- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2004

Here’s one way to look at Bobby Jones’ golfing career: It wasn’t even a career; it was a summer hobby.

He never made a dime (although he competed in professional tournaments) and quit competing at 28.

Jones was a peach of a Georgia gentleman — devoted to his wife and to the game, his life’s two loves. Love is the Latin root of “amateur,” as you’ll be reminded in one of this movie’s more didactic moments.

Rowdy Herrington’s stately, reverential biopic, “Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius,” makes much hay out of Jones’ amateur status. It could have been called “For Love of the Game” if that weren’t already the name of a terrible Kevin Costner baseball movie.

“Bobby Jones” isn’t nearly as bad as that.

If you can’t stand watching golf on TV, well, you’re probably not interested in Bobby Jones anyway.

Jones, of course, was the Tiger Woods of his era, a child phenom and dominant competitor who, to this day, is the only golfer to have won all four major championships in a single year.

In the 1920s, the U.S. and British amateur tournaments were considered majors, along with the U.S. and British opens. There wasn’t a PGA Championship. Nor was there a Masters tournament: Jones hadn’t yet founded the Augusta National Golf Club.

Jones is played by 35-year-old Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), which is problematic because Jones is supposed to be in his early 20s.

Generally, Mr. Caviezel plays him too soft. Jones was a chain-smoking, club-throwing bag of nerves. Mr. Caviezel throws temper tantrums but never seems genuinely upset.

I liked the other two Bobby Joneses of “Bobby Jones.” Devon Gearhart plays him at age 8, when he is sickly, scrappy and overprotected, and his bumptious lawyer father (Brett Rice) is just discovering his son’s gift. Thomas Lewis plays Jones at 14, and the scenes in which the plucky teen shows up adult golfers are priceless.

The movie also is enlivened by a pair of colorful supporting roles from Jeremy Northam (as Jones’ hard-living professional rival Walter Hagen) and Malcolm McDowell (as Atlanta Journal sportswriter O.B. Keeler, Jones’ de facto media flack).

Mr. Herrington spends too much time on Jones’ early years, when his temper was his own worst enemy. Jones struggles through so many moments that you begin to itch for the inevitable turning point at which he starts winning tournaments.

Also, the movie has too many Hallmark moments, such Jones’ courting of his Catholic wife (Claire Forlani) and a group hug with father and grandfather (Dan Albright), a Calvinist-minded scold who approves of neither his grandson’s avocation nor his own son’s encouragement of it.

Even at such moments, “Bobby Jones” is gorgeous: the on-location scenery of the storied Scottish golf club at St. Andrews, home of the British Open; the handsome period clothing; the sepia tones of Jazz Age Atlanta.

The ‘20s roared for the Joneses, indeed. Jones grew up privileged and remained so throughout his life. Golf was strictly a rich man’s game then.

Bobby Jones didn’t play for money partly because he didn’t need the money. Mr. Herrington might have used Jones’ social stratum as an excuse for populist grandstanding — but he doesn’t, and he shouldn’t have.

It had nothing to do with the man’s talent. Or his class.


TITLE: “Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius”

RATING: PG (Profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Rowdy Herrington. Produced by Kim Dawson, Tim Moore and John Shepherd. Written by Mr. Herrington, Tony DePaul and Bill Pryor. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Music by James Horner. Costume design by Beverly Safier.

RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.bobbyjonesthemovie.com


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