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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Bobby Jones and Perry Adair

Bobby Jones grew up playing with another very talented amateur player, Perry Adair.  Bobby, who was several years younger than Perry, looked up to his young fellow-competitor, considering him, for a time at least, the better player.  All great players can only become great by benefitting from strong competition from other fine players.  There is really no other way to refine your game than under the fire of stiff competition.  I think most great players understand this, and that is why they hold their fellow competitors in such high regard.  They need them to really excel.  Ben Hogan had Byron Nelson.  Ben Crenshaw had Tom Kite.  Bobby Jones had Perry Adair.

In Golf is my Game, Bobby wrote about his coming of age as a player, playing with Perry Adair.  He wrote:

"When I was playing around the East Lake course as a child, there were only two or three golf courses in Atlanta, where now the number is nearer twenty, and there were only half-a-dozen or so kids our age interested in the game at all.
  Almost as soon as I was trusted to play a round of golf on the course under my own responsibility, I began playing regularly with Perry Adair, the son of one of my father's good friends, who was about three or four years my senior.  Perry, quite naturally, came along faster than I did; and by the time he was fifteen he was one of the best amateur golfers in the South.  But I grew up a little faster physically than did Perry; and by the time I was thirteen I could hold my own with him quite well.  At that time, in the invitational tournaments around the South he and I were among the most favoured competitors.
  The first tournament I played in away from home was the Montgomery, Alabama, Invitation in the year of 1915, when I was thirteen years of age.  Perry won this tournament, and I lost in the finals of the second flight to a left-handed player, which I considered at the time the ultimate disgrace.  Later that year, however, Perry and I met in the second round of the invitation tournament in Birmingham, and I beat him and went on to win the tournament.
  In the following year--1916--Perry beat me in Montgomery, but I won from him in the final of the Invitation at East Lake, and won a couple more tournaments in which Perry had been beaten by other players.  At the end of this season we found ourselves again opposed to one another in the final of the Georgia State at the Capital City Club in Atlanta.
  Up to this moment, despite the fact that I had won two out of three matches in which Perry and I had met, I still considered that he was the better golfer.  I looked up to him and thought that I had managed to win from him a couple of times mainly by accident.  It was in this match at Brookhaven over thirty-six holes that I finally gained confidence in myself and my game.
  In the morning round I think I must have been tense, over-anxious, and perhaps a little bit resigned.  At any rate I played some sloppy golf and came in for lunch three down.  While I was having a few practice putts prior to the afternoon round, the tournament chairman came up to me and asked that I play out the bye holes, with the obvious inference that Perry would beat me several holes before the finish, and he wanted the gallery to have the privilege of seeing a full eighteen holes of play.  I replied that I would, without calling to his attention to what I considered to be a rather obvious and unpleasant implication.  Nevertheless, it appeared that he was right when I began the afternoon round by hooking my tee shot out of bounds and losing the first hole with a scrambling six, thus becoming four down.
  But at this pointI remember to this day that my whole attitude changed completely.  Instead of being on the defensive and uncertain, I began to play hard, aggressive golf, hitting the ball with all the force at my command and striving to win hole after hole, rather than to avoid mistakes.  
  After halving the short second hole in three, I drove to the edge of the green on the third hole--something I had never done before--and from then on hit the ball as hard as I had ever hit it in my life.  Perry played reasonably well, but he missed a couple of putts, notably on the eighth and tenth greens and I finally won the match on the last green two up.  I had played the eighteen holes in seventy, with a six at the first.
  This was the match which gained for me my first opportunity to play in a National Championship, and also gave me what assurance I needed to enjoy taking advantage of it.  I think what did most for me was Perry's remark as he put my ball into my hand on the last green.  With understandable disregard for grammar, he had muttered, 'Bob, you are just the best'"

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Bobby Jones went on to become one of the greatest players of all time.  Perry Adair had a very good amateur career and found himself in the Georgia State Golfing Hall of Fame.  Were it not for the competition offered by Perry Adair, that fateful match, along with the unforgettable compliment, one wonders whether Bobby Jones would have gone on to win the Grand Slam.  Perhaps he might have.  But Perry Adair should be remembered as the fellow competitor who pushed him to great heights at a very early age.  

That tournament chairman perhaps deserves some credit as well for firing up young Bobby.  It reminds me of a story about Arnold Palmer in one of his greatest US Open victories; but that is another story in this great game of ours.