Robert Jones IV Reflects on Grandfather's Time at Harvard, Endowed Coaching Position

Robert Jones IV Reflects on Grandfather's Time at Harvard, Endowed Coaching Position

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Earlier this fall, Sanjeev K. Mehra '82 and his wife Karen Petersen Mehra '82 graciously supported the establishment of the Bobby Jones '24 Coach for Harvard Men's Golf, Endowed by the Mehra Family. The endowment was celebrated at The Country Club on Sept. 15 with friends and family of Harvard men's golf, including Bobby Jones' grandson, Robert Tyre Jones IV, Psy.D. Following the event, Robert Tyre Jones IV reflected on his grandfather's legacy and time at Harvard. 

"I want to thank Sanjeev and Karen Mehra for endowing the men's golf coach position in memory of my grandfather, Robert Tyre Jones, Junior. In honoring him, you're highlighting what has been, up until now, a hidden part of my Bub's history: the two years he spent at Harvard from 1922 to 1924. 

By way of prologue, I should start by telling you that, in the family, we called him "Bub." There was my grandfather, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., my father, Robert Tyre Jones III, and me, Robert Tyre Jones IV. That meant we had three "Bobs" alive at one time. Although the nickname was given to him by his oldest grandson, Bill Black, before I was born, it was a great way to avoid confusion. We had "Bub," "Bob," and "Bobby". 

Because his greatest golfing feats occurred almost ninety years ago, I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you about my grandfather's golfing record. He learned to play at age five and played in his first tournament when he was six years old, a little six-hole event. In addition to Bub, the contestants were three of his closest childhood friends: Perry Adair, who later became a fine regional golfer, Frank Meador, and Alexa Stirling. Alexa would later win three U.S. Women's Amateur championships at a time when that tournament was the leading championship in the world for women. The six-hole contest was held at East Lake, the country club of the Atlanta Athletic Club. The tournament was the brain-child of Frank Meador's mother, and, when it was done, she totaled up the scores and determined that my grandfather had won the little sterling silver cup that served as the trophy. Bub was incredibly proud of this victory. When he wrote his book, Down the Fairway, in 1927, he said, "I'm now twenty-five years old and I've won about 100 trophies. This is the only one I ever slept with." He also said that he always thought that Alexa Stirling had really won the Cup but that Mrs. Meador didn't want to give the trophy to a girl. Interestingly, although Alexa and Bub remained close friends through life, he never gave it to her, either. That tells you something about his competitive nature. 

He won the Club Championship at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta when was thirteen years old. Bub won the inaugural Georgia State Amateur in 1916 when he was fourteen. That same year, he played in his first national amateur at Merion, outside of Philadelphia, and reached the quarterfinals. He floundered as a golfer from 1916 to 1923, wrestling with a volcanic temper, which he finally harnessed in 1922, after receiving a stinging letter from the President of the United States Golf Association. The next year, in 1923, he went on a tear that the world of golf has never seen until the rise of Tiger Woods in 1997. Starting in 1923 through 1930 he won the United States Open four times, the United States Amateur five times, the British Open three times, and the British Amateur once. He competed in every Walker Cup for which he was eligible except for one. We will talk about that match, the 1923 match, a little later. 

Throughout his entire career, from 1916 until 1930, no one ever beat him twice in match play, the head-to-head competition that is customarily played in amateur golf. In ten appearances in the United States Open, he was champion four times, finished second four times (losing twice in playoffs), and had only one finish out of the top ten, a tie for eleventh place. He played in the British Open four times, winning three of them. He won a total of nine championships sponsored by the United States Golf Association, a record that stands to this day. 

In 1926, Bub stunned the golf world by becoming the first man in history to win "The Double," the Open championships of the United States and Great Britain in the same year. In 1930, he bested that achievement by doing something that no one had ever done before or has ever done since. He won the Grand Slam, all four major championships in the same year. Bub won the British Amateur at Saint Andrews, the British Open at Hoylake, the United States Open at Interlachen, and he finished where he began by winning the United States Amateur at Merion. Following this, he retired from competitive golf. 

