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.
The one question still put to me most often is: "Were the golfers of your day as good as those of the present time?"
No question is more difficult to answer. It is human, I suppose, for every man to think that his days were the best. Yet in 1927, when I won the British Open at St. Andrews, one of the old-time professionals, described as "the grand old man of Scottish golf," was quoted in the newspapers as follows:
"I knew and played with Tom Morris, and he was every bit as good as Jones. Young Tom had to play with a gutty ball, and you could not make a mistake and get away with it. This rubber-cored ball we have now only requires a tap and it runs a mile."
So, you see, the controversy is not new. Young Tom had died almost 30 years before I was born.
I think we must agree that all a man can do is beat the people who are around at the same time he is. He cannot win from those who came before any more than he can from those who come afterward. It is grossly unfair to anyone who takes pride in his record to see it compared to those of other players who have been competing in some different period against entirely different people under wholly different conditions.
The first thing to point out is that there is nothing absolute about scoring in golf. We all know that the same golf course can change, even from day to day, depending upon weather conditions. Furthermore, over the longer range there has been a steady improvement in the conditioning of our better golf courses. Artificial watering has led to a greater consistency in the turf of fairways and greens, weed control has given us the means of eradicating clover, crab grass and a good many other golf course pests which often prevented the clean contact between club and ball so vital to control of iron shots. On a properly conditioned course today, it is almost impossible to get a bad lie.
The ball, of course, has been consistently improved. Perhaps the greatest progress has been made in producing balls of greater uniformity. When you consider that a difference of five yards in the driving power of two different balls may make the difference between having a putt for a birdie and playing the next shot out of a bunker, the importance of this may be appreciated. As for the clubs, when I look today at my old clubs—clubs in which I took great pride, which had been handmade to my specifications and often under my own watchful eye—and compare them with modern clubs, I wonder why I was so proud of them.
The big difference, of course, is the steel shaft, which was just beginning to gain acceptance at the time I quit competition. A hickory shaft such as I used, of average length, say for a two-iron, would weigh a little bit over seven ounces. The same shaft in steel will weigh 4� to 4� ounces. The lighter steel shaft not only provides for better balance, but it is also more resistant to the twisting stresses against which the player always has to be on guard.
Players of my era often comment that the players of today seem to hit the ball harder. They do. I think it is fair to say that players of my day hit the ball really hard only when there was something definite to be gained by doing so. On holes of the ordinary drive-and-pitch variety, extra length off the tee offered little profit; placement for position seemed to be of paramount importance. Today, with the deadly pitching wedge used so proficiently by our better players, even on those holes of medium length, the long drive can be of advantage. It seems to me to be very definitely true that with steel shafts the players are able to hit more nearly all-out without too much risk of having the club betray them.