Bobby Jones: Bio of the Golf Legend

Bobby Jones with the Claret Jug in 1927
Bobby Jones holds the Claret Jug after winning the 1927 British Open. Kirby/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Bobby Jones is one of the giants in golf history. He is the only golfer credited with a single-season Grand Slam, was the dominant player of the 1920s, and co-founded Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters. And he still found time to earn a law degree and practice law.

Jones was born on March 17, 1902, in Atlanta, Ga. His full name was Robert Tyre Jones Jr. He died at age 69 on Dec. 18, 1971. His death followed years of declining health due to the spinal cord condition syringomyelia.

Jones and wife Mary were married from 1924 until his death; Mary died in 1975. They had three children: Clara (dec. 1994), Robert Tyre III (dec. 1973) and Mary Ellen, born in 1931 and still alive.

Jones' Major Wins

Bobby Jones won seven professional major championships (competing as an amateur) and six amateur major championships, all of those wins happening in the British and U.S. Amateurs, and the British and U.S. Opens. (The Masters did not yet exist during Jones' competitive golf career, and, as an amateur, Jones was ineligible to play the PGA Championship.)

Jones' wins in the U.S. Open happened in 1923, 1926, 1929 and 1930. His wins in the British Open happened in 1926, 1927 and 1930.

Jones won the British Amateur Championship once, in 1930, and the U.S. Amateur Championship five times, in 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928 and 1930.

Other significant wins by Jones include the 1916 Georgia Amateur, the Southern Amateur in 1917, 1918, 1920 and 1922, the 1927 Southern Open and 1930 Southeastern Open.

Awards and Honors for Bobby Jones

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Named to five U.S. Walker Cup teams (1922, 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930)
  • Captain, U.S. Walker Cup team, 1928, 1930
  • USGA's annual award for sportsmanship is named the Bobby Jones Award
  • Jones was pictured on a U.S. postage stamp issued in 1981

Biography of Bobby Jones

An argument can be made that Bobby Jones is the greatest golfer who ever lived.

But there can be no doubt that Jones is the greatest part-time golfer who ever lived. Because Jones usually only played competitive golf for about three months out of the year, traveling to the biggest tournaments during the summer. (He was an avid practicer, however, and worked hard at his game year-round.)

Jones was born into a well-to-do family (his father was a partner in the law firm for which Jones eventually worked) in Atlanta. But he was, according to bobbyjones.com, "such a sickly child that he was unable to eat solid food until he was five years old."

The family bought a house on Atlanta's East Lake Country Club and Jones' health improved as he got into sports, including golf. Jones never had formal lessons, but developed his swing by studying the East Lake pro.

He began winning tournaments at age six, and by age 14 Jones was playing in national championships.

Jones' career is sometimes divided into two segments, the "Seven Lean Years" and the "Seven Fat Years."

The lean years were from ages 14 to 21, the fat years from ages 21 to 28. Jones was a prodigy, and playing in national championships at a young age, his fame grew. Yet he rarely won anything of significance. At the 1921 British Open, frustrated with his play, he picked up his ball and walked off the course.

His temper was well-known and there were many club-throwing incidents.

But when Jones finally broke through by winning the 1923 U.S. Open, the "fat years" began. From 1923 to 1930, Jones played in 21 national championships and won 13 of them. His brilliance culminated in 1930 when he won the Grand Slam of the time: the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur all in the same year. Jones' earlier temper tantrums were replaced by a reputation for great sportsmanship.

And then, at age 28, Jones retired from competitive golf, tired of the grind and the mental drain he felt from it.

He helped design the first-ever set of matched clubs (numbered clubs). He practiced law. He cofounded Augusta National and the Masters Tournament. Jones played in the first Masters and in multiple others through the tournament's earliest period, but was looked upon as more of a ceremonial player by that point.

His best finish in a Masters was 13th in 1934, the first one.

Over time, Jones began experiencing back pain and then other pains while golfing and, eventually, when not golfing, too. In 1948 he was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a rare condition in which a fluid-filled cyst (called a syrinx) develops within one's spinal cord. "Over time, the cyst may enlarge, damaging your spinal cord and causing pain, weakness and stiffness, among other symptoms," according to The Mayo Clinic.

Jones played his last round of golf the year of the diagnosis, 1948. He spent most of his later years confined to a wheelchair, but continued to act as host of the Masters. He died in 1971 at the age of 69.

Bobby Jones was among the first class of inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

1930: The Grand Slam Season

The term "grand slam" today means, to golfers, winning the four professional majors—U.S. Open, British Open, The Masters and PGA Championship—in the same season. In 1930, The Masters did not yet exist. And Jones, an amateur, was not eligible to play the PGA Championship. The term "grand slam" did not even yet exist.

But the four biggest tournaments in golf were the two national open championships and the two national amateur championships, and Jones won all four. One sportswriter dubbed it "the impregnable quadrilateral," but today we know this as the only single-season grand slam in golf history.

Jones won the four tournaments in this order:

  • British Amateur, The Old Course at St. Andrews, May 26-31: Jones dispatched defending champ Cyril Tolley in the fourth round; beat Roger Wethered in the final.
  • British Open, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, June 18-20: won by two strokes over Macdonald Smith and Leo Diegel.
  • U.S. Open, Interlachen Country Club, July 10-12: won by two strokes over Macdonald Smith.
  • U.S. Amateur, Merion Golf Club, Sept. 22-27: beat Eugene Homans, 8-and-7, in the championship match. His closest match was a 5-and-4 victory.

Jones' Golf Instructional Films

In 1931, Jones made a series of 12 movie shorts for Warner Brothers Studio. The series was titled How I Play Golf and it played in theaters. Decades later, the series was compiled into videotapes and later DVDs. In 1932, Jones did a six-part series that played in theaters called How to Break 90. These are considered the first golf instructional videos.

Jones' instructional films were frequently found on the Golf Channel in that network's earlier days. Excerpts can be watched on YouTube today, and the DVDs still sell through outlets such as Amazon.com and bobbyjones.com.

Quote, Unquote

Jones was quite quotable, and his sayings are on display in his articles, books and instructional films, as well as the many interviews he did. The collection of Bobby Jones Quotes also includes things said about him by others, but we'll include three here:

  • Bobby Jones: "The secret of golf is to turn three shots into two."
  • Bobby Jones: "Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears."
  • Francis Ouimet: "A match against Bobby Jones is just as though you got your hand caught in a buzz saw. He coasts along serenely waiting for you to miss a shot, and the moment you do he has you on the hook and you never get off."

    Bobby Jones Trivia

    • The putter that Bobby Jones used throughout much of his career was nicknamed "Calamity Jane."
    • When Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open at Scioto Country Club in Ohio, one of the fans who followed him was 13-year-old Charlie Nicklaus, Jack Nicklaus' father. Jack first met Jones at the 1955 U.S. Amateur. And at the 1959 U.S. Amateur, which Nicklaus won, he defeated Jones' son, Bob Jones III, in the first round.
    • In 1958, the city of St. Andrews, Scotland, honored Jones by naming him a "Freeman of the City." Only one other American had been so-honored: Benjamin Franklin in 1759.
    • Jones shares the all-time record of four wins in the U.S. Open and holds the record with five victories in the U.S. Amateur.
    • Jones' narrowest victory in his six championship matches at the U.S. and British amateurs was 7-and-6.
    • In a 2004 motion pictured called Stroke of Genius, Jones was portrayed by actor Jim Caviezel.