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Gone With The Swing
April 05, 2010
An innovator and a mentor to Bobby Jones, J. Douglas Edgar had a wife, two kids and promising future, but his taste for other women ruined everything. Sound familiar?
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April 05, 2010

Gone With The Swing

An innovator and a mentor to Bobby Jones, J. Douglas Edgar had a wife, two kids and promising future, but his taste for other women ruined everything. Sound familiar?

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Doug tried the shorter, tighter swing again, and again, and again. Each swing produced a better shot than the one before, and with each shot he learned something new. The restricted hip turn was not a detriment: It was the catalyst, the Rosetta stone that finally decoded the golf swing for him. By keeping his hips still on the backswing, he realized that he could coil his upper body around a steady base like drawing the string of a bow.

While he knew he was on to something, he could never have imagined that the simple principles he discovered would become the cornerstone of golf instruction for the next 90 years. All Doug knew was that he could now manipulate shots at will, curving the ball in whatever way he wanted.

On March 25, 1919, Douglas Edgar departed from Liverpool bound for New York City on the steamship Scotian. He would ply his trade in America as a self-described "golf expert." Luckily, employment came easily. Country clubs were springing up like summer weeds in the U.S., and there weren't enough quality pros to fill all the jobs. Upon arriving, Edgar struck a deal with Druid Hills Golf Club outside Atlanta and hopped the first train for Georgia.

He put his game on display early in his tenure at Druid Hills. On April 26, three weeks after taking his first steps on U.S. soil, Edgar teamed with Perry Adair, George Adair's son and one of the Dixie Whiz Kids, in a foursomes match against Bob Jones and Willie Ogg. Ogg, of North Berwick, Scotland, had been one of the best players in the world during the reign of Old Tom Morris and his son Tommy. The match went down to the wire with Jones and Ogg winning, 1 up, when Bob sank a putt on the final green. It was one of the few times Jones would beat Edgar that year or the year after. The matches between Jones and Edgar were private and plentiful. Years later Jones would say, "We played 36 holes together every Monday at East Lake. He was a marvelous teacher."

Jones remains the greatest amateur golfer in history. His Grand Slam has never been matched, and his impact on the game never equaled. Almost lost to history is the fact that during a critical stage in his golfing life, Jones "learned through observation" from one of the greatest golfers of the age: J. Douglas Edgar.

Howard Beckett, the golf professional from the Capital City Club at Brookhaven, came to visit Comer. Beckett had been a friend of Edgar's, someone who had partnered with him in many exhibitions and who had known him both as a peer and a comrade. To Comer's surprise, Beckett marched in and stood in front of him like a man in search of a fight. "This was not an accident!" Beckett announced. "I don't believe Edgar's death was an accident."

Comer sat silently. "At his best, I'd say he was the best golfer in the world," Beckett continued. "He loved his drink—thought Prohibition was stupid and didn't mind violating it. When he traveled, he always knew where to find a nip, even in towns he had never visited. He had a way about him. People took to him. He always got what he wanted."

According to Beckett, old Doug loved the thrill of gambling too. "He would bet on himself with outrageous sums," Beckett said. "I saw him wager two months' salary on himself to win. And he did! When he was right, there was no stopping him. But there were times when the money he put at risk ... well, it was a concern."

Comer asked Beckett if he thought Edgar's drinking and gambling might have had anything to do with his untimely demise.

"Oh, no," Beckett said. "He was one of the happiest revelers a man could ever aspire to meet."

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