THE GRAND SLAM: BOBBY JONES, AMERICA, AND THE STORY OF GOLF.
This is an article from the Nov. 29, 2004 issue
By Mark Frost.
Hyperion, 494 pages. $30.
BOBBY JONES: HOW I PLAY GOLF AND HOW TO BREAK 90
--The 18 instructional shorts rereleased on three DVDs.
Bobby Jones Productions, $150. ($250 for the Collector's Edition.)
bobby jones wouldn't like this. He wouldn't like the scrutiny, and he surely wouldn't like the fuss, but that is what he's getting to mark the 75th anniversary of his 1930 Grand Slam.
If there's one thing Frost's Grand Slam--the first of three Jones biographies set to hit bookstores by April--makes clear, it's that Jones was the most reluctant of America's sporting gods. With his analytic engineer's mind and empathetic poet's heart, he understood fame's spotlight and the projections of those intent on shining it, which made him hate that it shone so brightly on him.
Surmises Frost: "This was the secret cost of Bobby's skyrocketing reputation: Perfection was the only way he could hold up his end of the bargain. He expected nothing less of himself, which set him on a collision course with reality." In that collision Frost identifies what makes Jones continually interesting and startlingly contemporary.
A novelist and TV writer before turning to golf history, Frost is no Jones hagiographer. Instead Frost uses his instinct for character development to delve into Jones's complex psyche. The portrait that emerges is of a truly flawed, human and appealing leading man.
To see how reluctant a public personality Jones was, check out the three-DVD collection of the 12 How I Play Golf instructional shorts Jones filmed in 1931, and the six-part sequel, How to Break 90, shot two years later. In every episode Jones looks as if he has smelled something awful; not even comical co-stars like W.C. Fields and Joe E. Brown can crack Bobby's tense veneer and snoozy monotone.
Today these lessons have little instructional value, but they are still entertaining. As is this anecdote from Frost: When Jones completed the Slam at the U.S. Amateur, his caddie, Howard Rexford, took the winning ball. Three decades later Rexford inexplicably used the ball in a match and lost one of golf's most sacred artifacts. Jones would've loved that. --Jeff Silverman