August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
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
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.
St. Andrew’s was the first, but not by much. In less than a year, the beautiful people at Tuxedo Park, New York, had a golf course. Then came the even more beautiful people in Newport, Rhode Island, followed swiftly by the Southampton set, whose Shinnecock Hills course along Great Peconic Bay was the first to be designed by a golf architect (Willie Dunn, a young Scottish professional). Shinnecock was also the first to have a real clubhouse. It was the work of Stanford White, whose success as an architect and career as Evelyn Nesbit’s lover would both be cut short by three bullets from Harry K. Thaw’s pistol.
The United States had enough golfers to play an Open championship (at match play) in 1894 and two amateur championships that year, one at medal play in Newport and one at match play at St. Andrew’s. It wasn’t until the National Open of 1913, however, that people like Francis Albertanti took cognizance of the game.
The individual who forced it upon their attention was twenty-year-old Francis Ouimet, a slightly gawky young man who played in a white shirt with four-in-hand tie, a checkered cap, rumpled jacket, and unpressed trousers. He lived with his family across the street from The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, where the touring British professionals, Vardon and Ray, were challenging John J. McDermott, two-time winner of the United States Open championship, and other homegrown and imported talent.
Vardon was the flawless stylist who had won five British Opens and would win a sixth. Ray, the longest hitter in the world, looked like an outsize walrus smoking a calabash pipe. The large field was divided for two days of qualifying play. Vardon led the qualifiers on the first day and Ray was three shots ahead of his field on the second, but just one stroke behind Vardon was the kid from across the street.
The tournament proper was a two-day affair, thirty-six holes a day. After fifty-four holes, Vardon and Ray were tied for the lead at 225 as might be expected. As nobody in the world could have expected, young Ouimet stood at 225, also, having wiped out the leaders’ four-shot advantage on the third round.
Firing his heaviest siege guns, for the course was soggy with rain and playing long, Ray got through the fourth round in 79. So did Vardon, which left them tied at 304. Ouimet had gone further than anyone could demand of an unseasoned amateur but now he had had it. “Golf is not a funeral,” wrote Bernard Darwin, the great English journalist, “but both can be very sad affairs.” After twelve holes, Ouimet was ten over par. To regain the three-way tie he must cut two strokes off par for the six remaining holes.
He got one of the two birdies he needed by chipping into the cup from the fringe of the thirteenth green. He got his par 5 on fourteen, chipped out of the rough for a three-foot putt to save par on fifteen, and ran down a nine-foot putt for a par on sixteen. Now he had two par-4 holes in front of him, and seven shots to use any way he chose.
On the dog-leg seventeenth, he put his second past the flag, leaving himself a sidehill putt of twenty feet. He rapped it crisply and the ball went in for a birdie 3. His approach on eighteen stopped in mud just short of the green. He chipped up to five feet and ran the putt down. He and Vardon and Ray would play off tomorrow.
A day and a half of rain had subsided to a drizzle by 10 A.M. There was jockeying for position on the outbound nine, but they were all square rounding the turn in 38. On the tenth Ouimet took a one-stroke lead and on the twelfth he doubled it. Vardon got back half the deficit on thirteen but on fifteen a double-bogey 6 left Ray three shots off the pace. The big man fell back another stroke on sixteen. On seventeen Vardon hooked his drive into a bunker, needed two more shots to the green, and two-putted. Ouimet, on in two, ran down an eighteen-foot birdie putt for a three-stroke lead. The eighteenth green was heaving beneath his feet as he sank the four-footer that did the deed. He left Vardon five strokes back and Ray six. America had a new sports hero to cheer.
After Ouimet came a parade—Chick Evans, the happy warrior from Chicago who waited seven years on the threshold before he won a major championship; Long Jim Barnes, Jesse Guilford, Jock Hutchison, and the one and only original unmitigated Walter Hagen.
Only two years out of the pro shop in Rochester, New York, Walter Hagen won the Open of 1914. He wasn’t Sir Walter then. He wasn’t The Haig. The Chivas Regal tan and Piping Rock swagger came later, along with the hired Rolls-Royce, the comradely rounds with the Prince of Wales, and all those championships—the U.S. Open twice, the British Open four times, the Professional Golfers’ Association title five times, the Belgian, French, and Canadian Opens, and seven tours of duty as captain of the Ryder Cup team.
