OPINION: Player-Jones Jr. Feud Unbecoming

Gary Player and Robert Trent Jones Jr.
The feud between Gary Player and Robert Trent Jones Jr. continues. (Photos: Gary Player, garyplayer.com; and Robert Trent Jones Jr., Action Images / Michael Craig)

Disagreements are a part of life. But feuds never end well. William Anderson Hatfield and Randolph McCoy despised one another, with each trying to wipe out the other’s family. But they are inexorably linked, one name rarely mentioned without the other.

While they haven’t resulted in gunfire yet, the roiling spat and pitched battles between Gary Player and Robert Trent Jones Jr. are getting uglier by the day.


The bad blood started when Player joined a chorus criticizing Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open venue. While being interviewed on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive during the championship, Player called that Open “the most unpleasant golf tournament I’ve seen in my life,” going on to say, “The man who designed this golf course had to have one leg shorter than the other” before launching into a detailed criticism of the course.   

In addition, on a podcast for Yahoo Sports, Player called Chambers Bay “one of the worst golf courses I’ve seen in my 63 years as a pro … It’s basically unplayable.”

Tough stuff, but not the worst thing that was said about Chambers Bay that week.

At the time, Jones responded in a Golf.com interview, saying: “First of all, you have to understand that Gary is a competitor in the design business. He was a ruthless competitor in his playing days and at times he can be that way in the design business. We compete for jobs all over the world. I can tell you that I’m open to constructive criticism, but to make it personal is something I can’t understand. … All I can tell you is that I don’t comment on my competitors. I don’t need to enter a public debate with Gary Player.”

Fair enough. Everybody’s opinions were aired and the matter should have been put to rest.

But, then, two years later, Jones couldn’t let it go. In a story GolfDigest.com published last Sunday, Jones is quoted as saying, “Gary Player wasn’t playing in the tournament. I think Gary Player, as we all know him, is kind of a showboater. For whatever reason, he chose to make those comments.

“I saw him at Sunningdale, at the pro-am dinner for the Senior British Open (the following month). He’s always honored there. I was at the next table. I caught his eye, and he turned away from me. I didn’t choose to talk to him at that location.

“Then at Rio (de Janeiro, for the Olympic Games last summer), neither of our teams was the builder of course, but I chose to be there for the team. At that particular point, he came up to me and said, ‘Are you talking to me?’

“ ‘I am now,’ I said.

“He apologized.”

That set Player off again. On his website, Player’s staff put out a statement Tuesday that read, in part:

“Here we are just one week before the 117th U.S. Open. And nearly two years later, Jones Jr. proceeded to call Player a ‘show boater’ for his comments …

“Who better to speak for all golfers than a Grand Slam champion and designer of 400 golf courses around the world?

“If you have ever spoke to Gary Player directly, you know he never is wary of broaching any subject. Jones Jr. claimed Player avoided him at the Senior British Open and later apologized for his comments while both were at the Olympics. This is simply not true.”

Who is right in this two-year-old kerfuffle is now secondary to the fact that neither of these guys seems to comprehend bygones. Jones’ squabbles with his brother, Rees, have been chronicled for years and have even been detailed in A Difficult Par, a James Hansen biography of the brothers’ father, Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Player recently took issue with Bernhard Langer passing Jack Nicklaus as the all-time senior major winner. Player claimed that the three Senior British Open titles he won in the 1980s and ’90s should count and that he and Langer should be tied, even though the Senior British was not classified as a major until 2003.

When you resort to name-calling, nitpicking, and counting senior major championships, who is right and who is wrong goes out the window.

These are old men. Both should be above this.  

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