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EDUCATION OF A COMPETITOR
Robert Tyre Jones Jr.
November 07, 1960
When Bobby Jones retired from competitive golf in 1930 he had won the U.S. Amateur on five occasions, the U.S. Open four times, the British Open three times and the British Amateur once—in all, 13 major championships which, with a record of gallantly good-natured sportsmanship, established him as the greatest golfer of all time. His story of those years, never before told in his own words, begins on these pages. It shows that in victory or defeat, the 14-year-old genius who first flashed on the national scene in 1916 possessed a gift of whole-souled concentration that gives him a vivid recollection of every decisive match in his career. In this first of a two-part series (based on his forthcoming book Golf Is My Game, Doubleday, $4.50) Jones compares golfing in his day and the present, describes with unsparing candor his own maturing as a golfer and a man and leads up to the climactic year of the Grand Slam when he achieved golfing immortality by winning all four major international championships.
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November 07, 1960

Education Of A Competitor

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There came three holes in succession that broke the kid's heart, and that would have broken the heart of almost any golfer.... Coming to the sixth after the drives, Jones placed an iron within 12 feet of the pin. Gardner's second was 10 feet above the green, with a ridge to pitch over, and a fast downhill slope awaiting his shot...but by a wonderful recovery he stopped the chip shot within four inches of the cup and got a half in four. At the 210-yard 7th, Jones was on the green, 20 feet away, while Gardner's long iron carried over into the rough. Once more he had to call upon his nerve and skill for another chip shot over a ridge to a fast, downhill slope, and this time the ball stopped only a foot from the cup for another half. But the kid was still fighting. At the 8th, he was on the green in two, 10 feet from the cup. Gardner's second struck the back of the green and bounded well over onto a neighboring tee. He had saved two holes, but how could anyone save this situation? No one but a champion could. This time Gardner pitched back 15 feet beyond the cup, but he sank his putt for a par 4, getting another half."

Words could not describe the amazing quality of those recoveries. Because of the severity of the slopes and the speed of the shining greens, the first two, at least, were authentic miracles. I remember exactly how I felt as I walked to the 9th tee. I felt I had been badly treated by luck. I had been denied something that was rightly mine. I wanted to go off and pout and have someone sympathize with me, and I acted like the kid I was. I didn't half try to hit the next tee shot, and I didn't half try on any shot thereafter. In short, I quit.

It is the keen, poignant recollection of this incident that has caused me to be thankful that it happened just as it did. If I had won those three holes I probably would have won the match. And it is not inconceivable that I might have won the tournament. Yet if I had won, what would have happened next? Not giving myself any the worst of it, I think I was a fairly normal kid of 14. But how many of us can look back at ourselves at that age and be completely proud of the picture? Had I won that championship, I should have been Amateur Champion, not only for the next 12 months, but because of the suspension of play for the period of World War I, for three whole years. I shudder to think what those years might have done to me, not so much as a golfer but in a vastly more important respect as a human being.

Through the first two war years my only play of consequence had to be in exhibitions, usually for the benefit of the Red Cross. This was fun, though not of much value as competition. I did learn, though, that my childish displays of temper had to be dispensed with. Perry Adair and I were once on a Red Cross tour with Alexa Stirling and Elaine Rosenthal. Alexa, with whom I had grown up at East Lake, had won the Ladies' Championship the year before. She was one of the truly great woman players of all time. After the war she won the championship twice more in succession, so that she held her championship for a total of five years. Although I should have known that Alexa, not I, was the main attraction, I behaved very badly when my game went apart. I think the low point in this regard came in a match at Brae Burn in Boston. I heaved numerous clubs, and once threw the ball away. I read pity in Alexa's soft brown eyes and finally settled down, but not before I had made a complete fool of myself.

