Exchange with Bobby Jones explains expectations, absence of three-time champion Jimmy Demaret from Masters
Jimmy Demaret embarked on a three-week tour of Central America following the 1967 Masters Tournament. Upon returning to Houston in early May, Demaret flipped through a stack of lingering mail at his home, including a piece from Augusta National President Bobby Jones.
Demaret admitted to Jones that he was initially thrilled to hear from him, until he noticed a clipping from the April 15 edition of the Houston Press. The article appeared on Page 2 of the fourth section, in an area known in newspaper jargon as sports briefs. The cut-out Jones sent began with information on Notre Dame’s basketball team, scrambled to Houston’s now-defunct American Basketball Association team, then became more serious when discussing James Ingram, an ex-Baylor wide receiver who was recovering from cancer. Thrown in the mix is a single-paragraph quote from Demaret.
Demaret was quoted saying that something was missing at the 1967 Masters and pin-points the crowd as being less than enthusiastic. He claimed that locals boycotted the event because they couldn’t get badges, and wondered why any tournament would limit its crowd size. He questioned why no parade was held in downtown Augusta, and said local storefronts contained no photographs of golfers.
Bobby Jones and Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts were blindsided, Jones wrote in the two-page letter to Demaret. Jones also indicated that during television appearances Demaret often referred to himself as a three-time Masters Champion.
“This would seem to indicate that your position of authority in the game is related very closely to your performance at Augusta, since none of your sponsors has found any of your other accomplishments so worthy of mention,” Jones wrote.
Jones reminded Demaret that Masters winners have an obligation to share criticism with him or Roberts before going public. It’s a decency that coincides with being part of the Masters Club, which Demaret gained membership for winning the tournament. The Masters Club was founded by Ben Hogan in 1952 at the inaugural Masters Champions Dinner, and consisted of only former champions (with special exemptions for Jones and Roberts).
Jones addressed Demaret’s so-called criticisms, and provided an explanation for each. Jones said that what Demaret may have interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm among the galleries was due, more than anything else, to the fact that the limited ticket sale provided the Masters with spectators, “uniformly more golf-wise and better behaved.” Jones said he was unaware that anyone in Augusta had boycotted the event, and doubted if Demaret had evidence that proved otherwise. Like the lawyer Jones was, his closing statement was his strongest.
“I have known you for a long time as a person with a ready wit and a facile tongue, and I always thought you were a pretty savvy guy,” Jones wrote. “This last, I am now beginning to doubt, because it makes no sense whatever for you to belittle a tournament from which you have gotten so much mileage on television and in advertising.”
Demaret idolized Bobby Jones. As a kid Demaret would sneak onto the grounds at Houston Country Club and watch Jones compete in amateur events.
Demaret sent a return letter to Jones’s home on Poplar Street in Atlanta. Demaret drafted two pages, and similar to Jones, also included a clipping from the Houston Press. It too was printed in April 1967, and with a black pen, Demaret drew a square over one sentence — the one he deemed most important.
In his letter to Jones, Demaret praised the Masters, calling it the finest tournament he ever played in and said it stood for the epitome of golf. Demaret, however, countered the idea about the Masters being the pinnacle of his golfing accomplishments by stating, “I have always thought that any success that I have had in sports is very insignificant in our short visit through life.”
Demaret admitted to making remarks in jest, and told Jones that in doing so he hopes to offend no one. Demaret then provided Jones with a brief summary of his 1967 trip to Augusta. According to Demaret, he arrived on Monday, April 3, and left April 7. He stayed in a hotel near the airport. Demaret explained that he has no idea how the Augusta people felt about the tournament because he never ventured downtown. Yet Demaret failed to do two things: his letter contained no apology and he never claimed to be misquoted.
“Bob, had this letter come from any other person, I would not have taken the time to answer it,” Demaret wrote, “but my high esteem for you will never change, and I felt compelled to write.”
Enclosed with Demaret's two-page letter was a column written by Jack Agness of the Houston Press. It was printed April 2, 1967, to preview the upcoming Masters. Demaret was the focus of the article, which detailed the Texan’s awe for the tournament. Jimmy said the beauty of the course made him jumpy and jittery, and he’ll always remember his first Masters appearance in 1939 for one reason. After Demaret finished his final round, he rushed back to the course to watch fellow Texan Ralph Guldahl capture victory. The column describes the stunning layout at the National, its rolling terrain, tall pines and colorful shrubs.
Then, Demaret drew a box over one sentence, where Agness wrote, “As the defending champion in 1941, Jimmy got his greatest thrill in golf when the man on the public address announced the pairing, ‘Jimmy Demaret and Bobby Jones on the first tee.’ ”
The final letter of the back-and-forth came on May 15, 1967 .
If Demaret believed his praise of Jones and the Masters would reconcile the issue, the Texan was mistaken.
“The article enclosed with your letter contains the kind of comments I should expect you to make, rather than those appearing in the article I sent you,” Jones wrote. “You may not have regarded your quotes as disparaging; but I did, and so did Cliff.”
Jones tells his tournament’s first three-time winner to be cautious with reporters, especially since Demaret has a tendency to speak in jest. The 1930 Grand Slam winner continues, explaining to Demaret that his failure to explore downtown Augusta recited a valid reason why none of his statements could be factual.
“Believe me, I did not write to you because of one small article,” Jones wrote. “This is, by no means, the first time that statements by you of a similar nature have been called to our attention.”
Jones ended his second letter politely. He encouraged Demaret to assist he and Clifford Roberts in building the prestige of the Masters Tournament and its champions. Jones asked for Demaret's assurance that he would make every future effort to avoid being quoted in criticism of the Masters.
Demaret never competed again at the Masters. In 1967, Demaret shot 81-73, and had given no pre-tournament indication that it would be his final Masters. Following his letter exchange with Bobby Jones, however, Demaret did not accept his 1968 tournament invitation.
Following Demaret’s first skipped Masters, the only syndicated columnist to mention it was Murray Olderman, the famed writer and cartoonist for Newspaper Enterprise Association. A week after the Masters, Olderman’s column made its rounds, sharing a story of how Bob Goalby had won the 1968 green jacket following a scoring mishap by Roberto de Vicenzo.
In his final paragraph, Olderman wrote, “Between you’n'me, almost against its will, the staid old Masters manages to get embroiled in controversy. It couldn't help the De Vicenzo-Goalby brouhaha, but a side play to the recent tournament was the failure of Jimmy Demaret, a long-time favorite at Augusta, to make the scene. Jimmy was incensed by the cavalier disdain of Cliff Roberts & Company after Jimmy voiced some constructive criticism of the tournament. And some of Demaret’s friends expect him to shun the tourney henceforth.”
Six April's came and went before Demaret returned to Augusta National for the 1974 Champions Dinner. Bobby Jones had died three years earlier.