Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

 

Jones was not only a consummately skilled golfer but exemplified the principles of sportsmanship and fair play. In the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club near Boston, his approach shot to the 11th hole's elevated green fell short into the deep rough of the embankment. As he took his stance to pitch onto the green, the head of his club brushed the grass and caused a slight movement of the ball. He took the shot, then informed his playing partner Walter Hagen and the USGA official covering their match that he was calling a penalty on himself. Hagen was unable to talk him out of it, and they continued play. After the round and before he signed his scorecard, officials argued with Jones but he insisted that he had violated Rule 18, moving a ball at rest after address, and took a 77 instead of the 76 he otherwise would have carded. Jones' self-imposed one-stroke penalty eventually cost him winning the Open by a stroke in regulation, necessitating a playoff he then lost. Although praised by many sports writers for his gesture, Jones was reported to have said, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

A similar event occurred in the next U.S. Open, played at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. In the second round, after his opening round put him in second place, Jones was putting on the 15th green in the face of a strong wind. After grounding his putter during address to square up the club face, the ball rolled a half turn in the wind when Jones lifted the club head to place it behind the ball. Although no one else observed this movement of the ball either, again Jones called a penalty on himself, but this time Jones went on to win the tournament, the second of his four U.S. Open victories.

The USGA's sportsmanship award is named the Bob Jones Award in his honor.