In addition to setting me off in national competition, that Georgia State Championship in 1916 marked the beginning of one of the closest and most rewarding associations of my golfing life. O. B. Keeler at that time was a recent fugitive from a clerkship in a railroad office in a small town near Atlanta. Having found the confinement of the job intolerable, he became a reporter on an Atlanta newspaper, but he had not yet been given any field of assignment. He was writing anything and everything. He wrote a glowing and impassioned account of that final match between Perry and me and told me later he decided that day to make a career of writing about golf in general, and my golf in particular. During the war years, Keeler reported a number of Red Cross matches in which I took part, and when play for the National Championship was resumed after the war, and I became an accepted part of the national picture, Keeler and I became inseparable. He was an acutely sensitive, instinctively gallant and wholly unselfish friend, whose loyalty and devotion could never once be questioned. He was an ideal companion. He had read almost everything and remembered most of it; he could, and frequently did, recite verse for hours, and I found the opportunities for a liberal education as we lolled about our hotel room or on a train. By O. B.'s estimate we traveled 120,000 miles together, in which travels he reported my play in 27 national championships, in this country and abroad, in addition to countless less formal appearances. We lived together in the same room most of the time, except when either or both of us had his wife along, and the play and result were as personally his as mine. Indeed, I think he suffered in defeat and reveled in victory even more than I did. I never felt so lonely as on a golf course in the midst of a championship with thousands of people around, especially when things began to go wrong and the crowds started wandering away. It was in such moments that I began to look around for Keeler, and I always found him.

The only fault that I ever had to find with him—and it was anything but serious—was what I considered his overplay of his theory of "the seven lean years." Between 1916 and 1923 I played in 10 national championships without winning one. When the Amateur Championship was renewed in 1919 I was runner-up, losing a good match to Dave Herron in the final. In 1920 Francis Ouimet beat me in the semifinal of the National. I must say that 1921 was rather dismal. My first venture in the British Amateur ended in the fourth round when Allan Graham beat me. There followed the most inglorious failure of my golfing life—when I picked up my ball at St. Andrews in the British Open. I started in that Open Championship with two fair rounds. The wind was really blowing on the morning of the third round. I battled it as best I could to the turn in 46, started home with a 6 at the 10th and put my tee shot into the Hill Bunker at the 11th. It is not true, as a guidebook to St. Andrews says, that I played two shots in the bunker and then knocked my ball into the Eden River. The ball came out of that bunker in my pocket, and it was my scorecard that went into the river.

It was definitely not true, as has often been said, that had I not won the Open at Inwood in 1923 I should have quit tournament golf. Such a thing never once entered my mind. I enjoyed playing for a good showing or to win as many matches as possible. Of one thing I am certain. I started winning as soon as I deserved to. According to Keeler, the fat years began in 1923. In July, when I was 21, I won the Open Championship after a playoff with Bobby Cruickshank. In the Amateur at the Flossmoor Country Club in Chicago, Max Marston beat me, 2 and 1, in one of the best matches I can remember. But I won the Amateur and finished second in the Open in 1924, won the Amateur again in 1925 and tied for the Open, losing by one stroke in a double playoff with Willie MacFarlane.

I first got the idea that the Grand Slam, or the Impregnable Quadrilateral of Golf, as George Trevor christened it, might be made during the campaign of 1926. Yet 1926 was a funny year. It began and ended with defeat. The first loss was a lopsided drubbing from Walter Hagen in a special 72-hole match we played in Florida. Although no championship was involved, the match did carry a sizable load of prestige, and I wanted badly to win it. And there is another reason why it may seem odd that in 1926 I decided the Grand Slam was possible: the British Amateur Championship would normally be the first of the big four to be contested, it had always been the toughest one for me to win, and in 1926 I was beaten in the fifth round and came nowhere near winning.

Why, then, did I come to believe in this year that it might be accomplished? My failure in the British Amateur of 1926 did not seem so dismal to me because it involved another circumstance which I have never mentioned until now. I had been playing fairly well in the early rounds of the tournament and had a truly exciting streak against the holder, Robert Harris, in the fourth round. My putter had been especially hot, my confidence was high and I feared no one left in the field except Jess Sweetser, who was in the opposite bracket and could not be encountered until the final round. But my confidence was rudely shaken when I awoke on the morning of the fifth round. I had been sleeping on my left side, and as I lifted my head I felt, and I am sure heard, the muscle on the left side of my neck give a loud, rasping creak like a rusty hinge.

I still had not made up my mind whether to play the match or default when I arrived at the golf course. It certainly would not be fair, should I decide to play, to impose upon my opponent the burden of playing against a disabled man, nor would it be sporting to deny him full credit for the victory should he gain it. So I said nothing. There being no practice ground at Muirfield, I walked a hundred or so yards down the 18th fairway to hit a few balls toward the tee in order to test my neck. Just hitting a few balls with the brassie told the story: I could not lift my hands as high as my right shoulder. But I was being called to the tee, and as I walked that hundred yards I decided I would go out and do the best I could, as long as I could lift the club at all.

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