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What's in a name? Ask Bobby Jones IV

By Michelle Hiskey, Special to CNN
  • As Masters unfolds, grandson of the golf legend reflects on life with a famous name
  • His journey has been much like a round of golf: full of great joy and despair
  • The greatest lesson he learned from his champion grandfather is not about golf, or winning

(CNN) -- On a misty dawn 41 years ago this week, a boy walked out of his family's cabin and onto the back porch of Augusta National Golf Club.

The boy had never before set foot on the famous course his grandfather helped design. He had never attended the Masters tournament his grandfather founded.

The boy had never, until that moment, imagined his grandfather as the legendary Bobby Jones. He was simply "Bub," the kind man in the wheelchair who listened to opera and gave him advice.

But that morning, 12-year-old Robert Tyre Jones IV surveyed the famous entryway to "Amen Corner," a wicked stretch of holes where golf dreams are born and buried. Looking right, he could see the vista of the first nine holes, both treacherous and rewarding. Everywhere pine trees, azaleas and dogwoods opened at their springtime peak.

"At that very instant, I realized the whole gestalt, that everything I was seeing had existed first in my grandfather's mind," Bob Jones IV said in a recent interview. "The magnitude of it still strikes me to this day -- when I first started realizing who my grandfather was."

The boy would have to figure out his own identity without the men who shared his name. The next year, his grandfather died of the spinal disease syringomyelia. Two years later, his father -- Robert Tyre Jones III -- suffered a fatal heart attack.

Now 53, Bob Jones IV returned to Augusta Thursday for the opening of the first tournament in the Grand Slam associated with his grandfather. As he looks back, he sees his own life unfolded much like a round at Augusta: with moments of great joy, despair and even the spiritual and religious awakenings that golf can inspire.

Bob Jones IV on golf as a "moral test"

His course led to the priesthood and psychology, through a traumatic crime, into two marriages and fatherhood to five nonbiological children.

Being saddled or blessed -- take your pick -- with the most famous historic name in golf forced Robert Tyre Jones IV to learn for himself what he shared with his namesakes, and what made him different.

"I had to come to terms with and make some peace with it," he says of his name.

Did it chain him to the past or bolster his future? That was up to him.

His goals and detours forged a self-effacing humor and grace that friends and historians liken to his grandfather's.

"Bob has a lot of the conviviality that Bobby Jones had. He's never met a stranger," said historian Catherine Lewis, author of "Considerable Passions: Golf, The Masters, and the Legacy of Bobby Jones" and "Bobby Jones and the Quest for the Grand Slam."

"There is a sweetness about him. He very much has the sense of what has been said about his grandfather, that he is your friend forever. If you never see him in 10 years, you can pick the conversation right up with him."

When his eldest son died suddenly last month, Jones resolved once again, much like his grandfather had, to meet life's challenges without excuses.

"Play the ball as it lies," Bobby Jones always told him.

On the first tee, a heavy mantle

Jones is a better than decent golfer, carrying a 7 handicap, which means he regularly scores below 80. Like his grandfather, he loves to play quickly and, at times, profanely.

He got hooked on golf after that moment at Augusta National at age 12. ("You'd rather be addicted to crack; it's easier to break," he said). He managed to improve despite the expectations of people who worshipped his grandfather.

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"People looked at Bob and said, 'You're not worthy to carry your grandfather's golf cleats or golf bag,' " said longtime friend Sidney L. Matthew, a Tallahassee, Florida, attorney who collects Jones memorabilia. "But it was never in his brain to compete with him."

Jones considered having a golf hat stitched with the message, "I'm not that good." He now jokes about the pressure.

"I'd introduce myself and people assumed I would go out and shoot 65. Of course, I would," he says, pausing a beat. "In 12 holes."

Bobby Jones was 28 when he won the Amateur and Open tournaments in both the United States and Britain -- four titles that together were nicknamed the Grand Slam. (The requirements later changed; the amateur titles replaced by the Masters and PGA Championship.) No one has ever repeated the Grand Slam in a calendar year, though Tiger Woods held the four titles in 2000-2001. Major victories became a benchmark for greatness in golf.

Bob Jones IV carried a name evoking not just hero, but saint. His grandfather retired from golf shortly after the Grand Slam and lived for almost 25 years with the painful disease that eventually killed him.

