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Until Bobby Jones came along, the amateur in golf was most often thought of as a gentleman of utter leisure who had as many hyphens and apostrophes in his name as he had lisps in his speech and lurches in his stride. Except for the rarity of a Francis Ouimet or Chick Evans, the amateur was usually somebody like swell old fun-to-be-with Winthrop D. Apostrophe Winter Hyphen Dexter (Sonny) Northington, who could usually be found idly inventing the striped tie or 14 over par and holding. If he was not the Sonny Northington whose great-grandfather had been the first actual whaling skipper ever to marry for money, then he might possibly be the grandson of colorful old Chip Northington, who once threatened to buy the Taiping Rebellion and move it to Muirfield if the members didn't speed up play. At any rate, Sonny went back a long way, except on his follow-through, neither of which happened to be a fact that mattered much to America. But then, delightfully, there was Jones.
What most everybody knows about Bobby Jones, mainly, is that he won a thing called the Grand Slam back in the days of the 15¢ lunch and the Packard Speedster, that he built a golf course out of a giant flower bed down in Georgia and that he originated a tournament called the Masters, which Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer used to win all the time if Gene Sarazen didn't make a double eagle or something.
Jones' tournament comes up again next week for the 34th time, which means that Augusta, Ga. for a few days will again become the world's most glorified parking lot. It also means that a select dozen or so amateurs, men who supposedly play the game for fun as Jones did, will get to mingle with the heavies of the sport for nothing more than prestige and a chance to win some assorted chunks of crystal and silver. And, of course, it means that they will most likely do a lot of thinking about Bobby Jones, who gave all amateurs a stature they had never known and popularized golf for everyone.
It has become a fact that aside from winning the U.S. Amateur or making the Walker Cup team, there is no higher honor an amateur can receive than the invitation from Jones to play in the Masters, there to stroll among the dogwood and Sarazens, the azalea and Palmers, to walk the rich green hills and valleys of the Augusta National course or browse through the relies of the meandering clubhouse, which range from a green-jacketed member to a thin steak sandwich to an old hickory-shafted iron that Bobby chipped with.
There have been so many true heroes in golf in the 40 years since Jones captured the Grand Slam and retired (at an appalling 28) that perhaps only those among us who have hooked or sliced into upper middle age may cling fondly to the memory of what he was and what he meant. Younger men might indeed tend to think of him as some kind of cliché, one whose name sounds so painfully suburban and whose deeds have been so closely associated with eating a hearty breakfast cereal that his reputation as an athlete, like that of your neighborhood All-America, must surely have been enhanced by the years.
Jones was very real, however, despite the fact that he was young, possessed startling good looks and rare charm, was disarmingly intelligent for an athlete and won big championships so regularly that Grantland Rice and O. B. Keeler almost ran out of superlatives. Almost but didn't. When Jones quit after the summer of 1930, after taking the U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. and British Amateurs—the Slam, in other words—both writers settled back in their own elegant styles and tried to explain why he had happened.
Rice said the explanation began with the correct fundamentals of swinging, unlimited concentration, unusual determination, physical strength and stamina and experience. "To this, one must add a blend of genius that is always beyond diagnosis—that has no place in any clinic." he wrote. "The results were obtained with an ease and grace that were born in the system. Of the thousands of pictures taken of [him], no one can recall an awkward pose, an awkward swing, a sign of effort beyond control."
Slightly more lavish was Keeler, the Atlanta newspaperman who saw Jones win all of his record 13 major championships. He said: "Looking back...you may see crisis after crisis where the least slip in nerve or skill or plain fortune would have spelled...ruin. Yet at every crisis he stood up to the shot with something which I can define only as inevitability and performed what was needed with all the certainty of a natural phenomenon."
In case anyone has forgotten how precisely phenomenal the record was, Jones managed to win five U.S. Amateurs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and one British Amateur. But there are more fascinating ways to look at it. For example, he won well over a third of the 31 major championships he entered during the brief 13 years he competed (World War I eliminated two years of major championships). For eight straight summers he won a national title of some kind, either our Open or our Amateur. And one of the least-remembered statistics about it all is that Walter Hagen, the other reigning competitor of the era and the most glamorous pro, never won a U.S. or British Open that Jones played in.
But even beyond all of this, beyond his youth, looks and the fact that he was just about the winningest athlete of the whole Golden Age, there was the least-heralded aspect of Jones: his intellect. For it just so happened that during all of his victories he quietly picked up a degree in English literature at Harvard, studied mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech and then, after only a year and a half at Emory University Law School, passed the Georgia bar exam. All of which seems now like a far better reason for Jones to have received not one but two ticker-tape parades in New York.