- Historic Sites
It was fifty years ago that Bobby Jones won his Grand Slam, making him the only man who ever has—or probably ever will—conquer the “Impregnable Quadrilateral” of golf
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
A 68 on the third round—despite bogeys on the last two holes—gave Jones a five-shot lead starting the final eighteen. He needed the cushion, for in the final he took 5s on three par-3 holes. Mac Smith gained five strokes on him but Mac had started the round seven shots back. Finishing with 287 to Smith’s 289, Bobby could look back thankfully to the strokes he didn’t take on the “lily-pad” hole.
Fittingly, the story ended where it had started, at the Merion Cricket Club out Haverford Road from Philadelphia, that subtly treacherous course where the stocky kid from Atlanta had stepped onto the national scene fourteen years earlier. Bobby won the qualifying medal in the U.S. Amateur and was never down to one of his five opponents in match play. He won the final from Gene Homans, 8 and 7.
Bobby Jones was twenty-eight. He had a wife and two children and a thriving legal practice. Five years earlier, after he had won the Open of 1923 and the Amateur championship in 1924 and 1925, he had told Keeler: “There is one thing I would like to do. I’d like to be national champion of the United States, either Open or Amateur, for six years in succession. Then I would be ready to hang up the old clubs and let them all take a shot at that. But of course it can’t be done.”
Now in 1930 he was a national champion for the eighth successive year. Starting with the Open of 1923, he had won the Amateur in 1924 and 1925, the Open in 1926, the Amateur in 1927 and 1928, the Open in 1929, and both Open and Amateur in 1930. From 1922 through 1930 he had played with the pros in twelve U.S. and British Open championships and finished first or second in eleven. In November of 1930 he announced his retirement from tournament golf.
Thirty years later, Bobby remained the invisible star of an act that played to laughter in locker rooms all around the tournament circuit. It was entitled, “O. B. Keeler and Grantland Rice Following Jones,” and it featured Jimmy Demaret and Lawson Little. Someone would pop into the locker room and cry: “Jones is two under at the turn!”
“Come on, Granny!” Demaret would say, clumping to the door with an exaggerated limp. (Obie had one stiff leg.) “Wait up!” Little would say, pattering in pursuit with Granny’s pigeon-toed gait. It was affectionate raillery, curiously exciting.
Bobby had become a student of golf-course architecture and hoped the time would come when he could help design a course incorporating his vision of a pleasant place to play the game. He and Clifford Roberts, a Wall Street figure Bob had met through friends, found a 365-acre tract on the edge of Augusta, Georgia, that had once been an indigo plantation and later a commercial nursery. It was gently rolling land with a couple of brooks flowing through it and a wealth of flowering shrubs and trees.
An option to buy for $70,000 was obtained, underwriters were recruited, and the Augusta National Club came into being. In 1934 the most talented players in the game were invited to the first annual Augusta National Invitational Tournament. Roberts had wanted it called the Masters Tournament but Jones had vetoed that as presumptuous. However, the press started calling it the Masters from the beginning, and in 1938 the name was adopted officially.
From the first club thrown in anger at Merion to the last putt of the Grand Slam, Bobby Jones’s approach to golf had been anything but lighthearted. “To my knowledge,” he wrote after winning the British Amateur, “I have never taken a golf tournament casually. It did not make sense to me to travel three thousand miles for a lark.”
By 1934, though, the fire was gone, if not the fun. Bobby played in the Masters annually until World War II, and the fact that he never finished better than thirteenth was of no importance. Probably it was his presence that enabled the Masters to take its place in an amazingly short time alongside the United States Open and British Open as one of the three top tournaments in the world.
Because of the war, there was no Masters tournament in 1943, 1944, or 1945. Bobby Jones was in England then as a lieutenant colonel of intelligence in the air corps. He took part in the Masters after the war but by 1949 he could not play.
As a young golfer he had suffered pain from swollen veins in his legs and as early as 1922 he underwent an operation. As the years passed, doctors suggested various remedies for the soreness he experienced periodically in neck or shoulder, but it wasn’t until 1948 that a bony growth was discovered on the upper part of the spine, pressing on a nerve. Though the growth was removed, the central nervous system had been permanently damaged. Doctors felt the condition may have been caused by an injury in early youth, possibly the result of a childhood fall.
Bobby came out of the hospital dragging his right foot. As lameness increased, he visited the Lahey Clinic in Boston and Presbyterian Hospital in New York. Nothing could be done. He would experience progressive deterioration of the nervous system as long as he lived.