When Bob Jones arrived at Merion Golf Club in September 1930, the three toughest hurdles in his quest to claim all four major golf championships in one year had been cleared.
Only the U.S. Amateur, which Jones had captured on four previous occasions, remained in what some in the press were calling the Impregnable Quadrilateral. This feat would later be called the Grand Slam, although the modern professional version includes the U.S. Open, British Open, Masters and PGA Championship.
In 1930, the Masters was four years from its inception and Jones could not compete in the fledgling PGA Championship because of his amateur status.
So the Atlanta native set out to accomplish the rarest of feats, win the four preeminent golf championships of his era: the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.
Eighty years ago, on Sept. 22, Jones defeated Eugene Homans, 8 and 7, before a crowd estimated at 18,000 to complete the quest. A scorecard of that scheduled 36-hole final is on display at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
While most of the U.S. – and the world for that matter – was in the throes of the Great Depression, Jones gave the public something to feel good about. No one has since been able to claim all four of golf’s major championships in a calendar year, although Tiger Woods captured four consecutive majors in 2000-2001. Ben Hogan also won three majors in 1953, but he was unable to compete in the PGA Championship due to a scheduling conflict with the British Open.
Jones figured 1930 was the right time to make a run at history. He had quietly thought of retiring from competitive golf to focus more on his family and law practice in Atlanta. With the biennial Walker Cup Match scheduled for the spring of 1930, Jones set sail that April as the USA’s playing captain.
A USA victory at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, preceded the British Amateur, which was being conducted on the Old Course at St. Andrews. This was the only major championship missing from Jones’ impressive resume. It was also one of the toughest to win because of the grueling format. The bracket featured eight rounds, although Jones was given a first-round bye, and all the matches were 18 holes until the final. Jones always felt he could beat anyone over 36 holes, but 18-hole matches offered more of a chance for an upset.
Jones survived a tough fourth-round match with Cyril Tolley, winning in 19 holes. He rallied from a 2-down deficit with five to play to beat George Voigt in the semifinals, 1 up. The crucial point came at the famous Road Hole, No. 17, where Jones holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the hole. He won the match at No. 18.
Once he reached the 36-hole final, he had little trouble defeating 1923 British Amateur champion Roger Wethered of England, who happened to be the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup captain. Jones prevailed, 7 and 6, and headed to the British Open at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake).
Jones spent a week in Paris with his wife to get rested for the second leg of his Grand Slam quest. He struggled in the qualifying rounds, shooting 73-77, but eventually won the title by two shots over Macdonald Smith and Leo Diegel en route to breaking Walter Hagen’s championship record by 10 shots. Jones had become the first man to win the British Amateur and Open championships in the same year since John Ball 40 years earlier.
A ticker-tape parade awaited Jones when he returned to New York on the SS Europa. It was the second time Jones had received such an honor, the first coming four years earlier when he became the only amateur to have won the U.S. and British Open titles in the same year. Jones remains the only athlete and one of two individuals – astronaut John Glenn is the other – to have received two ticker-tape parades down Broadway.
But celebration aside, Jones still had plenty of work remaining. He would head to Interlachen Country Club outside of Minneapolis seeking a fourth U.S. Open title. Only Willie Anderson had managed to win four U.S. Open titles and Jones wanted to join that select fraternity.
Despite sweltering heat – temperatures soared into the 100s – Jones managed to fight through the pressure and enormous expectations that were now on his shoulders. With his muscles quivering, Jones eventually held off Smith again by two strokes, holing a 40-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to cement the championship.
Now the U.S. Amateur was the only obstacle in Jones’ path to history.
Fittingly, the championship was being conducted at Merion Golf Club, where Jones had first burst onto the national scene as a raw 14-year-old talent. Merion was also the site of his first U.S. Amateur title in 1924.
Jones preferred the format that called for 36-hole matches from the third round onward. After easily claiming medalist honors, Jones cruised through his first two 18-hole matches, defeating Canadians Ross Somerville and F.G. Hoblitzel by 5-and-4 margins. With 36-hole matches set for the quarterfinals, semis and final, Jones now was in his comfort zone.
Fay Coleman fell 6 and 4 in the quarterfinals, followed by a 9-and-8 romp over 1922 champion Jess Sweetser.
In the final against Homan, Jones carded the equivalent of 33 on the second nine and held a commanding 7-up lead at the break. From there, it was a mere formality as the crowds swelled to witness history. The match came to an end at the par-4 11th hole.
“The most triumphant journey that any man ever travelled in sport,” wrote William Richardson in the New York Times of the 50 marines who escorted the champion back to the clubhouse.
Nevertheless, Jones, then only 28, shockingly announced his retirement from competitive golf. Four years later, he would play a role in the founding of the Masters Tournament at his new club, Augusta National.
To this day, Jones’ 1930 performance ranks as one of the greatest in the history of the game.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.