The Great Bobby Jones Achieved a Sports Record that Will Never Be Broken

Bobby Jones’ 1937 personal Augusta Green Jacket sold for $310,700 at an August 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Only two Americans have been made an Honorary Burgess of the Borough by the people of St. Andrews. One was Ben Franklin and the other was amateur golfer Bobby Jones. When golfers evaluate each other, it is not about their swing, iron play or prize money. The question is: “How many Majors have they won?” The modern-day Majors comprise four tournaments: the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, the Open Championship (British), and the Masters Golf Tournament.

This unique criterion is the yardstick to measure greatness and the current all-time leader is Jack Nicklaus, with a career total of 18 wins. Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is No. 2 with 14, and there is growing skepticism about his chances to tie or surpass Nicklaus (my bet is no).

Usually ranked No. 3 on the all-time greatest list (which typically includes Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead) is a remarkable man by the name of Robert Tyre Jones Jr. (aka Bobby Jones). With childhood health issues, Jones wasn’t expected to live past his fifth birthday, but he became the greatest sports legend of the first half of the 20th century. He is golf’s consummate icon, the measuring stick against which all aspiring champions will be measured. In a sport where so many compete so regularly, no player has ever dominated the way Jones did between 1920 and 1930.

During that 10-year stretch, Jones competed in 45 events, winning 21 and finishing in second place seven times. From the tender age of 19 until he was 28, he won 13 Major Championships and set records that lasted for more than 60 years. He is also the only man to win all four of his era’s Majors in one year: the British Open, British Amateur, the U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur. Since no other amateur has won the U.S. Open since the 1930s, this is a cinch to be the only sports record that will never be broken or tied … as long as the game of golf is played.

Jones also was the embodiment of sportsmanship. At one point during the 1925 U.S. Open, he penalized himself a stroke for a slight ball movement that no one noticed. Everyone congratulated him profusely on his honesty, but he simply replied, “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Bobby Jones, circa 1930

After Jones set this precedent for self-policing, golfers are still trying to match his uncompromising integrity. Golf is the only professional sport that really doesn’t need referees or umpires, since players usually call all the penalties. It’s an astonishing situation when compared to cycling, gymnasts or track stars (doping), or professional soccer, where players conspire to fix games. Or baseball, basketball or football, where players and coaches are routinely ejected for complaining about adverse rulings.

However, a truly remarkable thing happened in 1930 when Bobby Jones won golf’s Grand Slam at age 28 … he retired from competitive golf to focus on his law career. This is analogous to Joe DiMaggio retiring in 1941 after hitting in 56 straight games, Babe Ruth in 1927 after his 60 home runs, or Roger Bannister hanging up his running shoes on May 6, 1954, after becoming the first man in history to run the mile in under 4 minutes.

The next phase of Jones’ life included transforming 365 acres of land in Augusta, Ga., into a golf course that is revered by golfers worldwide: the Augusta National Golf Club. This is arguably the planet’s No. 1 golf course and venerable site of the greatest tournament in the history of the game: the Masters. The just-completed 2017 Masters was the 81st time the world’s best golfers played for the coveted Green Jacket.

Play is strictly by invitation-only, as is membership in Augusta National. Condoleezza Rice was one of the first two women invited to join (2012). I have been patiently waiting a long time and only recently adopted Groucho Marx’s philosophy: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member!”

P.S. To whoever decides on members …. just kidding.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Wilson’s Daughters Were Champions of Women’s Suffrage

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A poster featuring Inez Milholland Boissevain was produced to commemorate her ride through Washington, D.C., and her fateful death in 1916. This example realized $402.50 at a June 2005 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On March 3, 1913, the day before the presidential inauguration, the Thomas Woodrow Wilson family arrived in Washington, D.C. There was very scant attention paid to the arrival of the new president-elect since it coincided with an unusually high-profile demonstration.

About 8,000 women, led by Vassar-educated lawyer Inez Milholland Boissevain (astride a beautiful white horse), were marching in the capital’s streets to further the cause of women’s suffrage. There were marching bands, floats and pageantry galore along the route. The demonstration was intended to emphasize frustrations with the slow progress in Congress, despite the many years of effort to gain national rights.

