Saturday, 2 January 2016

Bobby Jones on Then and Now

In his book Golf is my Game, Bobby Jones took the time to reflect on the question that tends to be regularly raised about golf, namely: Were the great players of old as good as the great players today?  Was Tiger Woods in his prime better than Jack Nicklaus in his?  Was Jack better than Ben Hogan?  Was Hogan better than Jones?  Who was the greatest player of all time?  And so it goes. 

As always, Bobby Jones, who continues to be part of any serious discussion about who was the greatest ever, provides a thoughtful and reasoned analysis worth considering.  He wrote:

"The one question put to me most often is: Were the golfers of my day as good as those of present time?
  There can be no question more impossible to answer.  Yet if golfers insist upon speculation on this topic, there is no reason why they should not have that privilege.  And since it seems to command so much interest, perhaps I may join in the discussion.
  In 1927, when I won the British Open at St. Andrews, one of the old-time professionals, described as 'the grand old man of Scottish golf,' was quoted in the newspapers as follows: 'I knew and played with Tom Morris, and he was every bit as good as Jones.  Young Tom had to play with a gutty ball, and you could not make a mistake and get away with it.  St. Andrews then had whins up to your head and the fairways were half the width they are now.  This rubber-cored ball we have now only requires a tap and it runs a mile.'
  So, you see, the controversy is not new.  Young Tom had died some thirty years before I was born.  Yet there is, of course, much substance in the above quotation; that is, if one must pursue the controversy.
  Perhaps it is fortunate, so long as we care to remain friends, that the players and personalities involved in the discussion do not take it too seriously...I think we must agree that all a man can do is beat the people who are around at the same time he is.  He cannot win from those who came before any more than he can from those who come afterwards.  It is grossly unfair to anyone who takes pride in the record he is able to compile that he must be compared to those of other players who have been competing against entirely different people under wholly different conditions."

Chances are, a hundred years from now, if we're still playing this grand old game, people will be arguing about whether the great champion, winning all the Majors today, is better than Tiger Woods was.  Chances are, especially if the modern champion is exciting, and charismatic, the young folk will assert he is better than Tiger or Jack were; perhaps even the greatest ever.  And old timers, who saw other great players in their prime, and remember with fondness what were, for them, the good old days, will heartily disagree.  The question that surely can never be satisfactorily answered will continue to be asked.  That's just the way we are.