Wednesday 30 March 2011

Bobby Jones, Alistair Cooke and the Twilight Wine of Scotland

This is by way of being a PS to my brief mention the other day of the great amateur golfer, Bobby Jones.

With echoes, tellingly, of another birth in Bethlehem, this is how Alistair Cooke introduced his lifetime hero in a Letter from America from March 2002:

'So, on St.Patrick's Day, 1902, in Atlanta, Georgia, was born to a young-middle-aged Southern lawyer and his wife a son.'

By the age of twenty-eight, Bobby Jones had become the first golfer ever to win in succession all four of the major championships in one year: the British Amateur, the British Open, the United States Open and the United States Amateur. He had entered twenty majors, won thirteen and come second in five, all without earning a penny - a dime - and all in his summer holidays, because he was also a full-time lawyer.

Plagued from childhood by a mystery illness, at the age of forty-five Bobby Jones announced, after a round of golf with some friends: 'I don't think I'll be playing with you boys for some time.'

He was diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease for which there was, and still is, no cure; and if the first half of his life was characterised by genius and humility in equal measure, the second was characterised by selfless fortitude. He became progressively paralysed, signing his name with his weakening hand using a pen attached to a tennis ball, but he always presented to the world a cheerful determination - appearing, as Cooke says, '..kind and genial, without affectation, to friends and strangers and, always, looking out for the shy one in the corner.'

Bobby Jones died in 1971 at the age of 69. He was the kind of man, I reckon, with whom you might say it would be a pleasure to take a long walk in the country. In the last paragraph of his Letter, Cooke says, 'I think it is appropriate…to tell you that of the whole pharmacopoeia of medications I take every day, far and away the most effective is what I call the twilight wine of Scotland. I had the honour, from time to time, of sharing a teaspoon or two with Bob Jones, and he agreed with me about its power to heal.'
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