When he asked on the first tee, “Who’s going to be second?” he meant it.
It was two years after Hagen’s first Open championship that Jones burst onto the national scene. After his club-throwing match with Eben Byers in the 1916 Amateur, the press and public naturally made much of the prodigy’s turbulent disposition. Probably too much. In his second match at Merion his deportment was faultless and his golf extraordinary. After losing five of the first six holes to Frank Dyer, he shot twenty-eight consecutive holes in better than even 4s, the finest stretch of golf in that tournament. He eliminated Dyer, 4 and 2, before losing to Robert A. Gardner, the defending champion.
“In his most youthful and tempestuous days,” Bernard Darwin wrote, “he had never been angry with his opponent and not often, I think, with Fate, but he had been furiously angry with himself. He set himself an almost impossibly high standard; he thought it an act of incredible folly if not a positive crime to make a stroke that was not exactly as it ought to be made and as he knew he could make it. If he ever derogated from that standard he may even in his most mature days have been ‘mad’ in the recesses of his heart, but he became outwardly a man of ice, with the very best golfing manners....
“There is much to be said for the stolid, phlegmatic player, but the great golfers have never had what I once heard Jack White call a dead nerve. It is worth remembering that James Braid, most rocklike and apparently impassive of men, said that he ‘liked to be a wee bit nervous’ before a big game. The steady-going and unimaginative will often beat the more eager champion and they will get very near the top, but there, I think, they will stop. The prose laborer must yield to the poet, and Bobby as a golfer had a strain of poetry in him. He stands forever as the greatest encourager of the highly strung player who is bent on conquering himself.”
Yet although Jones conquered himself, he had to wait a long time before he could conquer his opponents. O. B. Keeler, his biographer and most faithful companion, called it the “seven lean years.” It goes without saying that they were followed by seven fat ones.
If Bobby Jones were finishing high school today, he would be offered a scholarship by one of the colleges that take special pride in their golf teams, such as the University of Houston. He would matriculate on the practice tee, hit 500 shots a day for four years, graduate with a degree in business administration, and set out directly on the professional tournament tour. Bobby’s golf was mostly self-taught, though he sometimes received tips from Stewart Maiden, the pro at East Lake. As a boy, he played whenever he could. Indeed, when he was about seven he asked his father, “What do people do on Sunday who don’t play golf?”
Later he had other demands on his time. He had become a national figure at fourteen in the National Amateur in Merion. He would go through Georgia Tech and take a bachelor of science degree at Harvard before his first victory in a major tournament. (The law degree from Emory would come later.) Unlike the pros who play a different course almost every week, Bobby got in only three or four tournaments a year but by 1923 he had competed in five U.S. Amateur championships, three U.S. Opens, one British Amateur, and one British Open—ten major national tournaments—without winning one.
He did a lot of growing up. In the 1922 Open at Skokie outside Chigago, he went into the last round tied for the lead with Wild Bill Mehlhorn at 216. Gene Sarazen, starting four shots off the pace, came home early with a 68 for 288. Bobby was just making the turn with a 36 when Gene’s score was posted. It meant Jones would have to shoot the long last nine in 35, one under par, to win. He lost a stroke to par at the tenth and another at the twelfth.
“Bobby was working as hard as he had ever worked in his life,” O. B. Keeler wrote, “and as I was trudging dejectedly down the fairway, someone came up behind me and said: ‘Don’t let your chin drag. It’s not as bad as all that.’
“And there was Bobby, grinning bravely, and I did my best to grin back. His face was gray and his eyes looked an inch deep in his head.”
“The greatest golfer in the world,” people had begun saying, “but he can’t win.” The troops were assembled at Inwood on the South Shore of Long Island for the United States Open of 1923. In three rounds, Bobby took a lead of three strokes. The eighteenth hole at Inwood is a wicked par 4—425 yards long with trees and rough flanking the narrow fairway and a lagoon in front of the green. On his first three rounds, Bobby had scored two birdies there and one easy par.
When he stood on the tee for the fourth time he needed one more par for 74, which would give him 294 and the championship, for that total was beyond the reach of Bobby Cruickshank, the only pursuer with a chance. Jones had taken bogey 5s on the sixteenth and seventeenth, but even so his position seemed secure. His drive was good, and although he hooked his second shot into rough near the twelfth tee, this still left him a routine pitch to the green. So he pitched into a pot bunker and took a 6 for 296.