He never fully left golf, though. He made eighteen instructional films for Warner Brothers in 1931 and these are still considered state-of-the-art. Bub wrote five books on golf. All are still in print. He co-designed two golf courses, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and Peachtree Golf Club in his home town of Atlanta. He co-founded The Masters and was responsible for the United States Open being brought to his home club, the Atlanta Athletic Club, 1976

The highest honor of the United States Golf Association is the Bob Jones Award, given each year for sportsmanship. The genesis of the award was an incident in the 1925 United States Open, where Bub called a one-shot penalty on himself for an infraction no one saw. He later lost a playoff by one shot, a playoff that would never have happened without the penalty. When people tried to praise him afterward, he said, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank." 

In 1958, Bub became only the second American to ever be awarded the Freedom of the City by the Royal Burgh of Saint Andrews, Scotland. The first American was Benjamin Franklin in 1759. 

It is probably not hyperbole to say that Bub was iconic. The dictionary defines that word as, "widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence." That describes my grandfather to a tee, if you'll pardon the pun. Bub remains the iconic figure of a time when sportsmanship, scholarship, integrity, and dashing good looks all came together in one man. 

But he wasn't always an icon. Before he became the subject of the sepia photographs, the champion in an era of champions, he was a talented and bright young man who was trying to figure out who he was, looking for balance both intellectually and personally. He was, in short, much like most people in their late teens and early twenties. Robert Tyre Jones, Junior, had to find existential answers inside of himself and I think it was his experience at Harvard that drew those answers out of him. 

In 1922, he graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Although he loved his course of study and had done well in school, he knew that he did not want the life of an engineer. He had a mind that needed more creativity and balance than he found in engineering. Twenty years old and looking for direction, he thought that he might like to teach high school English and he believed that the best way to achieve that goal was to come to Harvard, where he matriculated in the fall of that same year, 1922. 

Bub's majors at Harvard were in English and Classics. While here, his transcript shows time spent studying Shakespeare, Milton, the Romantic and Victorian poets, Latin classics, and some German. By the time he completed his second Bachelor's degree in 1924, Bub had achieved a solid "B" average, no small achievement in those days. 

He also wanted to contribute something to the Harvard golf program. At the time he entered, he would have been considered, "The Best Golfer to Have Not Won a Major," although he would have detested such a classification of him or anyone else, for that matter. Since he already held a Bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech, he was ineligible to compete for the Harvard team, but he went to the golf coach to see what he could do. 

"Coach," Bub said, "Even though I can't play for the team, I would like to be a part it somehow. Perhaps I could serve as the team Manager?" 

The Coach stammered a bit and said, "Well, Bob, we already have a Manager, but I'm sure he would be glad to step aside for you and serve as Assistant Manager." 

"Oh, no," Bub answered, "Don't do that on my account. I'll serve as the Assistant Manager. What does he do?" 

"His main jobs are to keep the spikes clean on the players' shoes and the grooves clean on their clubs." 

The coach was convinced that such menial duties would discourage my grandfather. 

"I'll do it," said Bub without hesitation, and the deal was done. 

Later, Bub said there was one other job for the Assistant Manager: To guard the team's whiskey. When the golf team went down to Providence to play against the University of Rhode Island, the team members noticed that Bub was asleep on top of the golf clubs on the whole ride back. It wasn't until they returned to Cambridge that they realized he wasn't sleeping - he was passed out and the whiskey was gone. In later years, he would joke, "As Assistant Manager, I only had three jobs: clean the clubs, clean the shoes, and guard the whiskey. I was always much better at the first two tasks than the last one." 

Even though he never struck a shot for the team, the Harvard golf program did form him as a competitor. On several occasions, he would play the entire golf team's best ball and he was never beaten. He forged friendships with other members of the golf team that remained with him throughout life. 

But life at Harvard was more than golf and academics. He was fully involved in the social life of Harvard, too. He was a member of the Owl Club and was very proud of that association. Just last year while visiting the Owl, I had the opportunity to hold the pewter beer stein that had engraved along the top, "Robert T. Jones, Jr." It was obvious, even almost a century later, that Bub had toasted "the health of the Owl" on many occasions. Additionally, he would frequently sit with other students to discuss literature and other academic subjects. He also spent many an autumn night cheering for Harvard football. There was no part of life at Harvard in which he did not participate. 

