If the inaugural Augusta National Invitational Tournament was to be a success Bobby Jones would have to feature as a player.
He didn’t especially want to but the club’s co-founder Clifford Roberts was well aware of Jones’ draw – the US Open receipts from 1930, the year he captured the Grand Slam, were $23,382; the following year they dropped to $12,700.
Jones was also in charge of invitations and, as such, all the great and good of the golfing world, Craig Wood, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Horton Smith, assembled in Georgia in March 1934.
It wasn’t a Major and there was no Green Jacket but there was plenty of interest thanks to Jones’ playing return having retired four years earlier. He was still installed as a 6-1 joint favorite with Paul Runyan, a New York professional who was the in-form player. Smith and Wood were rated 10-1 chances.
In the preliminary tune-up of a Scotch foursome partnered with Ross Somerville, the pair shot a best-ball 76. Jones missed no fewer than nine short putts.
On Thursday March 22 at 10.02 Johnny Kinder struck the first shot in the tournament that would soon be known as the Masters. It came from the 10th tee – the following year the nines would be switched. At 10.36 Jones, the president of the club, got his comeback going alongside Runyan.
Thousands were there to follow him including Horton Smith who wasn’t off until 1.41pm. The Missouirian was the last man to defeat Jones in a tournament, four years earlier at the Savannah Open, and he would watch the great man struggle further on the greens.
Smith meanwhile shot a 70 for a share of a three-way lead, then led on his own by a shot on Friday and Saturday. None of which registered much with the press who focused solely on Jones. Smith’s efforts got not much more than a brief mention in the papers.
According to the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette the majority of the 1,500 spectators followed Jones and Hagen on the Sunday – the president’s putting would improve and he eventually finished 10 shots back in a tie for 13th – a showing he reflected on with typical modesty.
“I hope to make the Augusta National tournament a fixture every year and I expect to play in this event next March. I am sorry that I didn’t play better but I think that is unimportant,” he told Grantland Rice of the Spokesman.
“I am also glad that this idea of invincibility is shattered. The game still dominates the player and there is no-one even close to be being a superman. I know I am not. My short game broke up badly. I simply lost my putting stroke before the tournament started and this in turn affected my short pitching and chipping.”
What was the weakest hole on the property quickly became a very precise approach and is still one of the more uncomfortable tee shots.
In 2013, Smith’s Green Jacket, a 43 long, sold at auction. It was thought to be lost but was then discovered by a distant family member after hanging in a closet for decades.
It went for close to $700,000.