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"Bobby" Jones: The Last Great Amateur

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Robert Tyre Jones Jr. was born on March 17th, 1902 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father had always believed that he would grow up to be something special and his father was right. “Bobby” as he was commonly referred as would go on to become one of the greatest to ever play the game that he so desperately loved. Bobby though struggled away from the game and suffered from health fits that impacted his play in many ways. It was only after his death that the true story behind Bobby Jones and his legacy were discovered. By 1930, at the age of 28, Bobby retired from professional golf but still hung around the game because of his love for it. Furthermore, Bobby competed as an amateur, he was never compensated for his winning ways but remains one of the most mysterious figures in the game’s history despite being one of its most notable.

We will look into Bobby’s personal life away from golf and how his health concerns brought his brief career to a close. Also, we will examine his life before and after golf and his entry into the Golf Hall of Fame. Bobby Jones leaves more mystery than he does prestige. His enshrinement in 1974 was well deserved but like many of professional sports heroes that we have come to grow fond of Bobby was not exactly the hero we all saw on the golf course. He had demons that were both a blessing and a curse towards his rise and fall from glory.

Health Concerns and Learning Golf

Bobby as a youth, unknown year.

Bobby as a youth, unknown year.

As a young boy, growing up in Atlanta, Bobby was a sickly child. He barely had enough strength to walk much less swing a club. He would show these symptoms later on during his career, but they were initially spotted as early as 5 years old. Bobby’s father was a lawyer and had always been fond of golf. Bobby grew into his own strength and was pushed to play golf in order to keep it. He needed to be able to walk as their were no golf carts back then and he needed something to keep his mind sharp as it was feared that his esteem would suffer could he not participate in physical activities like the other children in his area. Bobby claimed to love the game as a youth, his father pushed him to play and eventually Bobby became a fanatic about playing. Practicing any time that he could Bobby was considered to be a child prodigy before ever playing in a single tournament. Young Bobby was 6 years old when he first competed and won his first ever tournament. Soon after this the hype began to grow about this young man who had bested everyone in his age group and sometimes older children.

Bobby stated that he never really remembered a time without golf and away from the game he had a love of reading. Reading though involved him working on his strokes, putting, and other aspects of golf. His father allowed Bobby to hang around the East Lake Golf Club when he was young developing him into a caddy where he could earn a wage and simply get out of the house. Bobby used his time as a caddy to score free rounds and build his competitive nature into something that he could market. By 1916, at the age of 14 Bobby competed in the Georgia Amateur Championships which featured players younger than Jones but also way older than him. Bobby won this tournament and remains the youngest player to ever win the Georgia Amateur Championships. His name became prominent around the sports writers and even other professional players like Walter Hagan noticed Jones’s knack and almost natural talent for the sport.

Bobby’s natural talent needed to be coached though. He was not simply the student who could pick up a club and do just about anything. Also, his father had wealth and with this was able to provide him with some of the best teachers in the state of Georgia. At East Lake, Stewart Maiden, the teaching pro, took Jones under his wing and developed him into a scratch golfer it seemed almost overnight. He also played rounds with Willie Ogg who coached him for the Georgia Amateur in 1916. Jones also took it upon himself to even learn a thing or two from his own father who was a decent player himself when he got around to it. Jones had all the tools for success and knew how to use them to win. By 1919, Jones was one of the best amateurs in the country. He played tournaments in New England, New York, and even one tournament in Ontario, Canada. He was still the youngest player at all the tournaments that he played in but many of the other players did not mind his youthful presence, instead they minded him because he was good enough to beat them.

Temper Tantrums

Jones pictured as a young adult, unknown year.

Jones pictured as a young adult, unknown year.

Bobby was criticized for this later as an adult but even as a young child succumbing to pressure was never an easy task. Jones in many ways was known more for his “violent” outburst and language that he used while playing. Many credited his “Southern” attitude to be that of a “Bull in a China Cabinet.” He often threw his own clubs after a bad shot, drank to the point of stumbling over after a bad round, and most often broke his clubs while playing. It seemed that the more he won the headlines, the worse they got because just as many articles about how good he was were also followed by how many articles of how bad he was away from him. Jones was not a legal problem, but he did have a temper that rivaled even Tiger Woods while he was tour when he was younger. Some credited youth for his temper but others credited the pressure that he was under to succeed. He would never say so, but the eyes of Atlanta, Georgia were always upon him whenever he stepped foot anywhere. He felt this to be more of a burden than a supporting fan base. When he won, they cheered him as the town hero and when he lost it was as though he never existed.

Jones never spoke of his disdain of the people of Georgia when they rebuked him, but he never seemed to have an opportunity to do so either. He won too often to ever have this be a problem. It was those long hours after he’d play when he was secluded that his issues would come full circle. In seclusion he often fell, stumbled, and in many cases had near-death experiences while he was alone. His struggles in his personal life seemed from the outside to be minimal but inside he had only one goal and that was to please his father.

