Friday, January 07, 2005

A Stroke of Genius

Recently we had the chance to see the movie "Bobby Jones, Storke of Genius" which has just been released on DVD. The movie features Jim Caviezel as Bobby Jones, who was one of the best golfers that has ever lived. Caviezel's performance as Jones is wonderful both for his golf ability (he had to learn how to play for this role) and his ability to show the side of Jones that is less well known: his struggles with a painful neurological disorder, stomach ailments, and family struggles that would eventually lead to his retirement from competitive golf. It's also the first movie to be allowed to film at the home of golf, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland. It also closes with some beautiful photography of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Even if you don't care about the story, it's worth watching for the cinematography.

The film is at least in part about Jones' achievements on the golf course, which are many. He developed a love for the game from his father who started him playing at a very young age. By age 14 he won his first amateur tournament, the Georgia State Amateur, and became the youngest player to every qualify for the U. S. Amateur tournament. He was the only amateur to win both the U. S. and British Amateur tournaments in the same year (1926). He won 13 of 21 major tournaments he played in between 1923 and 1930. What's more remarkable is that the only competitive golf he played was in major tournaments. And of course, his most famous feat was winning the "Grand Slam" of golf: The U. S. Amateur, British Amateur, U. S. Open, and British Open in 1930. (Source:

But the film is also about Jones' character. For one thing, he never traded in on his fame. He remained an amateur throughout his career. He played golf because he loved the game, not for the money (quite refreshing in light of today's overpaid, pampered professional athletes). After completing the Grand Slam when it would have been to his greatest benefit to turn pro, he instead puts his family (and his own health) first and walks away from competitive golf at age 28.

He also had a tremendous temper that he had to learn to bring under control in order to win tournaments. He came by it honestly from his father. In fact, some of the most interesting moments are early in the film when a young Bobby Jones (about 7-8 years old) starts cussing like a sailor whenever he hits an errant shot. We quickly discover moments later that he picked it up from his father who also had a tendency to throw a little profanity around in frustration while on the golf course. It's a great example of how a father can be either a positive or negative role model for a child.

He was also tremendously honest. The film highlights this through an incident that occurred during the first round of the 1925 U. S. Open. Jones had hit an errant shot into the rough. While stepping up to address the ball for his second shot, he accidentally moved the ball. He immediately called over an official to tell them what happened. After polling several members of the gallery nearby, the official determined that no one saw the ball move. Jones insisted on calling the penalty on himself anyway. He lost the Open by one stroke in a playoff.

He studied hard (earning a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, a Masters in Classics from Harvard and graduating law school), overcame physical ailments and emotional struggles to become the greatest golfer than ever lived. Though he struggled with the fame that followed him wherever he went, Jones understood the responsibilities to be a positive role model. This film is a great look at a remarkable person. And even those who aren't golf fans will enjoy it.

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