Tiger Woods
& The 
'Grand Slam':

'Tiger Slam' Story:

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THE  IMPROBABLE QUADRILATERAL
                         
by Bob Whitbread 


(
Read my 2008 Masters Update at end of this article)

-When Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam of Golf in September of 1930, after winning the U.S. Amateur at Merion, it was called "The Impregnable Quadrilateral", -a descriptive phrase coined by sidekick, writer, travel companion and all around 'right-hand' man O.B. Keeler.  A single sports writer often attached himself to an important athlete in those days with the written medium being the primary method by which news traveled in those 'Roaring 20's'.  O.B., a sports writer for the Atlanta Journal newspaper, was Jones' main P.R. man in that department.  

Even though there was Tilden in Tennis, Dempsey in boxing, Ruth in baseball,  -the winning of the four major championships of golf  -the British Amateur and Open, along with the U.S. Amateur and Open in a single year, was Considered 'THE'  Herculean Sports Feat of it's time.  Jones was recognized as the greatest golfer of all times when he embarked on this Conscious Quest to win the Grand Slam of Golf in 1930, and his winning of "The Slam", sealed his place in greatness of golf history!  

But there are some big differences between the two Grand Slam winners, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods, as there justifiably would be, given the huge gap of time since Jones' great accomplishment.  Robert Tyre Jones the Great Amateur and Tiger Woods (possibly the greatest playing professional ever to be), being the only two people in golf history to hold  all four of the major titles of their respective era's -at the same time!  

Professional golf as we know it today was in it's infancy.  Amateur golfers of the 1920's which was primarily Jones' era, were the players of status in society of the time.  Jones was of good stock, college educated  at Georgia Tech, Harvard, and Atlanta's Emory School of Law.  There was no money or great stature in being a golf pro in those times as is now the case.  And The Country Club set wanted to see the top amateur golfers of their day. The pro's of Jones' era in golf had been caddies, and golf club repair men, who worked their way up through the ranks to earn the right to compete.  

The equipment of Jones' era differed greatly as well, not only the ball, and early imperfect steel shafted clubs, but some were still playing with hickory at the time and the golf courses as well, poorly conditioned compared to today's standards. Tom Watson, winner of Five British Opens in his career once said he was 'humbled' when he tried to play a round of golf one year after he'd just won one of his British Opens', in the '70's, using the old clubs and balls! 

One can still see with wonder the beautiful golf swing of Bobby Jones thanks to the remakes of the old Warner Bros. tapes of the Jones' era.  You can watch those tapes in wonder and realize that there was something special there. And Bobby Jones was known to hit the old golf ball remarkably long with that equipment some 300 plus yards as well with those old golf balls!

Jones set out to win his Grand Slam in the Spring of 1930 which had become quite a subject of discussion amongst the printed media, and around golf, as to whether one man could win them all in the same year.  It took two weeks crossing the ocean to the British Isles, that year and Jones played in some 'warm-up' events to get ready (as the winter in Atlanta was not particularly conducive to practice).  One such event later became to be known as the Walker Cup.  

Jones task then was still gigantic.  To compete and win on foreign soil amongst the best players from the home of golf, namely Scotland and the British Isles would be no easy task!  He set out to and successfully won the British Amateur, then followed a few weeks later with a win in the British Open at Hoylake.  Jones later completed the Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open at Interlachen, MN, and finally the U.S. Amateur at Merion in Philadelphia, in September of 1930.  The feat was so astounding at the time that Jones was treated to a ticker tape parade in N.Y. (They actually had two different parades for him.) Jones feat was in all the newsreels at the movie houses and the subject of much awe in all  the magazines and news periodicals of the day.

Since Bobby Jones'  Grand Slam Victory there at Merion in September of  1930 , many have hoped to emulate the feat. -Hogan almost did it, but due to travel and bad legs couldn't compete in the PGA championship in 1953 -(at that time a match play event and with 36 holes a day too much for his damaged legs.)  Ben Hogan had won the first 3 legs, -the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open that year. And the hype about winning the Grand Slam of Golf then was not as big a deal then, given all of the concomitant media coverage with the popularity of professional golf today.

Thereafter, Snead, Palmer, and Watson, at one time won all three legs,  (but never three in the same calendar year), with Snead unlucky to never win the U.S. Open in his long career.  Palmer and Watson, never won a PGA Championship but won all the other majors in their careers.  Gary Player won all four twice, but never four in the same year.  Gene Sarazen won all four majors in his career.  Jack Nicklaus with 19 major championships, revived the possibility of greatness by trying to win all four major championships in one year, but 'only' won as many as three in one year.   Trevino won the U.S. Open, British Open, and Canadian Open all in the same year once.  (1971)

No one had won four major championships in the same year (or consecutively) since Bobby Jones' Grand Slam in 1930 -until the performance by Tiger  Woods with that completion at the 2001 Masters.  One may argue that it is a more difficult feat in today's world of professional golf, than in Jones' time, which may well be true. And that then, only makes Woods' current achievement all that much more phenomenal!

