Take a minute out of your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations today to raise your glass or tip your hat to Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer of all time.
Jones was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1902 in Atlanta. A child prodigy, he broke through to win his first major golf title in 1923 and won at least one for eight consecutive years.
His career culminated with the Grand Slam – victories in the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur – in a single year. Jones’ 1930 season stands alone as the greatest single year in golf.
Of course, folks in Augusta remember Jones for something he did after he retired from competition at age 28. With his dream season complete, Jones set off to build his dream course. He found suitable land at an old nursery in Augusta, and the rest is history. Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament rose from tough times in the 1930s to the spectacular event that is staged each spring.
While it has been fashionable in recent years to heap praise on club and tournament co-founder Clifford Roberts, and rightfully so, let’s don’t forget about Jones.
During his eight-year stretch of dominance, Jones won 13 of the 21 major championships he entered. He established the record for most majors won in a career, and that stood more than 40 years until Jack Nicklaus broke it.
While I never had the pleasure of seeing Jones play, I am struck by his legacy of fairness and honesty. There’s a reason that the U.S. Golf Association named its sportsmanship award, its highest honor, for Jones.
Ten years ago, on the centennial of his birth, I wrote an article about Jones’ legacy. Sid Matthew, an expert on Jones, offered several nuggets of wisdom about his favorite golfer.
“He was able to do superhuman feats that other people could only dream about,” Matthew said at the time.
Jones died Dec. 18, 1971, and his latter years were physically difficult for him. He was diagnosed with the spinal disease syringomyelia, and his health steadily declined throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Even that couldn’t take away his spirit, or his love for the game.