Sunday, 3 January 2016

Bobby Jones on the Grand Slam

Bobby Jones will always be regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players ever to play the game.  In winning the Grand Slam, Jones did, as an amateur, something we will surely never see again, winning the British and US amateur championships and the British and US Opens in the same season.  

We will surely never see this again because, Bobby's brilliance as a golfer notwithstanding, surely no amateur of that sort of stature and ability could resist turning professional with the money now on offer.  We have since witnessed the Tiger Slam, which probably deserves more credit than it receives.  We also saw Ben Hogan win three of the four Majors, perhaps only missing the professional Slam because he couldn't make it home in time to play the PGA championship.  So we have witnessed great seasons from other great players.  Jordan Spieth's performance in the Majors in 2015 as a relative youngster has to rank up there as one of the greatest seasons we've ever witnessed.

But Bobby Jones will be the first, and surely the last, to have the Grand Slam.  Bobby also quit while he was ahead.  He went out on top.  I was reading what he had to say about the Grand Slam in his book, Golf is my Game.  Amazingly enough, Bobby managed to find a lesson for all of us who compete in this game when describing his experience.  He wrote:

"In my mind today the accomplishment of the Grand Slam assumes more importance as an example of the value of perseverance in the abstract than as a monument to skill in the playing of a game.  I am certain that in those moments when the success of the project was most in doubt, the decisive factor in each case had been my ability, summoned from somewhere, to keep trying as hard as I could, even when there was no clear indication of the direction in which hope of victory might lie.
  In at least two matches, those with Tolley and Voight at St. Andrews, I had been outplayed throughout; and in the final round of each of the two Open Championships I had made mistakes of grievous proportions.  On several occasions I had lost control of my game.  But having once found myself in these dire predicaments, I had managed, from the point of realization, to drive myself to the end, when it would have been easy, even pleasant, to play the 'give-up' shot.
  Everyone recognizes that form in golf runs in cycles.  It can be seen even today if one watches the results of the weekly tournaments.  No one player can hold to top form for a run of more than two or three weeks.  During such a period he is operating under a formula which he has played himself into that enables him to play well, thinking of two or three moves in the stroke that he can consciously control.  Ultimately he will begin to overdo one of these or something will go wrong in another place and he will have to work out another pattern.
  The only tournament of 1930 I was able to hit in top form was the one in Augusta that didn't count.  The campaign extended from May to September, and it was not to be expected that the whole route could be smooth.
  In winning both the British and American Open Championships as one-half of the Grand Slam, I returned the lowest score of the field in only one of the eight rounds played.  Obviously then, I was not winning because of the overpowering excellence of my play.  I could have won only because, despite some very disastrous and unaccountable lapses, I did manage to keep up some sort of organized effort to the end, and so prevented major setbacks from developing into utter rout.
  The margin of victory in each tournament was a bare two strokes.  These might well have been those saved by a sort of desperate hanging on in the closing holes.
  The one most important thing for a tournament golfer to learn is that golf championships are not won merely by having greater mechanical skill than the other players.  It is not rewarding, of course, to harbour a real weakness on the mechanical side.  But in most tournaments including players of the first rank there is little difference in shot-making ability among the top echelon.  Some may be able to keep it up longer than others, but in the main, the decisive factor will be found in the relative abilities of the various players to perform under the strain which all must feel.
  The toughest and most conclusive test in golf is the Open Championship.  Match play can be a pretty  game and exciting, but it can never exert the relentless pressure of the card and pencil.  In match play you can lose only one hole at a time, and that only to an opponent you can see.  In stroke play you can blow a comfortable lead with one careless or misplayed shot; and the most phlegmatic player is always plagued by rumours or imaginings of what others are doing.
  You learn very soon, I think, in tournament golf, that your most formidable adversary is yourself.  You win or lose according to your own ability to withstand pressure.  You must learn to keep on playing your game despite all the disturbing thoughts that may keep crowding in upon your consciousness, and above all, you must keep fighting the awful pressure, no matter how much you would like to give in to it.  In a well-played tournament round you will play at the rate of a little more than three minutes for every stroke, including the shortest putts.  That gives you a lot of time to think.  Too much, I am sure you will find."

So, there you have it, from the man himself.  Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam because he refused to give up when surely almost anyone else would have.  He won the Grand Slam, to use a Tigerism, without his "A game."  He wasn't in the zone, cruising to victory with a feeling of peace and serenity, in some Zen-like state.  He suffered, struggled, persevered, and refused to quit.  I think perhaps that makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.

Bobby also spoke about his decision to quit, and the one regret he felt.  He wrote:

"There is a school of Oriental philosophy, I am told, which holds that the aim of life should be the perfection of personality or character, and that sufferings, joys, and achievements mean nothing except as they influence the development of this personality or character.  I hope the analogy will not appear too ridiculous, but it has been thinking along such a line that has uncovered the only regret I have ever had about quitting competitive golf when I was only twenty-eight years of age.
  I have never been sorry that I did not try for a fifth Open or a sixth Amateur, for after adding one of either, there would always be the question of another.  What I have regretted at times was that I did not keep on until I might have achieved, in my own estimation at least, the status of 'Compleat Golfer', to use Isaak Walton's spelling.
  Whatever lack others may have seen in me, the one I felt most was the absolute inability to continue smoothly and with authority to wrap up a championship after I had won command of it.  The failing cost me the eventual winning of more than one, and made several others look a lot more fortuitous than they should have."

Bobby Jones, with thirteen Major Championships won by the age of twenty eight, topped off by the Grand Slam, felt he could have, or should have, been a better closer.  That may be so.  But, regardless of how he might have felt about it, the thing that so impresses me, above and beyond the greatness of the man as a player, is the honesty and intelligence of the man as displayed in his writing.  These are his thoughts, and his words; not the words of some co-author.  His writing is a real gift to those who love the game.  In his words we catch a rare and honest glimpse into the mind of a champion.