I had personally thought that in that run of four major championships in 2000 would be Tiger's best opportunity.  But I missed it right off the bat with his performance in the 2000 Masters.  Tiger shoots 74 the first day and he could never recover from that hole he'd dug for himself. And the round Vijay Singh played on Saturday of the Masters 2000, was one of the premier ball striking rounds ever at Augusta -given the tough conditions on that day, never mind how well he putted that week!

But then Tiger win's and laps the field at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open like I thought he might.  And he does the same in good conditions at St. Andrews for a second leg of a Grand Slam.  Then Tigers' win over Bob May, in the PGA Championship at Valhalla was to me personally, his greatest performance, in the 2000 majorís -given my opinion of his chances against the layout, and one that kept his major streak alive. And in light of how well Bob May played him -Tiger just kept topping Bob at every turn of brilliant play to take his streak to three majors in a row!

So after that great victory on a strategic style of golf course that didn't necessarily particularly favor him in August of 2000  -if Tiger comes to the 2001 Masters Championship with three consecutive legs of a Grand Slam under his belt -no easy accomplishment!  So then the question arises, if he wins the 2001 Masters, is that a 'Backdoor Grand Slam' at least?!  (That one will be debatable for many years to come if Tiger never gets it done in the same calendar year in his career).  One thing's for sure.  It was the first time in modern professional golf and the first since Jones' great feat 71 years ago, that anyone else had ever won the four majors of their era, in a row!

I don't assume, as some do, that sure, Tiger Woods will certainly do it again.  Certainly he is the most capable to probably do it sometime -"The Royal Flush"  -of all four majors in the same calendar year, -But--I just don't see him doing it  Yes, He might do it again. But it is highly unlikely that Even He, may win four majors in a row again, never mind in the same calendar year!  Once again, ''The Man' -was very motivated in 2000, on tracts that 'favored' him, especially where he got his first U.S. and British Open wins. He accomplished A Grand Slam, taking advantage of an opportune run of great play on golf courses that suited his game.  And he did it while he was still a little too young to 'think' about it.  (It surely gets more difficult as you age and understand the magnitude!)

Could he do it again, if not this year, then some other year?  Certainly, but I think we had all better appreciate that huge accomplishment two years ago at Augusta, for what he had actually accomplished then.  And so yes, I think that it is possible, but highly 'Improbable', that we will see this 'Improbable Quadrilateral', -a run of four modern major golf championships won in a row, again, even from the Amazing Mr. Woods!

                                                                                                 Bob

2008 Tiger Grand Slam Watch Masters Update:  

     Thanks for reading the article - I did attend the U of Connecticut (BA Psychology 1972) but as you can tell I'm no O.B. Keeler.  As for my 2008 Masters update - here's my take.  It's still the best bet to bet against the odds of Tiger winning the Grand Slam.  It's great discussion for the talking heads and sports writers.  After all Tiger IS professional golf today for all intensive purposes - at least that's where the greatest percentage of 'fanship' and interest in the game now comes from.  

     A couple of interesting stats on the favorite this week.  He's won 16 of the last 26 events he's played in.  (That's a 'slugging percentage' currently in the 500's when Tigers at the plate!).  He's gone winless now two Masters in a row, -  he's never gone three and out.  And he comes up 3rd most improved on tour stat wise over 2007.  Wait a second!  You mean he had the year he had last year and is now 3rd most improved over all players compared to last season?  That's correct!   So what exactly does all that mean?  Very simply that Tiger has got his 'A' Game back.  So watch out that's why so many are predicting The Grand Slam this year.

    The odds are still greatly against this happening even by Tiger Woods.  The reason is there are too many uncontrollable factors - all it takes is anyone else having a 'career week' in any major.  Also he's got to call up the 'A' Game at four completely different venues over a long season.  So 'Luck' plays too great a factor given all the uncontrollable things that need to go right for him.  Will he play great and be lucky enough!?  That's a tough call.

    But make no mistake about this call.  You'd be crazy to bet against Tiger not winning this one with the way that he is playing and at least grabbing the first 'leg' of the Grand Slam here in '08' at Augusta!

                                                                                                     Bob Whitbread

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