Life Away from Golf

Bobby Pictured with Mary Malone and their 3 children.

Bobby Pictured with Mary Malone and their 3 children.

Bobby was not a professional player and still needed an income. He could not afford to play every single tournament that came across his radar. He needed a future that in many ways placed him away from golf. In 1922, he graduated from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He was also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity while at Tech and the current residence of the Georgia Tech chapter is named in his honor. He then went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts at Harvard which he completed in 1924. He returned to Atlanta in 1926 to study law at Emory University and passed the bar while only attending for 3 semesters. He worked alongside his father in Georgia and became a relatively successful attorney despite being known for other endeavors in his life.

In his personal life, Jones married Mary Malone in 1924, which he was finishing his English Studies at Harvard. He met Mary while he was Georgia Tech and they had three children during their marriage. Mary was in many ways Bobby’s time away from golf. She did what she could to support Bobby through all of his problems and in many ways is the reason that Bobby lived for as long as he did. Bobby appeared to be a tortured soul for his gift, Mary was his God-given blessing to support him through everything that happened to him. Not much is known about his life away from Golf because the game was such a big part of his life.

Major Championships and "The Grand Slam"

Bobby winning one of his several Open Championships.

Bobby winning one of his several Open Championships.

Bobby Jones was 21 years of age when he won his first major. He shot a modern-day dismal 8 over par but defeated notable golfer Bobby Cruickshank of Scotland. Bobby would go on to win the U.S. Open 4 more times, his last coming in 1930. He then cruised in 1924 to win the U.S. Amateur Championship, which back then was considered a Major Championship. Bobby would repeat this in 1925, 1927, and of course 1930. The U.S. Amateur was Bobby Jones’s greatest event during his career. He won 5 of his 13 championships and did so while studying for multiple degrees and the Bar Exam. Bobby had an incredible knack for this tournament it seemed and often wrote of it as one of his more satisfying tournaments to win. Bobby then turned his attention to the Open Championship which he won his first of 3 in 1926. This was arguably his favorite of the many majors due to its harsh challenges. Long in the history of golf has the U.S. Open been considered the hardest to play but in the 1920 and 1930s the British Open was widely considered to hold this title. Playing golf in England is difficult enough with the rough winds and constant precipitation. However, Jones felt that this being the birthplace of the game that he should have to win a tournament their in order to be considered one of the greats. Jones also would win the British Amateur tournament, but this was not until 1930 which is one of the most important years in Bobby Jones’s life but also in the existence of Golf.

“The Grand Slam” as it is called consist of four tournaments today which are The P.G.A. Championship (which Bobby never competed in as he was not a professional), The Masters (which Bobby played in later), the U.S. Open, and the Open Championship. However, in 1930 Bobby Jones was not allowed to play in the P.G.A. Championship and the Masters had not been created yet. However, the four tournaments were the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, U.S. and British Amateur. In order to classify as winning “The Grand Slam” an individual must win all four in a single calendar year. Now in a career, this has been done and considered as a career ‘Grand Slam”, but Bobby Jones won all four majors in the same year. The first of which was the British Amateur in May of 1930. In Match play Jones won by a score of 8 to 7 defeating American player Eugene V. Homans. Prior to winning the British Amateur Jones had gambled that he was going to win “The Grand Slam” at odds of 50-1. Well, that year he won $60,000 in additional income as a result of that bet. He returned to England the following month to play in the Open Championship and won by two strokes and going into the final round down by one stroke. He again played in July at the U.S. Open in Minnesota and won yet again. He completed the “Grand Slam” on September 27th, 1930 and has since become the only player to ever do so. In that year h also won several other tournaments again playing as an amateur. It was clear that 1930 was the year of Bobby Jones.

Relationship with St. Andrews Golf Club

St. Andrews, C. 1930s.

St. Andrews, C. 1930s.

Jones, Pictured at St. Andrews in 1927.

Jones, Pictured at St. Andrews in 1927.

