My brother, John, gave me a book not long ago which I was not able to get around to reading until recently. The reason for this is that it is a tome. That is to say, it is a large, hardback, 480 page doorstop. The title is, “The Grand Slam.” No, it’s not about how Denny’s Restaurant developed the popular breakfast special of that name. This book is about the greatest golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, and his quest for the “Grand Slam” of golf.
The Grand Slam for men is nearly an impossible act of athletic prowess. Typically, it means the golfer has managed to win, in consecutive order, the four major tournaments in the same calendar year (The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship). The tournaments were of different names when Bobby Jones accomplished this in 1930. Tiger Woods won all four in order, but over two years. An argument could certainly be made, and has already been made, that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. On his current pace, he has won twelve majors, not to mention having won seven tournaments this year alone, the last five in a row. There will be many who will crown him the new king of golf. Considering what he has accomplished, I would not argue.
One aspect of Bobby Jones is his absolute commitment to integrity on the golf course. You see, in golf, you play against yourself, not another golfer. The game of golf is unique in that you are measured by what you do in hitting your ball. In practically every other game I can think of, you play against an opponent using the same ball, be it a tennis ball, football, baseball, racquetball, basketball, soccer ball, or whatever. The ball is not yours, except during the time you have it under your control. Not so in golf. Each golfer plays his own ball. So in reality, the golfer is not playing against another golfer. He is playing against the golf course.
Now, before you lose interest because you’re not a golfer, hear me out. A golfer is playing his game – alone. He must be disciplined enough to comply fully with the rules of the game. This is another reason why golf is considered a “Gentlemanly Game.” It applies to the ladies too! There are so many rules that it would choke a horse. But if you are going to play the game, you are expected to play by the rules. Other golfers playing with you will expect you to know and abide by those rules.
Bobby Jones was a stickler when it came to obeying the rules and fair play. On more than one occasion he penalized himself for an infraction of the rules. In golf, your quest is to shoot as low a score as possible in order to win. When you are penalized in tournament play, it means you add a stroke, or strokes, depending on the infraction. Jones committed the merest of infractions twice during separate tournaments. Once when he was preparing to hit the ball from some deep grass (called “rough”) his club caused the grass to move which caused the ball to move ever so slightly. No one but Bobby saw it move. He knew the rules. He had committed the infraction. He stopped; motioned for one of the officials to come over, whereupon he told the official to penalize him a stroke. The amazed official did so, though he tried valiantly to dissuade Bobby from being so hard on himself, especially since he was the only one who saw it. Bobby Jones would have none of it. It cost him the match against Walter Hagen, the top professional golfer of the day. The second time was when he was preparing to putt on the green. In lining up his ball, the ball moved, but as before, no one saw it. Jones penalized himself a stroke. This time, however, he won the tournament – the prestigious United States Open Championship.
Many reporters and writers for various publications made a big to-do over Jones’ sportsmanship, humility and strict adherence to the rules of the game. This elicited a severe reaction from Bobby because he felt he had done what was right, living to the standard of the game. He said, “You’d as well praise me for not breaking into banks!”
During another golf tournament, Bobby was playing against a golfer who was very jealous of Bobby and his reputation. He had made it quite clear to anyone who would listen that he intensely disliked Bobby. In a match where they were tied after sixteen holes, Bobby made par on seventeen. His opponent had a six-foot putt for par, but the crowd around the green made a dash to the next hole in anticipation of continued play. Bobby saw that this was disturbing to his opponent, so he conceded the putt. Bobby would wind up losing the match. But as one sports writer, and a close friend, put it, “Of all the championships, I loved him best in that long and losing battle.” Such was the character of Bobby Jones.
In my book, this matter of personal integrity alone makes Bobby Jones the greatest player ever.
I have not been able to determine Jones’ spiritual standing with God from the book, but I couldn’t help but think that when he alone saw the infractions he committed for which he penalized himself, there was Someone else who also saw the ball move. Such moments are played on a far grander stage than a golf course. Bobby Jones did the right thing – and God saw it.
And God was pleased.