The years as well as the red carpet were rolled back in St Andrews last week when Bobby Jones arrived back in town. In a place still palpitating from his 100th birthday celebrations last year it is fitting that the re-enactment of his greatest hours in golf on this side of the Atlantic should take place in a town that laid claim to him as a favourite son. It matters not that he was born, raised and died at East Lake, Atlanta in the State of Georgia, USA, Bobby Jones was a St Andrean, as no one will deny.
It has certainly been an interesting experience watching Hollywood re-create Bobby's greatest bouts on the Old Course as well as on the St Andrews Bay Devlin Course, which assumed the form of Hoylake, and at Kingsbarns where the magnificent greens and bunkers provided for a variety of times and places.
The running title for the film 'A Stroke of Genius', is also fitting, as anyone who has studied the old film footage of Jones' swing will agree. What has been most interesting, however, is that the actor, James Caviezel, not only conveyed the look and charm of Jones, but with the help of Jim Farmer's coaching, he also managed to reproduce his silky swing. Although Jim's young and talented son, Jamie Farmer actually hit the shots with the old hickory shafted clubs, Caviezel's posture and address as well as his putting stroke was very convincing. Malcolm McDowell of 'Clockwork Orange' and 'Star Wars' fame appears as OB Keeler, Georgia newspaperman, Jones' chronicler and amanuensis. His performance is also memorable.
Time will reveal what the film people have done to the Jones story but I would doubt if much embellishment were required. The Hollywood maxim that 'when the legend conflicts with the story, print the legend' will meet little conflict in the story of Jones' life. His exploits as an intellectual with a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech and a law degree from Harvard, together with his golfing achievements, are legendary and it is perhaps only in Augusta that his status ranks as it does with that that of the townspeople of St Andrews. Indeed, to people of my generation, a diet of Bobby Jones was staple in the nurturing of the growth process.
I remember as a small child asking my grandfather why Bobby Jones was so great. His response was a withering look that he usually reserved for my question of why my Sunday school teacher and the church organist took their clothes off in the vestry. It seemed to me then that some questions were either unanswerable or too obvious to merit response. It was with time that I learned that Bobby Jones' record spoke for itself; the on-goings in the vestry escape me still.
Bobby Jones was an amateur who dominated the world of golf for eight years. In that time, between 1922 and 1930, he won 13 of the world's Major titles. He took the US Amateur five times, the US Open four times, the Open Championship three times and, most memorably at St Andrews the British Amateur Championship, the title he most coveted, once.
It was in that year, 1930, that he performed the 'Grand Slam' of golf when he won the US Open and Amateur as well as the Open and British Amateur Championships in the same year. It is a record that is almost certain never to be broken and lest you think that the amateur titles fail to compare with the Masters and USPGA titles of today, think again. The Amateur Championships are matchplay events that require an exceptional level of fitness, as well as endurance and concentration over five days, playing two rounds each day.
Compared to 72-holes over four days in a strokeplay event, they are marathons that few pro golfers would contemplate far less expose themselves to.
Jones' record in the great major championships together with the margins of his victories in Walker Cup matches (average winning margin 8 up with 7 to play) contribute only in part to his legendary status. Darwin said of him 'Jones combined exquisiteness of art with utterly relentless precision in a way not given to any other golfer'.
Quizzing the elderly here in St Andrews, I deduce that it was the simplicity of his method of play as well as his modesty and quietness that caught the public imagination. But Jones also combined his boyish good looks with his innate southern charm to such effect that although old men go misty-eyed when they talk of him, old ladies will only turn their mind to him with the smelling salts at hand.
Jones undoubtedly had his greatest hours in St Andrews where he won the Open by six strokes in 1927 and his much-coveted Amateur Championship on his way to his grand slam in 1930. It was fitting, therefore, in 1958, at the inaugural playing of the Eisenhower Trophy when he captained the US team from his wheelchair, that he should be given the freedom of the city. I was there when he received the token key and struggled to rise from his chair to offer the townspeople manna with the words that if he were allowed only one course on which to play he would chose the Old Course above all others.
We loved it and we love it yet to this day. But what was much more emotive for most golfers was when he was lifted in his wheelchair down the steps onto the first tee to watch the golf, left to his thoughts. What thoughts they must have been.
James Caviezel's last role was playing Jesus Christ in the controversial Mel Gibson film 'The Passion'. The lad surely aspired to greater things when he took the part of Bobby Jones. But having played the part of Christ and now God, what else is left for him to do?
|| 2 - SEPTEMBER 2003