With plenty of golf course in front of him, Cruickshank was charging. In one seven-hole stretch he scored 2-3-3-4-3-4-3. From the thirteenth through the fifteenth he lost three shots to par but he still could win with 295 by finishing with three par 4s. On the sixteenth he took a double-bogey 6. On seventeen he got his par. His drive on eighteen was down the middle. His second cleared the lagoon and stopped six feet from the hole. His putt went down for a birdie and a tie.
The eighteen-hole playoff was all square with one hole to play—that whimsical eighteenth where Jones had shot a 6 and Cruickshank a 3 the day before. Cruickshank hooked his drive into the rough. Jones was down the right side but his drive tailed off into loose dirt at the edge of rough. Cruickshank played out safe, short of the lagoon. From his poor lie, Jones slashed a midiron 190 yards to the green, six feet from the pin, Cruickshank pitched over the green into a bunker. He needed 6 to get down. Jones had an easy 4 and his first major championship.
Bobby and Keeler sat down at the clubhouse steps. “I don’t care what happens now, ever,” Bobby said.
What did happen is history that challenges belief. From 1923 to 1930, inclusive, Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur five times, the U.S. Open four times, the British Open three times, and the British Amateur once—thirteen national championships in less than eight years. In eight U.S. Opens he finished worse than second only once. He won twice by himself, twice in playoffs, tied for first twice but lost the playoffs, and once he was second. He reached the final round of the U.S. Amateur six times and was defeated once.
He played in the British Open for the first time in 1921. In his third round over the Old Course at St. Andrews he had a nine-hole score of 46. He squandered six shots on the tenth hole, picked up and walked off a course he had learned to loathe. He never lost that tournament again, returning three times and winning three times.
The first time was 1926 at the Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Club in England, where he broke Al Watrous down with an iron shot across sandhills to the seventeenth green from a bunker 170 yards away. “The Council of the Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Club,” Bernard Darwin wrote, “have now decided to mark, as far as can exactly be done, the spot at the seventeenth from which Bobby played his shot. This is a precedent that could not often be followed, but here the geographical conditions are favorable and if now and then someone has to lift a drop from behind the monument he will do so in a reverent rather than an exasperated spirit.”
Bobby returned to St. Andrews to defend his British Open title in 1927. “By this time,” Darwin wrote, “St. Andrews had taken a thorough hold on him. He was amused by its problems; he knew whereabouts were hidden bunkers and was not annoyed by them … he had devised some three different ways of playing the Long Hole In according to the wind; he had realized that for a player of his parts the Road Hole need hold no excessive terrors, unless he is overambitious. In short he had proved the truth of Mrs. Malaprop’s saying that ‘tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion,’ for he was now thoroughly in love with the Old Course and played it as if he loved it.”
Of all the national championships, the most difficult for Jones was the British Amateur. He never concealed his dislike for eighteen-hole matches, and the Amateur [lost] seven of them before the final round of thirty-six holes. He made three runs at the championship before he won it, and when he did he had the good sense to do it in 1930, the year of the Grand Slam.
First leg of the impregnable quadrilateral was the British Amateur, and it brought him back to the old gray town of St. Andrews. In the final match he defeated Roger Wethered, 7 up and 6 to play, but he had had some narrow escapes along the way. In the opening round he was five under par on the first five holes, yet he won only three of these holes from Syd Roper and he could not improve on that margin. He needed nineteen holes to overcome Cyril Tolley in the fourth round, won his sixth-round match from Jimmy Johnston on the last hole, and beat George Voigt in the semifinal after being one down with only three holes to play.
Scrambling, sweating, and at one point bouncing a slice off the head of a steward, Jones made his way over the Hoylake course of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 291 strokes. That brought him to the clubhouse leading the British Open, and there he sat with a shaky bourbon-and-branch-water while the third-round leader, Archie Compston, blew up and then Leo Diegel and then Macdonald Smith fired and fell back.
The Grand Slam had become a definite goal by the time the United States Open began at Interlachen, Minneapolis. If Bobby could polish off the pros once more, he would be an overwhelming favorite to take care of the amateurs, even in eighteen-hole matches. He won the Open by two strokes after a variety of adventures.