His resume included degrees in English, engineering and law. "It was drilled into all of the grandchildren, and me in particular, that because the golf world is a small world, always assume someone is watching," says Jones.

"Today I think that's kind of cool, because (as a psychologist) it makes me understand my patients with paranoid tendencies better."

The champion's grandson dived into golf from age 12 to 16, finding an ally in his father, Robert Tyre Jones III, who also played in the same long shadow.

"Except for his moon face, young Bobby is as unlike his father as tee and green," Time Magazine wrote of Jones III's debut in tournament golf at age 14.

The public made comparisons the Jones family did not.

"He did not demand that his children or grandchildren follow his footsteps," historian Lewis says. "If they didn't want to become golfers, that was not an issue. ... What he prized was his family and education. Golf was a vehicle for friendship and exercise, not an end unto itself."

Finding his way

After the deaths of his namesakes came years of searching and "floundering," says Jones.

"I could not make any sense why I lost my father at such a young age, at the time I needed him so much," he said. "I kind of blamed God. How could he take him away?"

He managed to finish at his father's prep school in Tennessee, and at a nearby college he "partied too much." He found new direction in a literary passage quoting God through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: "My ways are not your ways."

He understood the words as a calling. He returned to the Roman Catholic church, which his grandfather had joined on his deathbed, and became a priest. Jones' trips to Augusta National for the Masters became less frequent, partly because the tournament often falls during Easter week.

In 1985, his professional and emotional security was shattered after his Knoxville church's Halloween party, when the wrong men in masks appeared. One brandished a knife 10 inches long at Jones' chest.

"Show me where the collection is, or I will kill you," the man said.

The trauma of being rendered helpless left Jones unable to help others. He returned to academia, this time for a psychology degree. He married and adopted his wife's children from a previous marriage.

Today he serves part-time in the Anglican Catholic Church, and has a full-time psychology practice in suburban Atlanta. He finds himself having to listen a lot, which reminds him of the silence and concentration of golf.

On his website, he urges adults and children dealing with life's unexpected challenges to let him help them "get back in the game of life."

"He's very moral, upright, similar to his grandfather," Matthew says. "Of course, like his grandfather, he can string together some expletives on the golf course that can turn the ear blue. He is a regular guy the same way (Bobby Jones) was. He's never a goody-goody or someone who pretends he's holier than thou."

Another Robert Tyre Jones, another loss

Jones' search for his identity led to the original Robert Tyre Jones, his grandfather's father. "R.T." took over his family's Georgia cotton farm after his father was murdered, and always made time to teach Sunday school.

He founded a textile mill that made denim for the U.S. military and kept the payroll throughout the Depression, saying he and his workforce would either survive together or sink together. He was playing the ball as it lay, dealing with life's challenges by moving forward and doing the right thing.

"He had a straightforward and simple faith, and to a large extent I am the same way," Jones says. "I never talked to my great-grandfather or grandfather about matters of faith. ... Someday, I will ask them. "

Last month, Jones' beliefs helped anchor him when his eldest son, Michael B. Jones of the Cleveland area, died at 44 of a heart attack. In that latest sudden loss, Jones found comfort in a family spiritual connection. His son, like his great-grandfather and himself, "had a strong and clearly defined faith."

The 2011 Grand Slam

This week every year, Jones receives a badge granting him access to the Masters. Each day of the tournament, a few people notice his name. He likes that. His name is a blessing. This year, he's following the Masters on foot the first three days, then will go home to watch Sunday's final round on TV.

The winner has the only chance at the 2011 Grand Slam, which will end in August with the PGA Championship. The PGA will be played at Atlanta Athletic Club, where Bobby Jones belonged and now his grandson does, too.

"His finger is everywhere," Jones says.

His influence reaches beyond a common signature into a shared philosophy forged by regret.

"I wish a lot of things were different," Jones says. "But one thing I learned from my grandfather, not so much from his golf but from him dealing with a debilitating illness, is that's it's no good to live under the weight of wishing that something was different.

"The only thing that can be different is me."

As much as Bobby Jones is known as an iconic champion, his grandson now sees how character in every generation is formed not by winning but by loss.

After all, the ball rarely lies where the golfer desires.

Michelle Hiskey is a former Duke University scholarship golfer and the niece of former PGA Tour pro Babe Hiskey. She has covered seven Masters, starting with Tiger Woods' first win in 1997. She is working on a memoir about her family, golf and mental illness.