Prior to 1912, only 1.3 million women in six states had equal voting rights with men and a mere three states had been added for a grand total of nine. However, the movement seemed to be gaining broader support, although eight more years would be needed before the 19th Amendment was approved.

On this particular day, the crowds were boisterous and opponents took delight in spitting on their banners and throwing lighted cigarettes and cigars at and on marchers. At times, the crowds got out of control and more than 100 people were trampled or bruised to the point they required hospital care.

The three Wilson daughters, Margaret, Jessie and Eleanor (nicknamed Nellie), were all ardent supporters of women’s suffrage and were constantly badgering their father to make it a priority even before he was elected. Jessie had even taken a bold stance while in college and ended up resigning from her sorority when her efforts were scorned.

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Jessie Woodrow Wilson

Jessie Woodrow Wilson was born on Aug. 28, 1887, and educated far beyond most women of the day, similar to outgoing First Lady Helen Taft. She had studied at Goucher College and Princeton, where she was Phi Betta Kappa after her high academic accomplishments. After college, she worked at the Lighthouse Settlement House for women millworkers, where she observed firsthand the downtrodden women, and it transformed her into a passionate supporter of women’s suffrage and equal rights.

In 1915, Margaret acted as honorary hostess for the convention of the National American Women Suffrage Association (later known as the League of Women Voters) and Eleanor would speak at the convention along with members of her father’s cabinet. 1915 was also the first year a U.S. president would attend the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies won the first game, but it would take 65 years before the next one (1980). The Red Sox easily won the series 4-1. Their pitching staff was so good that a young pitching star named George “Babe” Ruth was limited to a single appearance as a pinch-hitter (he grounded out).

Jessie Wilson continued her political career and even introduced Al Smith as the first Catholic presidential nominee in 1928 (he lost to Herbert Hoover), and was obviously poised for big things when Franklin D. Roosevelt won the first of his four elections and dominated the Democratic Party.

Alas, on Jan. 15, 1933, Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre died at age 45 following complications from abdominal surgery. I suspect she would have been heavily involved in politics had she lived a longer life.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

The Abner Doubleday Myth and the Alexander Cartwright Reality

An 1839 Alexander Cartwright signed book, the earliest-known Cartwright autograph, realized $10,157.50 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The baseball Hall of Fame officially opened on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Cooperstown name was drawn from James Fenimore Cooper, whose works of literature have become American classics in every sense of the word.

The inaugural HOF class was selected three years earlier in 1936 and consisted of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. (Seven Cobb baseball cards were discovered this year in an old paper bag in rural Georgia after someone’s great-grandfather died. Experts at PSA estimate their value at “well into seven figures.”)

Now we know for sure that Abner Doubleday was a fine Civil War general and is credited with firing the first shot at the Confederates from Fort Sumter. However, his military record was tarnished when General George Meade replaced him at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was unfair, but Meade had been disdainful of Doubleday for a long time.

We also know that Doubleday obtained a patent on the little cable cars that “climb halfway to the stars,” as the venerable Tony Bennett sings about in his theme song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A wise man once told me … never live in San Francisco, but never live too far from it.

Now back to Doubleday, where the facts start to get iffy.

Abner Doubleday was credited with inventing baseball by a commission sponsored by A.G. Spalding, co-founder of the sports equipment company, in an effort to dispel rumors that the All-American game had a British pedigree. Spalding organized the Mills Commission to authenticate baseball as an American invention and it concluded, conveniently, the concept was devised by Doubleday.

Subsequently, the Mills report has been thoroughly discredited and a New York bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, gets the honor … in addition to starting the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, designing the diamond shape and even sewing the first baseball. Some of the rules he created are still in use.

For those who love baseball as I do, Harold Peterson’s The Man Who Invented Baseball (1973) is a treasure and highly recommended.

Abner Doubleday had a terrific life, but it did not include baseball.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].