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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Remembering Bobby Jones' wartime contributions on the 75th anniversary of D-Day


Bobby Jones served two years in the Army Air Force during World War II.

A failed physical and the prospect of playing exhibition golf to boost troop morale carried the promise of an easy path during World War II for Bobby Jones. But Jones, who already had created a golf tournament that changed the trajectory of the sport and what eventually would become the world's most recognized golf course, never took the easy path.

The greatest golfer of the 1920s and early '30s, Jones was a solemn and distinguished southerner with a game that spoke volumes and a charisma and persona as great as any athlete of that era. With the sun setting on his golf career, Jones was three months shy of his 40th birthday and a father of three when the bombing of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into World War II. When he tried to enlist, he flunked the physical because of varicose veins in his legs.

060519jones1.jpgDeclared 4F during his physical, Jones talked his way into active duty in May 1942, just six months after Pearl Harbor. Seventy-five years ago this week, 42-year-old Maj. Robert Tyre Jones came ashore in France as part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe that signaled the beginning of the end of World War II. Jones, who founded Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament a decade earlier, arrived in France on D-Day Plus One (the day after the initial invasion) and served two more months on the front lines before being discharged.

Winner of the Georgia Amateur Championship at age 14, Jones was just 16 when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Too young for active military service, he did his part by playing in exhibition fundraisers, often with his father. The Army hoped Jones would end his career the same way it had started - playing in those exhibition matches to raise money for the war effort. As Hitler's Wehrmacht raced across Europe unrestrained, it was no secret that the Allied forces eventually would have to stage a large-scale assault to liberate the continent and stem the tide of fascist tyranny. Jones, despite his 4F physical status, was adamant about doing his part.

Jones was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. In 1943 he was promoted to major and sent to England where he was assigned to the Ninth Air Force as an intelligence officer. His unit eventually was assigned to the infantry and he spent two months following the D-Day invasion interrogating German prisoners of war before being discharged in August 1944 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. 

The most celebrated player of his era, Jones was as famous as any athlete of his time. Long before big money endorsement deals, he was the star of a series of short films in which he demonstrated his golfing prowess to some of Hollywood's elite.

Over a brief 14-year career, he played in just 52 tournaments and won nearly half of them. He enjoyed a remarkable run from 1923 to 1930, winning four of the eight U.S. Open Championships in which he played and finishing second in the other four. He played in the British Open three times in that period, winning all three. In those eight years, he never missed a cut in any tournament in which he played. Today he remains the only player to have won golf's Grand Slam in the same year when he captured the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur in 1930.

Six years before the start of the war, Jones established Augusta National in 1933 in his native Georgia, and the following year co-founded the Masters Tournament with longtime Augusta chairman Cliff Roberts. 

Declared 4F during his physical, Jones talked his way into active duty in May 1942, just six months after Pearl Harbor. ... He spent two months following the D-Day invasion interrogating German prisoners of war before being discharged in August 1944 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. 

A man of unquestioned integrity, Jones called a penalty on himself during the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester (Massachusetts) Country Club when he claimed to have moved the ball at address while playing from the rough on the 11th hole. Tournament officials, without the benefit of televised instant replay, could not confirm the transgression and left it up to Jones whether to call the two-shot penalty on himself. He did, and went on to lose the championship to Willie Macfarlane in an 18-hole playoff. The U.S. Golf Association's Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship is named in his honor.

Clearly, sitting out the war was not an option.

Famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind, who coined the term "Amen Corner" to describe Nos. 11, 12 and 13 at Jones' Augusta National, once wrote: "In the opinion of many people, of all the great athletes, Jones came the closest to being what we call a great man."

After the 1942 Masters, Jones and Roberts, suspended the tournament and famously converted Augusta's fairways into a cattle and turkey farming operation to supply food for troops during the war. 

Despite his success on the golf course, Jones' 4F status was no fluke. Sickly as a child, doctors recommended he play golf as a way to strengthen his body, and he enjoyed instant if not brief success. Within a few years of the war's end, he was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a spinal disorder that eventually condemned Jones to a wheelchair until his death in 1971. 

As he did throughout his playing career, Jones defied the odds and his own physical limitations to contribute to the war effort, including its singular most important event - the D-Day invasion of Europe.

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