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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Playing LI Amateur in footsteps of Bobby Jones

For most of the golfers in the Long Island Amateur Championship this week, the shot would be a 5-iron, not a 2-iron. Nor would they have occasion to find out, because most of them hit their drives well past the spot in the right rough where a monument stands.

Still, everyone who is playing for the title at Inwood Country Club this week is honored to be on the same grounds as that monument. It is not every day you get to walk in the footsteps of Bobby Jones and share the turf on which Jones hit one of the most significant shots in the history of American golf.

"Oh, I think everybody has tried that Bobby Jones shot," said Casey Alexander of Colonial Springs Golf Club, a former Inwood member, who lost his morning match yesterday to Michael Blum of Engineers Country Club, a former nine-time Inwood club champion.

As Blum said of playing where Jones won his pivotal first major, the 1923 U.S. Open, with a daring 2-iron shot that traveled 190 yards over a channel and landed six feet from a front pin: "It's very, very cool."

The Long Island Golf Association loves blending past, present and future, so it has long wanted to bring the L.I. Amateur to Inwood, site of Jones' triumph over Bobby Cruikshank in the 1923 U.S. Open playoff-and Walter Hagen's 3 and 2 final-match win over James Barnes in the 1921 PGA Championship. With the right amount of persistence and persuasion, the association got its wish this year. So, the Island's top amateurs went head-to-head in morning and afternoon matches, just as Jones and Cruikshank did 87 years ago.

Inwood pro Tommy Thomas said that trusted oral history at the club said it wasn't just a good clutch 2-iron that Jones hit (and followed with a two-putt par). What made it dramatic was that Jones' golfing life depended on it.

The renowned amateur never had won a major championship and was getting skewered by the press as a choker. Jones told club officials on the eve of the Open that he would quit golf if he didn't win that week, the current pro said. The pressure became excruciating when he lost a three-stroke lead on the final hole of regulation.

When he saw Cruikshank lay up with his second shot on the final playoff hole, Jones reportedly told his manager, "If I lay up, I have no chance of winning. I've got to try this shot." In 1987, Golf magazine called that 2-iron shot the greatest shot of the 20th Century. It sure didn't hurt Jones, who went on to four U.S. Opens and become one of the most fabled golfers ever.

"Everybody who takes the card out of their pocket, this is the first thing they see," Alexander said, taking the Inwood scorecard from his back pocket and pointing to the lines referring to the 1921 PGA and 1923 Open.

Despite technology that has made balls travel much farther than they did in Jones' day, Inwood still is relevant. "At these old courses," Alexander said, "they figured out what the trade wind is and they built the short holes [to go] into the wind and the long holes to work down the wind line. That doesn't change 100 years later."

Blum, whose parents still are members, said, "When Inwood plays fast and firm, this place is as good as it gets."

Thomas said the U.S. Golf Association didn't forget the place in 1923. USGA officials have been around and are considering holding a national amateur or junior championship at Inwood. Wednesday, Long Island's amateurs found the course as inspiring as Jones did.

"Every time I come here, it's magical," David Prowler said after his morning 2-up win over Jason Doppelt. "It's pretty cool to play on a golf course those guys walked around on. I really didn't have time to pass by that plaque just now, but the other day I did. I'd probably hit a 4-hybrid from there because I'm a short hitter."

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