Quick, name a star athlete, past or present, who is also a brilliant intellectual artist. Never mind 4.0 scholar-athletes; look for a tangible intellectual and artistic accomplishment to match the feats on the field of play. Dick Francis comes to mind, but I can’t think of any others.
The paragon, of course, is Bobby Jones, the amateur golfing sensation of the 1920s and 1930s, who won 62 percent of what were then the world’s “major” golf championships he entered during his brief career, then won all of them at once in a single year, 1930, and then retired. Jones wrote as well as he played. His writing shows why he attained such popularity in his heyday. To the openness of his face add the clarity of his prose. Above all else, Jones was treasured for his friendship. In his writing, you can be Bob Jones’s friend today, and it’s a wonderful experience.
You can learn a lot, too.
GOLF WRITER CHARLES PRICE wrote the introduction to Bobby Jones on Golf, published originally in 1966, and currently available in a nice paperback edition. In that intro, he explains how the book came about. Jones had written a weekly golf column for the Bell Syndicate from the years 1927 through 1935. It amounted to a diary of Jones’s most creative and successful period. Of those millions of words, at Jones’s behest, Price selected what he saw as the best 80,000 — “the timeless,” as he wrote. Jones then rewrote virtually every word of that, a feat of considerable will, Jones being so crippled at that point by a spinal degenerative disease that he could not walk, could not even hold a pen except if it were shoved through a tennis ball to grip.
It makes an interesting comparison to contrast the Jones book to the lordly Golf My Way, published in 1974 by Jack Nicklaus. Jones wrote his, and beautifully. The Nicklaus book was thoroughly ghosted by Ken Bowden, and strikes a tone one can only describe as corporate. Nicklaus espouses what might be called a unified field theory of golf. Not for nothing did Tom Watson dub him “Karnack” for his know-it-all attitude. (Nicklaus got much more human in his later years.) Jones sees golf as a lot of little things and advises reading his book that way, dipping into it here and there and now and then. Paging back through the book for quotes this week after finishing it two weeks ago, I kept thinking, “I didn’t see that. Wait…let me read that.” The Nicklaus book I returned unfinished to the library. Bobby Jones on Golf I bought, and I will keep.
AS PRICE POINTS OUT, Jones was no golfing genius, untouched by ordinary failings. You could reproduce his entire chapter on “Short Putts” with delight. It begins, “To miss a putt of a yard length seems the most useless thing in the world.” And it ends with the account of Jones standing terrified over a three-inch putt to win the U.S. Open in 1926. “The wildest thought struck me. ‘What if I should stub my putter into the turf and fail to move the ball?’” (Hale Irwin actually did this in a British Open.) “Sounds a bit psycho, doesn’t it? But golfers can get that way.”
Nor did Jones play every day all year long, like today’s champion golfers. In the off season, from the end of the U.S. Open through the winter, Jones played less than half a dozen rounds, usually with his father or his friends at East Lake in Atlanta — this even in the heyday of his competitive career.
So Jones sounds just like all of us as he goes out for golf at the beginning of every new season. “After a long winter layoff, each club feels like a broom handle, and each ball when struck transmits a shock up the shaft, causing the player to think he has hit a lump of iron.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?