Bobby Jones–Perhaps the Best Neo-Renaissance Athlete of the 20th Century

When I think of great athletes of the 1900s, I think of Babe Ruth, Mohammed Ali, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias , Jim Brown, Bobby Hull, Jack Nicklaus, Martina Navratilova, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan for starters. All were larger than life athletes in their primes, but none seems to approach the greatness of one 20th-century athlete when it comes to all-around achievement in multiple areas–Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones, Jr.  He was a true Neo-Renaissance practitioner who just happened to excel at the sport of golf.

Jones was the greatest golfer of his generation–the 1920s and 1930s–but never made a dime for winning a golf tournament. The reason? He was an amateur his entire career. He won 13 so-called “Major” golf tournaments, third only to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in that category, and seven of those Majors were professional tournaments where he competed as an amateur. His greatest achievement in golf was winning in one calendar year the “Grand Slam”–the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateur championships. No golfer since has won all four major tournaments in a single season, although the Grand Slam now consists of four professional tournaments.

But Bobby Jones achieved almost more off the golf course than he achieved on the course. He was an engineer by study, a lawyer by profession, but also was a civic leader, a national hero, golf instructor (and film idol to many through those instructional films), author, a golf course designer and co-founder of one of the great sporting events in the world, the Masters golf tournament held annually at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, the course Jones designed and built with the help of architect Dr Alister McKenzie.

Here’s a capsule biography highlighting his career:

Being an avid golfer myself and trying to live a Neo-Renaissance lifestyle, Bobby Jones is one of my great influences in not letting sports, or any particular endeavour become the sole focus of my life. Since my golf game will never approach the caliber of Bobby Jones’ ability, I’ll focus on achieving tangible goals in other areas, like writing.

What Neo-Renaissance role models do you look to for inspiration and why?

For fun, here’s a sample of his instructional movies made back in the 1930s. Campy, sexist, a bit stiff, but good basic instruction. Cool enough just for seeing a young James Cagney in the movie.

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