First there was the heat. Bobby finished the first round so drenched with perspiration that he couldn’t untie his necktie, and O. B. Keeler cut it off. The heat drove Charley Hall, a pro from Birmingham, Alabama, clear out of the tournament. “This tournament,” he said, “will go to the man with the thickest skull.” Cyril Tolley lost nine pounds in one round.
Then there was the “lily-pad” shot. In the second round, Jones reached the ninth hole needing a par 4 for 35. He half-topped his second shot and his low line drive had no chance to clear the lagoon in front of the green. He would have to take a penalty stroke and hit another ball across the lake, getting down in 6 if he made no mistakes. The ball hit the water, skipped twice like a flat stone, and came to rest in the fairway. After a thirty-yard chip and three-foot putt produced a birdie, word spread that the ball had hit a lily pad, but Keeler, who was there, testified that it hit only water.
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.
By this time Ben Hogan was the biggest name in golf. The Jones era had overlapped the prime of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen. On their heels came a distinguished company—Tommy Armour, Johnny Farrell, Craig Wood, Denny Shute, Ralph Guldahl, who won two Open championships back to back and then unaccountably forgot how to play golf. Out of the West Virginia hills came the sweetest swinger of them all, Samuel Jackson Snead. Broad-shouldered Lawson Little won the National Amateur twice in succession, turned pro and won the Open. During the war, a tall and sunburned Texan named Byron Nelson won almost every prize in sight, and Jug McSpaden took what was left.
Then here came Hogan, cold, withdrawn, his dark face grim beneath the flat white cap that was his trademark. He and Nelson had been caddies at the same club, Glen Garden in Fort Worth, and there was a lively rivalry between them as young professionals. They tied for the Masters title in 1942 and Nelson won the play off, but in 1946 Hogan was the Professional Golfers Association champion and in 1948 he scored a double in the U.S. Open and P.G.A. His score of 276 on “Hogan’s Alley”—the Riviera course in Los Angeles—was the lowest ever made in the Open and remained lowest until Jack Nicklaus beat it by a stroke nineteen years later and Lee Trevino shot another 275 the next year.
On February 2,1949, Hogan was smashed up horribly in a head-on collision with a bus. He was on his back for two months. For another month he ran around and around in his bedroom. When he got outdoors he ran on country roads with his wife, Valerie, accompanying him by car, and he ran and ran until he collapsed into the auto, sobbing.
In December he played eighteen holes of golf with his legs bandaged from ankles to hips. In January he entered the Los Angeles Open at Riviera and shot 73-69-69-69—280 to tie Snead for first place. Snead won the playoff, but the pros had got the message: The Hawk was back.
In June, Hogan teed off in the National Open at Merion. Sixteen months had passed since the highway crash. On the first day he shot 72, returned to his room and lay down with his legs in traction. The next day he shot 69 and put his legs in traction. On the third day he went thirty-six holes, scoring 72-74 to share the lead with George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum. On the fourth day he killed them in the playoff with a 69.
In 1951 he won the Masters and National Open. In 1953 he swept the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open. In 1954 he tied for first in the Masters but lost to Snead. Going for his fifth U.S. Open championship in 1955, he tied for first but was beaten in the playoff by Jack Fleck.
Jimmy Demaret, the laughing boy, was one of Hogan’s few close friends. He did a book called My Partner, Ben Hogan. Jimmy didn’t find Ben tactiturn. “When we’re playing, he talks to me on every green,” he said. “He turns and says, ‘You’re away.’ ”
In one respect the history of golf in America is similar to the history of baseball. Both had their beginnings as recreation for amateurs. When Alexander Cartwright wrote the rules of baseball, young men calling themselves the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club were playing the game for fun beside Sunfish Pond in a meadow on Murray Hill in Manhattan.
That was in 1845. In 1869 Harry Wright organized the Cincinnati Red Stockings and paid salaries ranging from $600 to $1,400. Today players make from $21,000 to $1,000,000 a year and amateur baseball is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
In the beginning, a considerable number of the best golfers were sons of well-to-do families who had time to attain the proficiency of professionals. As the leisure class diminished, golf’s attractions for pros blossomed. In 1936 when the late Fred Corcoran became tournament manager for the P.G.A., the leading money winner on the tournament circuit was Horton Smith, who collected $7,682. That figure was exceeded in 1978 by seventy-two players on the women’s tour; Nancy Lopez won $189,813 and Tom Watson led the men with $362,429.
