The 62nd Open | 1927 St Andrews

Old Course redemption for Jones

Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur player in golfing history and one of the game's biggest ever stars, had an interesting relationship with St Andrews.

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A three-time Open Champion, Jones won the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 1927. But his early encounters with the course were not always in keeping with his legacy, nor his opinion of the course, which he later proclaimed the 'finest course I have ever played'. 

A rough start...

Although Jones would eventually adore St Andrews, it certainly was not love at first sight for the American. In 1921, a 19-year-old Jones made the trip over the Atlantic to compete in The Open for the first time, making his debut at St Andrews.

Jones had already been turning heads in his homeland, ever since reaching the quarter-final of the U.S. Amateur as a 14-year-old. He had two top-10s in U.S. Opens in 1920 and 1921, and headed across to Scotland for The 56th Open with high expectations of perhaps becoming the first American player to win golf's original Major.

But despite two promising opening rounds of 78 and 74, putting him just five strokes behind overnight leader Jock Hutchison, Jones' third round lived long in infamy. 

Writing in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in 1927, Jones said: "I first played St Andrews in 1921, when the British Open Championship was contested there, and like so many American players, I was unable to understand the reverence with which the place was regarded by our British friends.

"I considered St Andrews among the very worst courses I had ever seen, and I am afraid I was even disrespectful of its difficulty. The maddening part of the whole thing was that, while I was certain the course was easy, I simply could not make a good score. Self-complacently I excused myself by thinking the course was unfair, that the little mounds and undulations should not be there, and because my shots were deflected continually away from the hole I regarded myself as very unlucky.

"Yet I did begin to think a little when a course so unprepossessing forced me to take 46 to the turn in the third round of the tournament, and finally goaded me into the disgraceful act of picking up my ball after taking a pair of sixes at the 10th and 11th holes. I must however, give myself the credit to say that even then I was beginning to know St Andrews, at least to realise that the Old Course was not to be taken lightly."

After a succession of difficult strokes from over the back of the 11th green, Jones ended up withdrawing from The 56th Open in round three, a move he later put down to the petulance of his youth.  

Hutchison would go on to win the Championship, and become the first American winner of the Claret Jug, but Jones went home to the United States with a sour taste. When he returned to St Andrews in 1927, however, he was a different man entirely.

Redemption on the Old

In 1926, Jones travelled to Britain for the second time, and came across the pond with steely determination. He not only wanted to win The Open, held that year at Royal Lytham & St Annes, but he intended to grow to love the Old Course on a second visit to St Andrews.

"I heard such a great deal of St Andrews from Tommy Armour and other Scotsmen, who seemed to be convinced that Divine Providence had had a part in the construction of the course, that I went there determined to make an effort to like it," wrote Jones. 

"I really did not have to try very hard. Before I had played two rounds I loved it, and I love it now... it is the finest course I have ever played." 

In 1926, Jones claimed victory in The 61st Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, in just his second Championship appearance, and in doing so equalled James Braid's scoring record for 72 holes of 291. 

By the following year, Jones was untouchable in the golfing world, and he returned for The 62nd Open at St Andrews with a new mindset. He had now won five majors and barely finished worse than second in the other nine he had played since 1921. 

Few thought it possible he would be stopped at St Andrews, and some even speculated that the failure of most of America's best players to make the trip that year was largely due to Jones' participation, with not even two-time Champion Walter Hagen in attendance.   

In the end, the predictions proved true. Jones' improved mentality towards the course helped his ambition of redemption no end, and after opening with an astonishing 68, four shots better than anyone else in round one, the result was almost deemed a foregone conclusion halfway through the first day.

Subsequent rounds of 72, 73 and 72 gave Jones a 285 total and a six-stroke win, breaking the record he had equalled only the year previously by six. This was not even Jones at the peak of his powers, as he would go on to win the Grand Slam in his final ever competitive season in 1930, but The 62nd Open showed the character Jones possessed to come back from arguably the scene of his lowest moment in competitive golf, and thrive on the famous Old Course links. 

A course fit for a star

While Jones began with scepticism and even distaste towards the Fife links, he grew to love St Andrews dearly. On many separate occasions, Jones described in depth his admiration for the Old Course. In particular, the way the Old can be played in so many varieties appealed to him.

"There is always a way at St Andrews," he said in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in 1927. "Although it is not always the obvious way, and in trying to find it there is more to be learned than in playing a hundred ordinary courses."

On a trip to St Andrews in 1936, Jones reiterated his love of the Old Course, saying: "Of all the courses I have played on in this country, I think St Andrews is the best, and it is worth the trip across the Atlantic to visit once more."

Jones' stardom was perhaps unprecedented at the time, and his record possibly understated in modern telling. Jones won 13 of the 31 Majors he played in during his competitive career, and despite six of those coming in events that are no longer counted as Majors, he still has the seventh-most Major victories in history.

This was all before taking the decision to retire at just 28 in 1930, after completing a calendar-year Grand Slam of Majors. 

But few stories illustrate Jones' global impact more effectively than the tale of his time at the Old Course in 1936. Jones decided to play a casual round of golf at St Andrews, travelling up from London as he passed through Britain to attend the Berlin Olympics. Jones' presence alone made headlines, and news of his desire to play the Old Course was met with tremendous enthusiasm at the possibility to see the great man play again on British soil.

His round was covered by Scottish national papers in detail, including hole-by-hole scores, and reports suggested 5,000 people saw him finish on 18, while 3,000 caught wind of his appearance beforehand and managed to watch him tee off. Greenkeepers had to leave their other duties, scampering to find ropes to hold supporters back, and at times Jones barely had room to swing the club. 

While Jones had to struggle make a full swing without colliding with the crowd, the greatest amateur in history still managed to shoot 72 on the Old Course, going out in 32 despite not having played competitively, outwith his own Masters tournament, for six years.  

Jones' 72 was a marvellous score for the time, and once again showed how he had learned to play his best on the grandest course of them all. In fact, Jones was the only player to break 290 in a pre-war Open at St Andrews. In 1927 he did so by five strokes.

Jones' further years in golf after competitive retirement secured his legacy, and remarkably one of his greatest gifts to the game came about due to his stardom. A desire for a private place to play, where he would not be recognized, brought about Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters Tournament in 1934. 

And while Augusta was Jones' manufactured, private oasis, St Andrews was the land of 'Divine Providence' which he considered to be 'the finest course' he had ever played. It was also where he achieved one of his great victories, after one of his lowest moments, in a story of redemption at the Old Course.