ARDMORE, Pa. — It’s only 693 miles from Merion Golf Club to Augusta National Golf Club, but for Bobby Jones the distance seemed much greater.
Merion, site of this week’s U.S. Open, was the end of a long journey for Jones when he clinched the Grand Slam here in 1930.
Much attention has been paid this week to Ben Hogan’s legendary 1-iron shot in the final round of the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion.
A distant second is the 1971 playoff between Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus, where the Merry Mex playfully tossed a rubber snake at the Golden Bear.
But the 11th hole, where Jones closed out Eugene Homans 8 and 7 to win the 1930 U.S. Amateur? Not so much.
MORE ATTENTION has been paid to the Baffling Brook, which meanders down the 11th fairway and runs next to the green, as heavy rain pelted the course Thursday for the second time this week. Flooding of the 11th green has been a concern, and the U.S. Golf Association even came up with a “doomsday scenario” should the green become unplayable.
At 367 yards, the 11th hole isn’t even the shortest par-4 at Merion. Four other par-4s on the East Course play shorter than the hole.
Players face a blind tee shot to a downhill fairway, and most will use an iron or hybrid. The hole’s main defense is Baffling Brook, which slants across the hole from the left and winds around the front and right side of the green.
The only reminder of Jones’ feat is a plaque that is affixed to a stone next to the tee. It reads:
“On September 27, 1930 and on this hole ROBERT TYRE JONES JR. completed his ‘Grand Slam’ by winning the U.S. Amateur Championship.”
LEGEND HAS IT that the plaque had to be changed because originally the name was Robert Trent Jones, the golf course architect.
Jones, the legendary amateur and not the designer, was only 28 when he retired from competitive golf. But he had spent half his life on the national stage, and was weary of the burden of carrying lofty expectations every time he teed it up.
Merion played multiple major roles in Jones’ career. It was in 1916 that Jones made his national debut, at the U.S. Amateur, as a 14-year-old. It was at Merion in 1924 that Jones won the first of his five U.S. Amateur titles.
THE BIGGEST EVENT for Jones and Merion, though, came in the fall of 1930. Playing a limited schedule, he had already won the British Amateur, British Open and U.S. Open in succession. He only needed a victory at Merion to complete the unprecedented sweep of golf’s four major titles at the time.
With a two-month gap between his U.S. Open win and the U.S. Amateur, Jones was under enormous pressure. His adoring public turned out in record numbers, but they didn’t know what Jones and only a few others did: This would be his last hurrah.
Jones won medalist honors in qualifying with rounds of 69 and 73. He won his first three matches by convincing margins, then he knocked off Jess Sweetser, 9 and 8, in the semifinals.
Jones met Homans in the final, which was contested over 36 holes. Jones built a commanding lead and closed out Homans on the 11th hole of the second 18 for an 8 and 7 victory.
THE GRAND SLAM – also labeled the Impregnable Quadrilateral – was finally complete.
According to the USGA, Jones told friend and fellow competitor Jimmy Johnston in the locker room that day he was through competing.
“The strain of golf is wrecking my health, stunting me in my business ambitions, and I’m dead tired of it,” Jones said to Johnston.
During the trophy presentation, Jones was less emphatic about his plans.
“I expect to continue to play golf, but just when and where I cannot say now,” Jones said. “I have no definite plans either to retire or as to when and where I may continue in competitions. I might stay out of the battle next season and feel like another tournament the following year. That’s all I can say about it now.”
Two months later, Jones announced his retirement and then he set out to build his dream course. His desire was to spend time with friends, and Augusta turned out to be the perfect location for his private club, Augusta National, and the invitation-only event, the Masters Tournament, that would soon follow.
Jones’ journey was finally complete.