In 1952 Corcoran turned in his contract with the P.G.A. in exchange for a five-year assignment of television and radio rights to all P.G.A.-sponsored events. “Golf isn’t a spectator sport,” said Tom Gallery, sports director of National Broadcasting Company, when Fred tried to sell his product. A few years after Fred’s option expired, Arnold Palmer was a bigger television star than Richard Nixon’s dog Checkers.
Palmer was the U.S. Amateur champion of 1954; the Masters champion, as a pro, in 1958,1960,1962, and 1964; the U.S. Open champion in 1960; and the British Open champion in 1961 and 1962. Thousands trooped at his heels and millions followed him on the tube, especially after his victories in the Masters and U.S. Open of 1960.
In the Masters he reached the seventy-first tee needing a par and birdie to tie Ken Venturi. He shot two birdies and won. In the Open at Cherry Hills in Denver he finished with a wild charge that made up ten strokes on Mike Souchak, the leader after three rounds. Arnold played the last eighteen in 65, the lowest last-round score for any winner.
Theatrical golf and a winning personality made Arnold a demigod. A blond cowlick somehow enhanced his boyish good looks. He was all insouciance and good nature, with a quick smile and friendly word for followers in the gallery. His way of going captivated admirers. “When Mister Palmer hitches up his pants and walks fast to the next tee,” said Iron Man Avery, his regular caddie in the Masters, “I know we ain’t out of it yet.”
Arnie had all the grace and good manners his idolators lacked. “Arnie’s Army,” they called themselves, but this mob made Coxey’s Army look like the Queen’s Own Lancers. Disorganized and disorderly, inconsiderate and noisy, they were a burden to their hero and a distraction to other players. They regarded all of Palmer’s opponents as enemies and were downright venomous toward Jack Nicklaus, for he had the temerity to defeat their leader in the first National Open Nicklaus ever entered.
This was 1962 at Oakmont near Pittsburgh. Nicklaus was twenty-two, a burly redhead out of Ohio State who had two National Amateur titles as an undergraduate. At Oakmont he and Palmer were tied after seventy-two holes. Jack won the playoff, 71 to 73.
That was the beginning of a career that some regard as golf’s greatest. Jack was the first to win all four of the world’s major titles at least twice; he broke Bobby Jones’s record of thirteen major championships by winning sixteen; he was the first to win $2,000,000 in purses and then the first to win $3,000,000; he is all class.
Probably it was the behavior of Arnie’s Army that prompted Bob Jones to write a little essay on gallery etiquette that was printed on tournament badges at the Masters. “Most distressing to those who love the game of golf,” it says in part, “is the applauding or cheering of misplays or misfortunes of a player.”
As his illness progressed, Bobby continued to attend the Masters. First he wore a brace on his right leg. Later he used canes to walk—to shuffle, actually—and watched the golf from a cart. His friends in the press made a ritual visit to his cottage beside the tenth tee for a drink and a chat each year. He was a gracious host, and candid. Asked how he felt about the glacial pace of some top players, he said that if he had thought it would improve his game he would not have hesitated to take his time but he had felt his game was best when it flowed along without interruption.
“There could be no more fascinating player to watch,” Darwin wrote of him, “not only for the free and rhythmic character of his swing but for the swiftness with which he played. But there was nothing hurried or slapdash about it, and the swing itself, it not positively slow, had a certain drowsy beauty which gave the feeling of slowness.”
In 1953 there was a civic testimonial to Fred Russell, sports editor of the Nashville Banner, celebrating his twenty-five years on the paper. Friends of Russell occupied a dais in the Vanderbilt University gymnasium that looked a block long. Bob Jones came to Nashville in his wheelchair but when it was time for guests to take their places on the dais he managed to get to his feet and shuffle along with the others. They entered single file, and as Bobby reached the two or three steps leading up to the dais, two figures crowded up behind him. Each lending a shoulder in support, they eased him up the stairs.
It was done so unobtrusively that only a few in line behind them saw it happen and identified Bobby’s helpers—Jack Dempsey and Red Grange.
In pain more and more of the time, Bob Jones lived until December 18, 1971. At the end he weighed about sixty pounds. More than forty years earlier when he announced his retirement from tournament play, his fellow members of the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews had given him a silver cup engraved: “A Golfer Matchless in Skill, and Chivalrous in Spirit.” An understatement.