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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Jordan Spieth Bobby Jones and the Old Course

The Open will be held on the Old Course at St Andrews next week.  With his 61 yesterday, Jordan Spieth looks more than ready to make a run at the third leg of the modern Grand Slam.  Rory McIlroy's absence due to injury makes his quest just that little bit easier, but it will surely be anything but easy.  

I don't think I'm alone in beginning to draw comparisons between Mr. Spieth and Bobby Jones.  Obviously, it is early in the game, but the comparisons are there.  Bobby started winning Majors at twenty one, after appearing on the scene as a phenomenally talented fourteen year old.  Who could forget Spieth's foray into professional golf as a sixteen year old?  Spieth, like Jones, is handsome, charming, intelligent, and respectful of the game. This week, we will see whether Jordan can begin a love affair with the Old Course like Bobby Jones, and whether that love affair will begin on a sour note, as it did for Jones.

Bobby Jones first went to St Andrews in 1921 to play the Open.  He wrote in his book Golf is My Game that in this, his first appearance at the Old Course he had reached "the ripe, mature age of nineteen years."  He was surely being rather facetious, but actually, given that he first appeared in a United States Amateur at fourteen, he was probably already feeling quite mature at nineteen, though he had yet to begin winning major championships.  His first meeting with St Andrews and her Old Course was not a pleasant one, but Bobby came to love the course and the people of St Andrews and they came to love him back. 

In 1958, Bobby Jones was given the Freedom of the City of St Andrews, an honour and privilege previously bestowed upon only one American, Benjamin Franklin.  On the occasion of that ceremony, Bobby spoke of, among other things, his rather infamous third round in the 1921 Open, where he tore up his card and walked off the course, leaving the St Andrews fans who had come out to watch this American phenom with a very poor impression of him.  When writing about his speech, and the round in the book Golf is my Game, Bobby said:

"I told them of how I started in that Open Championship of 1921 with two fair rounds, a total of something like 151.  When someone among the players tittered, I hastened to state that that was for two rounds, not one. Since very few of the players in the tournament had been able to break eighty in either one of the first two rounds, it was not difficult for them to agree that this was not too bad.

But then, I told them, the wind was really blowing on the morning of the third round. I had battled it as best I could to the turn in forty-six, had started home with a six at the tenth, and had put my tee shot into the Hill Bunker at the eleventh. Here, I wanted to correct a bit of their history recited in a guidebook I had read.  I had not played two shots in the bunker and then knocked my ball over the green into the Eden River.  My ball had come out of the bunker only in my pocket, and it was my score card that found its way into the river.

I spoke of how the Old Course had come to have a real personality for me.  Even in the beginning, I think I was never angry at the course, only puzzled and a bit bewildered.  I think it was not long before I began to see her as a wise old lady, whimsically tolerant of my impatience, but all the while ready to reveal to me the secrets of her complex being, if I would only take the trouble to study and to learn.  I did not try to develop this area of my though, because it seemed too fanciful.  But I did say that I thought the Old Lady had been satisfied with the early chastisement she had given me, and pointed out that she never again permitted me to lose a match or a contest.  The more I studied the Old Course, the more I loved it, and the more I loved it, the more I studied it--so that I came to feel that it was for me the most favourable meeting ground possible for an important contest.  I felt that my knowledge of the course enabled me to play it with patience and restraint until she might exact her inevitable toll from my adversary, who might treat her with less respect and understanding."

The Old Course has been kind to great champions, like Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods, to name but a few.  The Old Lady has the last say again this year.  Will she reveal her secrets to young Mr. Spieth and exact her toll on his adversaries? Does he love, understand, and respect her enough to be patient, and show the necessary restraint to win her over and capture the claret jug?  We shall see very soon, and I can't wait.  But, in the meantime, Spieth takes a lead into the final round of the John Deere Classic.  I, for one, won't be betting against him.