Four!

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Francis Albertanti, assistant sports editor of the New York Evening Mail, considered baseball, boxing, and horse racing the meat and potatoes of the sports section. College football received respectful attention during its season, and Albertanti kept a headline standing in type to take care of tennis. It read: TILDEN DEFEATS RICHARDS AGAIN.

One day Theophilus England Niles, the managing editor, called Albertanti into his office and asked why golf got no space in the Mail.

“It’s an important game,” Niles said, “very popular with the Wall Street crowd.”

“Then put it on the financial page,” Francis said.

This was in 1912, a year before a former caddie named Francis Ouimet would beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray for the United States Open championship. Walter Hagen had not yet made up his mind between baseball and golf as a career. Bobby Jones was a spindly ten-year-old living alongside the East Lake Country Club in suburban Atlanta. A year earlier he had won the junior championship of East Lake, making his name a household word in the Jones household. Within a few years these three—Ouimet, Hagen, and Jones—would put golf in headlines even on the sports pages of the Evening Mail.

This piece is mostly about Jones because 1980 is the golden anniversary year of his Grand Slam, the sweep of the British Amateur, the British Open, the United States Open, and the United States Amateur in 1930. The “Impregnable Quadrilateral” George Trevor called it in the New York Sun. Nobody had ever brought it off before and almost surely no one will do it ever again, for professionals aren’t allowed in amateur tournaments, and the day when an amateur could win the Open is long gone.

Since this is mostly about Jones, perhaps we should dispose of the threadbare stories at the outset.

In 1916 Bobby qualified for the United States Amateur championship at the Merion Cricket Club outside Philadelphia. He was fourteen years old, a chunky towhead of five-feet-four with long pants and a short temper. In the first round he was matched with Eben Byers, who had won the championship ten years earlier. When Byers missed a shot, he could throw his club as far and as angrily as the fiery kid from Georgia. Both missed more than their share. At the twelfth hole, Byers flung a club over a hedge and out of bounds and forbade his caddie to retrieve it. Bobby won the match, 3 up and 1 to play.

“I won,” he said, “because Mr. Byers ran out of clubs first.”

In the qualifying round for the National Open of 1920 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Bobby was paired with England’s immortal Harry Vardon, revered as master of the gutta-percha ball before Bobby was born. The oldest player in the tournament and the youngest scored a pair of 75s in the morning round, starting and finishing in total silence.

Neither spoke for the first seven holes in the afternoon. Both cleared the tall trees that intruded on the seventh fairway, coming to rest about forty yards short of the green. Vardon ran his approach up close to the flag. Jones tried to pitch up with a niblick. He topped the ball and sent it scooting across the green, and had to struggle back for a bogey. Burning with embarrassment, he walked beside Vardon to the next tee.

“Mr. Vardon,” he said, “did you ever see a worse shot?”

Vardon spoke for the first time. “No,” he said.

Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., and the rubber-cored ball arrived in the world at about the same time, Bobby’s birthday being also St. Patrick’s, March 17, 1902. Golf in the United States was approaching its fourteenth birthday and growing. There was at least one course in every one of the forty-five states.

Though social groups known as the South Carolina Golf Club in Charleston and the Savannah Golf Club had left vestigial traces, no organization devoted exclusively to golf existed in this country before November 14, 1888, when the St. Andrew’s Golf Club was formed at a dinner in John Reid’s home in Yonkers, New York.

Reid was a Scot who had emigrated from Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace of Dunfermline on the Firth of Forth and had prospered as an executive of the J. L. Mott Iron Works in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. In 1887 he had a friend purchase a set of clubs and two dozen balls for him in Scotland, and on February 22, 1888, a group of friends gathered in Reid’s cow pasture to watch their host play John B. Upham on a makeshift course of three holes.

After the dinner at which St. Andrew’s was born, the playing site was moved three times, first to an apple orchard where the charter members came to be known as the Apple Tree Gang, than a few miles north to Grey Oaks, and finally to the club’s present location at Mt. Hope just west of Hastings-on-Hudson.