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Latest U.S. Open Champion Goes Strictly By The Book

By Dave Anderson New York Times

Of all the American names, Jones is one of the most common, but until now, the only Jones in golf was Bobby.

Sunday, another Jones boy, Steve, joined Bobby as a U.S. Open champion nearly five years after his glowing career on the PGA Tour was jeopardized by a dirt-bike accident in the Arizona desert.

“As a young kid,” he recalled, “I read things about Bobby Jones, so I knew that one of the Jones boys had really done a good job in golf.”

About a week ago, Steve Jones began reading the new book, “Hogan,” by Curt Sampson, about Ben Hogan, who like Bobby Jones, is a four-time Open champion.

“This guy,” Jones was saying now of Hogan, “no matter what the situation, he just focused on the next shot. I honestly don’t think I could’ve won this tournament without reading that book.

“The best quote was that after Hogan won the Open here at Oakland Hills in 1951, the guy who finished second, Clayton Haefner, told him, ‘Congratulations,’ and Hogan said, ‘How’d you do?’ Hogan had to birdie the last hole to win by two shots.”

Now 37, Steve Jones is a slim 1-iron who grew up in the desert of Artesia, N.M., and now represents the Desert Mountain Golf Club in the desert north of Phoenix. But the desert almost killed him.

“I was out riding with a friend of mine and he wrecked right in front of me,” he recalled. “I was following him real close. He flipped over in a ditch, and I tried to avoid him.

“I should have ran over him, but I didn’t, and I mean, I saw him flip. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground waking up and my left shoulder was dislocated.

“My right ankle and my left ring finger were really really hurting and swollen and I felt my shoulder was the worst of the injuries, but it wasn’t. It turned out that the finger was the worst.”

For a golfer, every finger is important. Fingers form the grip and control the club. Fingers funnel the strength. Fingers create the feel and the touch.

And with ligament and joint damage in his left finger, Steve Jones missed the 1992 and 1993 seasons on the PGA Tour. Many people forgot that in 1988 he had won the prestigious AT&T; National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach and that in 1989 he had won three events (Tournament of Champions, Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the Canadian Open) while earning nearly $750,000, eighth on the money list.

“I had to change my grip,” he said. “I went to the reverse overlapping grip.”

He rejoined the PGA Tour in 1994, but played only two events, finishing 254th on the money list with $8,740. In his 24 events last year, he finished 79th with $234,747. When he two-putted for par on the 18th hole Sunday at Oakland Hills his prize was $425,000 and the huge silver trophy that Bobby Jones won a record-sharing four times in 1923, 1926, 1929 and 1930.

Steve Jones won because he kept his ball out of one of the deserts on the 18th hole, the bunker to the left of the fairway, and Tom Lehman didn’t.

They were tied at two under par, but Jones crushed his tee shot into the middle of the fairway while Lehman drove into the bunker. Lehman had to slash an 8-iron short of the green, but Jones almost holed his 7-iron approach. After a long pitch, Lehman two-putted for bogey. Jones two-putted to win.

“Tom and I are good friends,” Jones said. “He’s been an inspiration to me ever since he moved to the Phoenix area. He’s a religious guy. On the first tee today he told me, ‘The Lord wants us to be courageous and strong.’

“Walking down the 16th he said the same thing to me again. I knew he meant what he said. He aimed right at the pin over the water. I knew he was courageous and strong. I was just trying to hang on.”

But for all the links to Jones and Hogan, who nicknamed Oakland Hills “the Monster,” this Open will be remembered as Jack Nicklaus’ last, as well as his record 40th, all in a row.

On his last hole, Nicklaus, another fourtime champion, yanked his drive into the trees, but instead of ricocheting into bushes, his ball, perhaps by divine intervention, dropped onto a dirt lie. From there, the 56-year-old Golden Bear lashed a 3-wood just to the right of the green but his ball, perhaps by divine intervention, hung up in the rough just above the bunker.

Blessed twice, Big Jack took it from there, chipping his ball down a slippery slope to within 15 inches of the cup.

After all those strokes in all those Opens, one of the USGA officials should have told him, “It’s good.” But that’s not the way it works. Jack Nicklaus putted out for his par.

No way that divine intervention would have permitted anything but.

Wordcount: 843
Tags: commentary, golf

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