Bobby Jones among golfers who served country during WWII
When the U.S. entered World War II, millions of Americans did what they could to help the war effort.
Some enlisted in the military, while some volunteered on the homefront.
Plenty of professional golfers did what they could to help. Masters Tournament champions Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson were among the big-name golfers who donated their time for exhibition matches to raise money.
Others, most notably Lloyd Mangrum, saw combat time. Mangrum, who shot a course-record 64 to open the 1940 Masters, received two Purple Hearts for his bravery. Future Masters winners also enlisted: Ben Hogan served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, and Sam Snead was in the Navy until he received a medical discharge for a back injury.
Bobby Jones wasn’t idle, either. Too young to serve in World War I, he played exhibitions across the country to help raise money for the American Red Cross.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred Dec. 7, 1941, Jones was just shy of his 40th birthday. He was presumed to be too old to serve.
Jones and Clifford Roberts, who co-founded Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, decided to hold the 1942 Masters as scheduled. Nelson held off Hogan in an epic 18-hole playoff for his second win at Augusta National.
But right after that tournament, Jones and Roberts shut down the club. Jones asked for, and received, a commission in the Army Air Forces.
“He didn’t want one of those show appointments,” said Randy Gue, a curator at Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, which has a collection devoted to Jones. “He didn’t want that. If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right.”
Jones was commissioned as a captain in June 1942 and was assigned to the First Fighter Command at Mitchel Field in Long Island, N.Y.
He was promoted to major in March 1943 and later that year was assigned as a military intelligence officer for the Ninth Air Force. He went to England in late 1943.
In June 1944, Jones landed on the beach in Normandy the day after the D-Day invasion led by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future president and Augusta National member.
“That was not a safe and secure time,” Gue said. “It was much better than the day before, but he was not in some cushy rear job.”
Jones was discharged in August 1944 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He arrived back in Atlanta later that month to little fanfare.
“His personality was he didn’t want to make a big deal,” Gue said. “Everyone was involved with the war effort.”
During the war, Augusta National raised cattle and turkey on club grounds. The turkey operation was successful, but Roberts estimated that the club
lost $5,000 on the cattle business.
“They also ate a large number of valuable azalea and camellia plants, together with the bark from the trunks of some young trees,” Roberts wrote in his book The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club.
Course restoration began in late 1944, and a year later formal plans to resume the tournament were announced.
“The nation’s second ranking golfing classic – the Augusta Masters tournament – will be resumed next spring after a four year period of inactivity caused by the war,” The Augusta Chronicle reported in its Nov. 18, 1945, edition.
The club also announced plans to improve the clubhouse by adding extra bedrooms and a Trophy Room.
On April 4, 1946, the Masters resumed play with a small field of 51 golfers. Herman Keiser, known as the “Missouri Mortician,” had served in the Navy aboard the USS Cincinnati. He held or was tied for the lead after each round. Keiser slipped to 74 in the final round, but he and Hogan each three-putted the final hole, and Keiser held on for a one-shot victory.
Veterans Mangrum (U.S. Open), Snead (British Open) and Hogan (PGA) all won majors in 1946 as professional golf resumed full time.