam, it was a very fortunate thing for American golf that he remained extremely close to the game. He used his exceptional creative intelligence in all directions. He wrote superbly about golf. The series of films he made in Hollywood were miles ahead of anything on instruction that had come before. The clubs he designed were pioneers in that field: Jones’ irons introduced the now standard flange sole, and Jones’ sets were the first truly intra-balanced matched sets. In golf architecture, working with Alister MacKenzie, he built the Augusta National, which dramatized as no other course had done previously the superiority of “strategic” design over “penal” design. The Augusta National is, to be sure, the home of the annual Masters Tournament which, due largely to the flavor Jones imparted to it, has become in less than four decades a full-fledged classic.
As a young man Bob Jones had bestowed on him the best that life can hand out, and he was equal to it. Since 1947, when he was struck down by the kind of illness most men could not endure, he was confronted with something of the worst that life can hand out – and he was no less equal to that. He served as the very active captain of the American team in the first Eisenhower Trophy Match in 1958 at St. Andrews, and, in truth, he was probably never more influential in golf than during the past 25 seasons. The beauty of it is that Bob Jones never changed, and the effect he had over the years on the people close to him and on the thousands who knew him only from a distance was incalculable. Indeed, I wonder if any other one man in our time really enriched so many lives.
With Mrs. Jones in the parade that welcomed Bob Jones back from his British triumphs in 1930. (USGA Museum)