For those who are golf fans, this bit of knowledge is quite important to the game that you love. St. Andrews is widely considered to be the “Home of Golf” as the course dates back to roughly the 15th century according to historians. At that time, Scotland, was under British rule and the UK had not been officially formed. Although, being ruled by England meant that there was exposure to other cultures. Mainly the English had played golf or at least sub-par games like it previously. St. Andrews though is known for being old and incredibly short for its mystique. When Bobby Jones played it in 1930 the Old Course expectation was that those who played it experienced some of the worst hell ever thrust upon them by the game. Bunkers were much deeper than even the U.S. Open and the strategy for playing the game was much different as well. Bobby was keen to playing the course and developed a love for the course playing it many times during his brief career. His relationship did not start off well. Jones first played there in 1921 and withdrew after 11 holes in the third round. He received must scrutiny for this and many felt that his mental game was not nearly what it had been when he played in the United States. He folded to the course and let the course control him. He stated in the press that he hated St. Andrews and that the town wrote of him that he was “just a boy, and an ordinary boy at that.” Bobby did not return for many moons due to his dislike for the place but in 1927 when he won the Open Championship, he vowed that the “Claret Jug” that he had won remain at the course. This dazzled his audience who did not initially like Jones but came to respect his wish. After this it seemed that Jones grew to love the course and even managed to play there during his pursuit of the “Grand Slam” in 1930.

Bobby Jones developed a relationship with the Old Course just like he did with the state of Georgia. He was named as a Freeman of the City in 1958 becoming only the second American to do so. Jones last played there in 1930 and only returned in 1958. However, his memories of the Old Course and their memories of him started the traditions that the club primarily uses today. His trophy in 1927 still remains as a relic and is now transported by the Open Championships wherever the tournament is played but kept at St. Andrews. He also shot the courses lowest score for the better part of a decade until he was dethroned in the 1960s. He is even so loved by the town of St. Andrews that the local university there notably named the University of St. Andrews awards an academic scholarship in his name. It is truly one of the greatest relationships between a structure and a person in all of sports.

Retirement and After Golf

Jones wearing a Green Jacket from the Masters. Unknown Year.

Jones wearing a Green Jacket from the Masters. Unknown Year.

Jones Pictured as a Intelligence Officer During World War II, C.1943-1945

Jones Pictured as a Intelligence Officer During World War II, C.1943-1945

Jones pictured in wheelchair, unknown year.

Jones pictured in wheelchair, unknown year.

Bobby Jones became a poster child for American athletics in 1930 and he soon retired after winning the “Grand Slam.” It was weird that he would do this, but it was understood why as his health concerns came to light after his retirement. He was 28 years old and was arguably the most famous person in America at the time other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although, unlike most athletes Jones had an alternative source of income being an attorney. However, in America a new entertainment industry was forming. Movies were being made for roughly 35 years this point but now their was sound included with them. Bobby Jones used his name to market instructional films and did 18 films between 1931 and 1933, he also used famous actors in his films in order to show himself as a teaching pro instead of simply providing an audience with knowledge. Although brief, the films made an impact and as a result golf participation increased. Jones was contacted in the early 1930s by the owners of A.G. Spalding & Co. about creating a club set of his own. The set included all-steel made shafts and was the first of its kind.

His love of the game did not stop their though. Despite cashing in on his name Jones looked to do something more lucrative than any other athlete of his time. He looked to create his own golf course. He hoped to place it in his home state of Georgia. A nice little farmland North of Atlanta would make a perfect spot for this future course. The city was Augusta, Georgia and the course became known as Augusta National. It is currently home to one of golf’s current Major Tournaments, The Masters. He brought the property for $70,000 in 1931. In 1933, the course was completed, and the first Masters tournament took place in 1934. Jones himself played in it coming out of retirement for this one tournament. He finished 13th in his first of 12 Masters. With the advent of World War II, Jones was asked to serve and did so as an Intelligence Officer. He was responsible for interrogating German POWs.

By 1948, Jones had displayed signs of paralysis in his spin. His condition prevented him from ever walking again and as a result he lived the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Jones never reentered the spotlight for the remainder of his life and was regarded as a cripple instead of a heroic athlete. Jones died in 1971 at the age of 69 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida in 1974 posthumously.

Legacy

Plaque Honoring Jones at Georgia Tech.

Plaque Honoring Jones at Georgia Tech.

Robert Tyre Jones Jr. better known as “Bobby” was the greatest golfer of his era. He was not even a professional and played better than those that made a living playing golf. His anger fits caused him controversy, but his victories won him praise. His legacy is summed up in one story. In 1925 at the U.S. Open, Jones hit a shot into an embankment and his playing partner Walter Hagen best describes what happened next. According to Hagen, Jones grounded his club and the ball moved. It is a 1 stroke penalty if this occurs and Hagen said nothing for fear of having his honor tarnished. Jones actually called the stroke on himself. As a result of this Jones finished the day with a 77 instead of a 76 and lost the tournament by one stroke. It was admirable but more importantly it was Bobby. This was not an event that Bobby is quite remembered for but rather his childish antics and sickly physical state. It is though the circumstance that he should be remembered for. His legacy remains to this day as the Masters is considered one of the best Major Tournaments in all of sports. His life appeared from the outside to be glamorous from the outside but from the inside and in biographies written about him it seemed that the true story of his life was a man that destroyed himself.

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