because this book is the engrossingly definitive account
ScottishGolf has to declare an interest on two counts right at the outset of this review. First, we made author Mark Frost's previous book - The Greatest Game Ever Played (which concerned the 1913 US Open won by unknown amateur Francis Ouimet), our book of the year for 2002. So we rather think that Mr Frost can write a bit. Second, in our view, Bob Jones was the greatest golfer to ever lift a club. Yes, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and perhaps Tiger Woods might be considered as good, if not better but that ignores both the brevity of Jones' career, and his remarkable strike rate in the Majors.
Not convinced? Try this for size. Between 1923-1930, Jones played in 21 Majors (which in those days were the Open, the Amateur, and the US Open and Amateur) and he won 13 of them - or 62%. In 2004, Tiger Woods was the same age as Jones had been in 1930. If you include Woods' three US Amateur titles, the world's all-time leading money earner in golf had played in 36 'Majors' and won 11 - 31%, exactly half the strike rate of Jones.
Many reference books show Jones as having seven Majors, because modern records include only the Open, US Open and PGA, and Masters in that elite category, but a player can only be judged by what prevailed during his time and there is no doubt that, although the US PGA Championship was around, it was not regarded as a Major and even if it were, Jones was ineligible because it was only open to professionals. Furthermore, Jones took on the pros - most famously the man regarded by many as the greatest match-player of all, Walter Hagan - and beat them consistently. In fact, he so irked the pro ranks that they would gang up against him in the two Open championships because they found it humiliating to be so consistently and comprehensively beaten by a man who never lifted a cent of prize money.
The grand Slam, or 'impregnable quadrilateral' as the flowery prose of the day preferred, was so impossible, such an absolutely unattainable, pipe-dream of an ambition, that no-one even considered it before Jones did. What's more, once the outrageous idea entered his head and he mulled it over for a while, he then set it as his goal for the year 1930, which he knew would be his last as a competitive golfer. He didn't make his quest public knowledge (but had confided with a few friends) until the first two legs were achieved and the possibility could not be ignored but nevertheless he set himself what was considered an impossible task, and then achieved it.
And even this does not adequately explain ScottishGolf's reverence for the man because his even greater achievement was in simply being the man he was, and in the process helping to forever establish that the way you behave is far more important than the records you achieve. Jones underlined, in such a way that it is woven into the very fabric of the game we love, that honour, decency, respect and dignity are, above all other things, the measures that count.
Mark Frost writes: 'His record in his sport cannot and never will be equalled, but it was the way in which he went about realizing his abilities that matters even more. Because he stood for something rare and true, without trying to or saying so in speeches and empty gestures; he never talked about the meaning of what he had accomplished, he simply did it as he lived it, and in so doing left others a far more meaningful path to follow.'
If this sounds a little overblown, it will not seem so once you have read this wonderfully engaging book because what Frost has actually written is a biography of a truly remarkable man. A man who had inner demons aplenty and who, in his younger days, frightened those who cared for him with the vehemence of his anger, that approached malice on occasions, when things did not go his way on the course. He controlled it, eventually, and after a great deal of struggle but one has to wonder if the iron-will needed for the task was at least part of the reason why his stomach knotted, he could barely eat, and he would lose up to 20 pounds in weight during a Major.
The book is full of staggering statistics (such as the fact that, between 1920-30 Jones entered only 40 golf events, of which 29 were Majors) and one of Frost's greatest attributes is being able to set things in context. To explain exactly how Jones became an absolute national hero - and the only man to be awarded two Manhattan ticker-tape parades - loved, admired and respected in equal measure.
He of course had his own Boswell, in OB Keeler, the journalist who was also a good friend and the man who chronicled all of Jones' achievements. Mark Frost's book deserves to stand alongside anything produced by Keeler, Bernard Darwin, Grantland Rice and the other literary luminaries of golf who were equally in awe of Jones' ability on the course, and character off it.
|| 20 - OCTOBER 2004