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].

Masters Golf Tournament Won’t Be the Same Without Tiger Woods

A set of gloves worn by Tiger Woods during each of his four rounds at the 2011 Masters, autographed by Woods, sold for $9,560 at a July 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The modern-day golf Majors include the U.S. and British Opens, the PGA and the Masters Golf Tournament. Jack Nicklaus’ 18 victories in these events is considered the most revered record in the sport.

It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people were convinced it was only a matter of time until Tiger Woods broke that record and virtually all others of significance in the game. This was especially true in the spring of 1997 following Woods’ stunning professional debut. By the time he arrived at Augusta, he had won three tournaments in seven months as a professional, was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year,” and, amazingly, was the favorite to win the coveted Masters.

Nicklaus went so far as to predict that Woods would eventually win the Masters 11 times!

The limited edition 2001 SP Authentic Gold Tiger Woods #45 card is popular with collectors.

As brilliant as he was, it seemed unlikely that Woods would be able to contend with the hype and pressure heaped his way. He not only did, but he made it look easy. He led the tournament by three strokes on Friday (day two), by 9 strokes on Saturday night, and a record 12 strokes on Sunday when the tournament ended. “He’s a boy among men,” Tom Watson innocently said as Woods ran away from the field, “and he’s teaching the men a lesson.” A very sincere compliment from one of golf’s biggest stars.

Woods’ victory wasn’t just an amazing performance by a young star, it was a major social and political event in American history for the simple reason that Tiger was a black man. Woods’ father was African-American, Native-American and Caucasian. His mother was from Thailand. Tiger jokingly calls himself a “Cablinasian.”

Regardless of his ethnic breakdown, the fact is Tiger was a man of color. As late as 1963, this meant that he would not have been allowed to be eligible for membership in the Professional Golf Association (PGA) since membership was limited to “Caucasian only.”

For many years, Augusta National had been a symbol of the old South, a place that clung to segregation, much the way George Wallace had, only without State Troopers. During the first 40 years the Masters was played, the only black men inside the ropes were those carrying golf bags as caddies. Clifford Roberts, who had become the sole master of the Masters after Bobby Jones died in 1971, insisted that the tournament wanted black players and would welcome them when they qualified. But during the 1960s, when both Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown won events on the PGA tour, neither was invited to play in the Masters.

Now a man of color has actually won the Masters and it’s a relief that another barrier has been shattered. But there was a real controversy brewing. A television crew asked 1979 Champion Fuzzy Zoeller, “What do you think about Tiger?” Few golfers have been more friendly than Fuzzy. He is a gregarious, funny man who loves to tell jokes. As the TV cameras rolled, he picked the wrong time to be funny with his references to the potential 1998 Champions Dinner menu. “That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. … So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

When Zoeller’s comments aired a week later, all hell broke loose. He lost his No. 1 sponsor and the controversy took a long time to settle down after multiple apologies, all of which Tiger accepted graciously.

Sadly, four-time Masters winner Woods will not be competing in tomorrow’s Masters due to continued back problems. He will be missed by every Masters fan in America. It will not be the same without him.

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].

Nearly 55 Years Ago, Nicklaus Got His Start with an Unspectacular Payday

Gold Rolex Wristwatch Presented to Jack Nicklaus for 1980 US Open Victory
This gold Rolex wristwatch presented to Jack Nicklaus for his 1980 U.S. Open victory realized $33,460 at an August 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 8, 1962, a chubby, 21-year-old pro golfer picked up a check for $33.33 after tying for 50th (last place) with Billy Maxwell and Don Massengale in the Los Angeles Open.

The tournament was played at Rancho Park in West Los Angeles.

Thus began the pro career of the best golfer of all time – Jack Nicklaus, who went on to win 18 Major Championships (the record) … six Masters, five PGA, four U.S. Opens and three British Championships (The Open). He also won two U.S. Amateur Championships.

He would go on to win 73 PGA tournaments and 10 on the Champions (Seniors) before retiring in 2005.

His pro winnings were $9,102,462 and in 2004 he was named the Golfer of the Century/Millennium. Golf Magazine named him Golfer of the Century for 1888-1998.

On that sunny day in California in 1962, I had decided to follow Phil Rodgers, who shot 62 (9 under par) and won the tournament by 9 strokes … 21 better than Nicklaus.

Who knew?

P.S. Billy Casper was the first golfer to win more than $200k in one year ($205,168 in 1968). In 2015, caddy Steve Williams earned $1.27 million.

P.P.S. Since the prize money for last place in 1962 was $100 and Maxwell, Massengale and Nicklaus each got $33.33, what happened to the extra cent? Yes, I know it takes a curious mind to think of this, but you have to pay attention to the small things.

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].