There Are Finer Things Than Winning Championships


Late in life, when Bobby Jones was crippled with syringomyelia, a degenerative back disorder that eventually claimed his life, he was asked how he coped not being able to play the game he so dearly loved. Jones simply said that one must “play the ball as it lies.”

Such emotional grace and acceptance did not come easily to Jones, arguably one of the world’s most physically gifted natural athletes of all time.

The film Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius opened this week in limited release. It is Jim Caviezel’s first performance after his riveting lead role in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. In interviews promoting Stroke of Genius Caviezel expressed his concern that his next film following Passion would be an appropriate transition. His depiction of Bobby Jones answers his concern.

In Passion Caviezel promotes faith. In Stroke of Genius he promotes family.

The movie lets us see Jones as a sickly young child who falls in love with golf.

Yet from his earliest days on Atlanta’s East Lake golf course Jones battles with his temper and his obsessive need to win. During a tournament he misses a shot and throws his club, hitting a woman. The officials tell him he can’t compete again until he learns to control his anger.

Jones struggles to find balance in his life. He writes to the officials, apologizing for his behavior.

Determined to behave himself, Jones internalizes his competitiveness. Within seven years he earns two undergraduate degrees and a law degree, marries the woman of his dreams, has children, and in his spare time wins 62 percent of the national championships he enters, including 13 of 21 tournaments, becoming the greatest amateur player in the game’s history.

But he struggles with his health and his fiercely restrained rage. He often loses 20 lbs during a single tournament. And he drinks to repress his emerging “neurological disorder”.

Bobby Jones is the only person to be given two ticker tape parades in New York City. His wins, including golf’s Grand Slam, a record still held today, and considered by many the greatest individual accomplishment in the history of sport, come at too great a cost for Jones. His trophies become less important to him than his family and his love of the game.

At age 28 Jones stuns the sports world by retiring from competition.

Jones’ decision challenges our excessive accomplishment orientation by rejecting not only a win at all costs mentality, but the cash rewards associated with such success.

The fierce competitor with a violent temper had transformed himself from golf’s greatest competitor into golf’s greatest gentleman. Even winning championships could not give Jones the life he so desperately wanted.

Bobby Jones spent the remaining 40 years of his life a family man and moderately successful lawyer. He expressed his love for golf by giving us the Masters Golf Tournament, played at his masterpiece, the Augusta National Golf Club which he founded and designed.

In our age of celebrity, family (along with faith) is ridiculed by current culture. But to Jones, and more recently to fellow athlete Pat Tillman, family came to mean more than trophies and fame. It always meant more than money.