Florida Today
Peter Kerasotis
August 11, 2005

U.S. Open loss could haunt Tiger

If only Tiger Woods' putter hadn't balked in June at the U.S. Open, we'd be looking at a possible Grand Slam today as the PGA Championship prepares to tee off.

Not a Tiger Slam, which Woods accomplished in 2000-01, when he held all four of golf's great majors -- The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship -- simultaneously.

But not in one calendar year.

Only one man has ever done that.

And that was some 75 years ago.

If you think Tiger Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors, you're only half-correct.

He is also chasing Bobby Jones, the man who won the one and only golfing Grand Slam.

Seventy-five years ago.

It could've been such sweet symmetry.

This year, Tiger has captured The Masters and British Open. If he wins the PGA Championship this weekend, the lapse at the U.S. Open will haunt him even more.

Sure, a win this weekend would move him one step closer to Nicklaus.

But he'll have missed an opportunity to match the immortal Bobby Jones.

Or maybe I should say The Immortal Bobby because that's the title my friend and former coworker Ron Rapoport chose for his exhaustively researched and anecdote-rich tome on Bobby Jones.

The book came out last spring, just before The Masters, to coincide with Bobby Jones' remarkable and unmatched feat.

This, of course, was back when Tiger Woods was still in a slump, or at least a slump by his standards. Who'd have thought Tiger would rebound with such sensational golf this year? But he has. And, if anything, it's highlighted what Jones did 75 years ago.

If you think Tiger Woods doesn't think about Bobby Jones as much as he does Jack Nicklaus, then you forget that back when he was an amateur there was talk -- especially from Tiger's father -- of his staying an amateur and accomplishing some of the things that -- here are those words again -- The Immortal Bobby accomplished.

Like Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones was a giant of his era. In fact, he is the only man to have gotten two New York City ticker-tape parades. In 1958, he also received the Freedom of the City award at St. Andrews, becoming only the second American so honored. The first was Benjamin Franklin.

He was a gifted golfer, too, capable of utterly brilliant shots as well as boneheaded blunders, and the two played out continually, if not precariously, like a high-wire act, 75 years ago.

Back in Bobby's day, the four major golfing events were the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, and the British Open and British Amateur. During his quest to win all four events, Jones didn't talk openly about his mission, and it just sort of snuck up on everyone.

It also drained him, and so after accomplishing the astonishing feat, Jones retired from competitive golf. He was only 28, an age when golfers are barely approaching their prime. But he'd had enough. He was such a fierce competitor that it wasn't uncommon for him to lose upwards of 17 pounds during a tournament and afterward emotionally break down.

"It was clear this guy had to quit," Rapoport says.

What would he do?

As it turns out, a lot.

This was no ordinary man. He had a degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and another degree in literature from Harvard. He passed the bar exam after only two years of law study.

He prolifically published his words and thoughts in letters, newspaper articles and books. Two months after he retired, he headed to Hollywood and made a series of movie shorts with the likes of some of the industry's largest luminaries -- Edward G. Robinson, W.C. Fields and James Cagney, to name a few.

Then came the fateful day in 1931, only a year after he retired, when he and his friend Clifford Roberts walked through a fruit orchard in Augusta, Ga. Jones was smitten with the layout and foliage.

Writes Rapoport, "It seemed that this land had been laying here for years for someone to lay a golf course upon it."

Jones and Roberts did, and it became Augusta National. It was Jones' desire to host the U.S. Open there in spring, when the dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.

When told that the U.S. Open had always been played in June, and would stay there, Jones was unfazed. He and Roberts merely started The Masters.

Seventeen years later, in 1948, Jones announced he was taking a break from golf to have an operation. But the painful spinal condition that plagued him most of his life, and eventually incapacitated and killed him, prevented him from playing golf ever again.

By then, he was a legend, with the phrase Grand Slam springing into the sports lexicon because of him. The moniker was the brainchild of a sportswriter. A guy by the name O.B. Keeler, who later wrote Bobby Jones' authorized biography, attached the phrase to his friend's feat, borrowing grand slam from the bridge card game.

But because of the rise of professional golf, the term Grand Slam lay dormant until 1960, when Arnold Palmer won the first two pro majors and suggested to sportswriter Bob Drum that Grand Slam be reintroduced and applied to the big four pro tournaments.

It was. And although Palmer was unsuccessful in his bid to recapture that Grand Slam, the phrase stuck.

Forty-five years down the road from then, and 75 years from its roots, the Grand Slam still looms.

And this weekend, it will haunt Tiger Woods.