Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

For a variety of reasons, I have always enjoyed golf. I often play a round by myself just as the sun rises past the tall Georgia Pines. The calmness of nature is your playing partner as you battle against the course beneath your feet. You can improve your golf game, but the sport cannot be conquered. You can play for twenty five years and still have no clue how to read a 30 foot putt as it breaks left to right and back to the left on an oversized undulating green. That difficulty leads to another reason I fell in love with golf at a young age; cursing. In a sport where integrity and sportsmanship are just as important as athleticism, I have listened to older gentleman weave a tapestry of curse words that would make any linguist proud, if not for the vulgarity. I sometimes paid more attention to the vulgar poet than I did my instructor. Forget mastering a fade, being able to fluidly merge 9 curse words into a melodic outburst is a talent that has yet to be fully appreciated.

As any fan of golf would know, as you learn more about golf (especially in Georgia) you eventually hear the name Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. Bobby Jones, a legend amongst golfers around the world was the greatest golfer of his time. Many would say he was the greatest golfer of any time. Never becoming a professional, Bobby Jones was a true amateur and understood how accepting money for his play would cheapen the sport, and more importantly, him. Once you discover Bobby Jones, it is hard not to admire him.

Young Bobby began playing at his home golf course at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of five. His self taught unique swing led him to a junior championship at age nine and a spot in the finals of the U.S. Amateur when he was 14. Although sickly all of his life, Jones always persevered and went on to win 13 major titles at the expense of his body. While he had early temper problems, he soon understood how to control his emotions. After that, his only character flaw seems to be attending Georgia Tech. (I graduated from the University of Georgia, what did you expect?) Jones never dedicated himself to golf for more than three months a year as he received several degrees, including a law degree, from different universities.

Without telling you his whole life story, Jones accomplishes the most difficult task in all of sports and promptly retires at age 28, fulfilling a promise he made to his wife. A part time golfer had become the greatest golfer of all time and yet he never cashed in on his success by turning professional.

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius brings his story to life and succeeds in most parts.

Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) portrays Bobby Jones as he steps into adulthood. Caviezel effectively displays Jones’s early struggles with his temper and his lifelong battles with serious medical problems. We see Bobby growing up but the film never really dwells on the most important parts of what made Bobby Jones who he is. We never effectively see what drives Jones to view integrity as so vital in golf. Most importantly, we never see the catalyst for Bobby’s decision to view his amateur status as paramount to big time cash. A childhood scene involving someone playing golf for money could have accomplished this easily.

Even if we aren’t shown Jones’s early inspirations for his high character, we can elude some of them from his relationship with fellow golfer, Walter Hagen. Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park) injects some much needed energy into the movie with his portrayal of Hagan. Hagan is a man who is almost the opposite of Jones. He doesn’t play for the joy, he plays for the money. Hagan is the tempter to the higher virtues of Jones (Please, only pretentious self-absorbed print critics or slow-witted marketing execs will try to make connection to the Passion of the Christ). Director Rowdy Herrington (Road House… ROAD HOUSE?), I assume, wants us to feel that Jones doesn’t want to become like Hagen. Maybe that’s why Jones values his amateur status. But, I find that strong convictions like his are created at a young age not while drinking a rum and coke in the clubhouse.

Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black) portrays Mary, Bobby’s Wife. Slightly underdeveloped, Mary loves Bobby for who he is, not for his fame, to which she is oblivious. She suffers watching her husband breakdown physically while he tries to win “another dumb trophy.” Again, the director fails to paint the full picture. Herrington needed to intersperse more dialogue throughout the movie of Mary wanting Jones to quit the sport that she felt was crippling him. Even with the director-inflicted deficiencies, Forlani gives a wonderful performance and you understand why Bobby yearns to be home with her.

O.B. Keeler, portrayed by Malcom McDowell (Star Trek: Generations), serves as Jones’s confidant and mentor even if he’s a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal. McDowell is outstanding as usual. I did find it funny that a Brit was hired to play a southerner even when some of the most important scenes in the movie take place in Scotland at the Old Course at St. Andrews. I could write for days on the history and beauty of St. Andrews, but I’ll save that for Golf Magazine.

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius is far from perfect just like the main character. But as with Bobby Jones, the movie finds its bearings as it progresses. Stroke of Genius is, at times, slow and deliberate. But so is golf. Herrington, while deficient in many areas, stayed true to Jones’s life. He showed his faults and he showed his overwhelming integrity. I fear that non golf fans will accuse parts of the movie as being boring. I disagree. Stroke of Genius is meant to be a history lesson on the life of Bobby Jones, not cheap thrills. Some will complain of a lack of tension-filled scenes meant to draw more awe-struck moments. That isn’t Bobby Jones. A man who shied away from the cameras would not want contrived events used to deify him. In a day when sports are filled with pampered athletes on trial or demanding more money, a man who valued his principles and his integrity above all is worth learning more about.