Ed. note: This look back at the 1930 U.S. Open – during the week that the 120th edition had been scheduled at Winged Foot – is the fourth in a series of remembrances of memorable years in tournament history.
There always will be debates about the toughest golf course. And you can spend hours arguing which championship is the most prestigious. But there is one thing on which almost every golfer agrees: The most difficult golf tournament to win is the one you are supposed to.
Think of Norman on Sunday at Augusta in 1996; Jack at Muirfield in ’72; Tiger as he entered the playoff with Bob May at Valhalla in 2000. Imagine the pressure. All eyes are on you and have been for weeks before the striking of the first shot. Every prognosticator has you pegged to win, not in a one-on-one contest with an inferior opponent, but against a full field of the best in the game.
Just thinking about it is enough to give you ulcers.
So what must Bobby Jones have been thinking in 1930 as he boarded a cruise ship in England for the trip to New York after capturing both the Amateur and Open championships of Great Britain?
“Given his tendency toward stomach upset, he was probably fighting sea sickness,” said Dr. Bob Jones IV, the grandson of golf’s greatest amateur champion. “Of course, he usually compensated for that with three fingers of whiskey. And he passed the time on the ship with a racket game called Doug, invented by Douglas Fairbanks. It was a variation of what we, today, would call pickleball. And he read. He was a voracious bibliophile.”
Try to imagine the pressure. You have won 11 majors and are considered not just the greatest golfer of all time, but arguably the greatest sportsman. People mention you in the same breath with Babe Ruth and Red Grange. And while no one has come up with a corny nickname for you like Bambino or Galloping Ghost, there is a nickname for the run you’re currently on – the “impregnable quadrilateral” – which, at nine syllables, is too much of a mouthful so fans shorten it to Grand Slam.
“The thing to remember is that prior to that time, there was never any discussion at all of winning all four major championships in the same year,” Jones IV said. “It was considered inconceivable that it could be done. Whereas now, Jordan Spieth wins the first two and everybody’s all over him. But Bub (the family name Bob Jones’ grandchildren had for him) had set the goal for himself as early as 1926 to win all four of (golf’s majors) in the same year.”
He had captured the first two – the Amateur Championship at St. Andrews, defeating Roger Wethered, 7 and 6, and the Open Championship at Hoylake, beating Leo Diegel and Macdonald Smith by two shots – and then sailed to New York where he was given his second ticker tape parade. Jones remains the only individual sportsman to receive two such receptions in Manhattan.
“Bub knew that 1930 was going to be his last competitive season,” Jones IV said. “He felt that it was time to get on with the business of practicing law and raising his family. And he didn’t want to endure the pressure of competitive golf.”
Jones IV doesn’t speak about his grandfather’s mental state as a family member. He is also a clinical psychologist who specializes in training athletes to maintain focus and composure amid heightened pressure and expectations.
“For Bub, the mental burden had been there for several years,” Jones IV said. “He had long since reached the point where tournament golf was not this fun little lark it had been when he first started. It weighed heavily on him long before the pressure of trying to win the Grand Slam.
“The other thing that weighed heavily on him was the fact that we were in the early days of the Great Depression and several of his friends were betting relatively large sums of money on him. Bobby Cruickshank bet £5,000 at the beginning of 1930 (the equivalent of £330,000 or $409,000 in 2020) on Bub winning all four major championships that year. Bobby was a friend so that was a lot of pressure.”
Jones was 28 at the time, already a lawyer and cult hero in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. But if he had anything going for him in terms of minimizing the pressure, it was that, as his grandson put it, “Bub was not that recognizable outside of Atlanta, so he could go places in relative anonymity. We didn’t have the 24-hour news or sports cycle. That’s the reason he could be standing outside the Waldorf Astoria the night after his tickertape parade as crews were cleaning the street and, while smoking a cigarette, ask a cop, ‘So, officer, what’s all the fuss about?’ and the cop said, ‘Oh it’s just a parade for some damn golfer.’
“He didn’t have that universal recognizability that average athletes have now. That worked in his favor.
The final 36 holes were played in one day back then. The high temperature was 101 degrees. He was able to cruise in with an afternoon 75 to beat Macdonald Smith by two.
“Having said that, I think we underestimate his ability to remain focused in ways that very few athletes before or after ever have. Coming into Interlachen (in Minnesota, site of the 1930 U.S. Open), he was at the peak of his game. He was psychologically better off than he had been at any time before. He also knew that the end was in sight. There was something liberating about that.”
When he arrived in Minnesota, after a couple of weeks in Atlanta and another couple of days on a train from the deep south to the American Midwest, Jones was buoyed by another twist of fate – the weather.
“Bub and Jack Nicklaus shared a lot of psychological traits,” Jones IV said. “But one that stood out that week was the confidence Bub took from adverse conditions. Jack used to enjoy sitting in the locker room at U.S. Opens and listening to people gripe about how tough the setup was. Jack knew those people wouldn’t be around on the weekend. Bub was the same way.”
Jones IV didn’t say it, but Tiger Woods is another player who relishes tough conditions. Longtime caddie Steve Williams called Woods the best foul-weather player of his generation with no one else particularly close. That wasn’t because Tiger practiced in the wind and rain more than most. It was because he knew that the conditions beat half the field for him.
“When they got to Interlachen for the practice rounds, it was beastly hot,” Jones IV said. “Temperatures were into triple digits with no breeze. During one of the rounds, Bub sweated so much that someone had to cut the tie off his neck because the knot had fused. Those conditions worked in his favor because people would say things like, ‘Bob, can you believe this heat? It’s going to be 105 in the shade.’ Bub would respond, ‘Good thing we don’t have to play in the shade.’
“That was his edge. When he heard those complaints, he knew he held an advantage over those players.”
With early rounds of 71-73-68, Jones held a five-shot lead after the morning round on Saturday. The final 36 holes were played in one day back then. The high temperature was 101 degrees. He was able to cruise in with an afternoon 75 to beat Macdonald Smith by two.
Three legs of the Grand Slam were complete.
“Yes, there was pressure,” Jones IV said. “But that U.S. Open was finished in the middle of July and the U.S. Amateur (at Merion Cricket Club) was not played until September. So, he had to wait 60 days for the final leg, a period of time when expectations soared. So, while there was normal competitive pressure going into Interlachen, the real pressure for Bub did not come until after he had won that U.S. Open.”
Top: The gallery cheers after Bobby Jones makes the final putt to win the 1930 U.S. Open. Photo: Courtesy USGA Museum
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