How seriously was Bobby Jones committed to his Harvard experience? Perhaps this will tell you. In 1921, the United States Golf Association and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at Saint Andrews had begun an international competition that would later be known as the Walker Cup. The plan in 1923 was for the United States team to travel to Scotland in the spring to compete against the Amateur team from Great Britain. The USGA thought they could not field a team without the best amateur golfer in the country, Bobby Jones, playing on their team. The fly in the ointment was that Harvard had a policy of not allowing students to leave for any extended time for anything but the most compelling of reasons. You may rest assured that golf was not considered "compelling" in 1923. So, the USGA and Harvard entertained extensive negotiations over this point and, finally, Harvard relented and gave my grandfather permission to go abroad for the matches. However, they never consulted him. 

When Bub was informed that he had been granted permission to go to Scotland, he politely declined. He believed that the experience that he was gaining at Harvard simply outweighed whatever benefit might come from crossing the Atlantic to play in a golf match. 

In later years, Bub showed the same sense of perspective when he was asked about his priorities in life. He said, "My family always comes first. Then, the practice of law. Finally, and never as an end in itself, comes golf." 

While at Harvard, he finally broke through as a golfer, winning the United States Open at Inwood in Long Island in the summer of 1923. Yet, when he returned to Cambridge in the fall, his priority remained on his studies and his life as a student. Even though he never competed for a Harvard team, the Athletic Department awarded him a Crimson "H" for his victory in the Open and his sportsmanship in general. 

After graduating from Harvard in 1924 with a degree in Bachelor of Science degree in English and in Classics, he returned home to Atlanta, where he entered Emory University Law School. At the time, Georgia did not require that a person hold a law degree to practice. One simply had to pass the bar. This was no small task, though, and law students would frequently take the bar exam beginning in their second year in order to see how hard it was. Bub did exactly that. In his first year, Bub was named "Law Student of the Year" for his class. When he took the bar exam in the middle of his second year, he passed, surprising himself but few of his classmates. He left school and immediately entered practice with his father's firm in Atlanta. Over the years, Jones Bird, and Howell, was a leading firm in the city and later became Alston & Bird, one of the top firms in Atlanta and the Southeast. 

Ten years ago, I was invited to Emory where they posthumously awarded my grandfather their Distinguished Alumnus Award. At the time, I cheekily remarked that it was probably the first time the award had ever been given to a law school dropout. All joking aside, Bub was proud of his time at Emory and he considered much of that law school success came from his experiences at Harvard. He practiced law until his death in December of 1971. Emory currently honors his legacy with a Scholarship program between Emory and the University of Saint Andrews, an Ethics program, and a biomedical engineering program with Georgia Tech. I am honored to serve on the Advisory Committee for these programs. 

On December 18, 1971, Bub died peacefully after a long battle with a spinal illness that crippled him in body but not either in spirit or intellect. When friends went to his law office to pack up his belongings, they were amazed at how little there was about golf. There was a bronze medallion commemorating the Grand Slam, a line drawing of the Old Course at Saint Andrews, and a quote from Grantland Rice's poem, "Alumnus Football." However, of all the honors and awards that he could have displayed, hanging on the wall directly opposite his desk, where he would see it every time he looked up, was the Crimson "H", always serving as a reminder of the years of the place where Bub passed from being a boy to being a man. 

So, how do we define a legacy like Bub's? To be sure, it is a legacy of excellence. But it is more than that. It is a legacy that was and is built on relationships, on friendships, and on scholarship. That is who he was. And it is a legacy was formed right here at Harvard. Few people know the importance that this university held for my grandfather and the love that he felt for it. And now you do. 

Through the years, I've always thought that Bub's story was a bit of an incomplete circle. Now, with the endowment of the Bobby Jones '24 Men's Golf Coach by the Mehra family, the circle is complete. 

Now, you will know when you watch the Masters that there is a Harvard connection and that the Crimson of Harvard is sown into the soil of the emerald green fairways. The new Bobby Jones Men's Golf Coach, Kevin Rhoads, is a worthy ambassador of the Jones name and we, the Jones family, are honored that our grandfather is remembered in such a special way. The Mehra's generosity in honoring my grandfather in this way is very touching and, as Bub would say, we will "ever be grateful." But what no one knew until now, is that Bub's connection to Harvard ran very deep and was in no way an afterthought to his life. Thanks to Sanjeev and Karen Mehra, his legacy is now permanently woven into the fabric of Harvard athletics. It is our hope that for many, many years to come people will now associate Bobby Jones with Harvard just as they do with Georgia Tech, and with Emory, Augusta National, and St. Andrews, Scotland.