Happy St. Patrick's Day and happy birthday Bobby Jones
Most people celebrate March 17 as St. Patrick’s Day, but golf lovers also recognize it for something else.
Bobby Jones was born on this day in 1902.
The greatest amateur golfer of all time was born in Atlanta. By 14, he was a child prodigy and competing on the national stage. He broke through to win his first major golf title in 1923 and won at least one for eight consecutive years.
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.
When he was 28, he completed a Grand Slam – victories in the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur – in a single season and retired from the game.
Golf’s loss was Augusta’s good fortune. Looking to build a private club that would serve as a retreat, Jones settled on Augusta and a tract of land off Washington Road.
The rest is history: Jones built Augusta National Golf Club, and soon the Masters Tournament was launched.
The stories that best exemplify Jones don’t involve his play on the course. Rather, they are actions by Jones, the kind that earned him a reputation as a true gentleman.
Take this one, for example: After sinking a tricky, 12-foot putt on the final hole of the 1929 U.S. Open at Winged Foot to force a playoff, Jones asked the U.S. Golf Association to push back the starting time Sunday morning by an hour.
The reason? He wanted to let Al Espinosa, his opponent who was a devout Catholic, have a chance to attend Mass. Jones would go on to win the 36-hole playoff by a whopping 23 strokes.
Another favorite comes from the final day of the 1926 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
After dining in his hotel suite with leader Al Watrous, the two headed back to the golf course. To get through the gates, Watrous showed his player’s badge. Jones had left his at the hotel.
Rather than make a fuss, Jones went to the spectators gate, paid the admittance fee and made his way to the first tee. A few hours later, he won his first British Open.
Jones wasn’t always a great sportsman. He had a terrible temper as a youngster, and he famously tore up his card and stomped off the course during the 1921 British Open at St. Andrews.
Probably the most famous story about Jones and his sportsmanship occurred during the 1925 U.S. Open. During the first round he called a penalty on himself, and the stroke cost him an outright victory as he lost a 36-hole playoff to Willie Macfarlane.
“You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank,” Jones said after the press praised him for his sportsmanship. “There is only one way to play this game.”
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.