This is the third in a 16-part series detailing every USGA championship contested at Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh. The story recounts the 1925 U.S. Amateur Championship, won by Bob Jones, 8 and 7, over fellow East Lake member Watts Gunn, for his second consecutive title. It was the second of Jones’ five U.S. Amateur victories and the third of his nine USGA championship titles.
1925 U.S. Amateur: Jones Beats Clubmate for Second Straight Title
March 15, 2016 | Far Hills, N.J.
By John Boyette
The young phenom from Atlanta made quite a splash in the 1925 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club.
He blazed through stroke play, and he set a match-play record by winning 15 consecutive holes in his 36-hole opening match.
Those seem like the type of feats Bob Jones would perform on one of golf’s premier stages, but the exploits were those of Watts Gunn.
The 20-year-old Gunn was a member of East Lake Golf Club, Jones’ home club in Atlanta, and Gunn was considered the protégé of the defending champion. Never mind that Jones was only three years older than Gunn.
It was Jones who saw something special in Gunn – his nickname was “The Southern Hurricane” – and suggested he compete in the U.S. Amateur.
They both traveled to Pittsburgh, and easily qualified for the match-play bracket, which had been reduced from 32 to 16 players for the first time since the 1897 championship at Chicago Golf Club. All matches were contested at 36 holes, which set the stage for a remarkable feat. In his first match, Gunn found himself 3 down against Vincent Bradford in the first 18 before winning the next 15 holes en route to a 12-and-10 victory. For good measure, Gunn also beat 1922 U.S. Amateur champion Jess Sweetser, 10 and 9, in the quarterfinals.
With several big names failing to qualify for match play, and despite Gunn’s hot hand, Jones was still considered the man to beat. He cruised through his first three matches, including a 7-and-6 victory over George Von Elm in the semifinals, to set up a meeting with Gunn in the final. It remains the only time two members of the same club have reached the championship match of the U.S. Amateur.
Bob Jones IV, grandson of the legendary golfer, said Gunn’s exploits have been lost to time. In addition to his 15-hole winning streak, Gunn played one 50-hole stretch of the championship at Oakmont in even par, with the usual match-play concessions.
“Two years later, when Tommy Armour won the Open at Oakmont (in a playoff over Harry Cooper), his score was [13-over-par] 301,” Jones IV said. “That just tells you how incredibly good Watts was.”
Jones’ grandson, who affectionately refers to his grandfather as “Bub,” said that Gunn was known as something of a night owl.
“The night before the championship match, Bub sort of kept guard in the lobby to make sure Watts didn’t go out and enjoy the nightlife of Pittsburgh,” said Jones.
Sure enough, Jones spotted Gunn attempting to leave the hotel.
“Bub said, ‘Oh no, you don’t. Go get some sleep. I’m going to beat you fair and square,’” Jones IV said.
Jones had ended his so-called “seven lean years” of near-misses in USGA championships, including a 1919 U.S. Amateur runner-up showing at Oakmont, with his 1923 U.S. Open victory at Inwood (N.Y.) Country Club. A year later, he registered his first U.S. Amateur title, handily defeating Von Elm in the final at Merion Cricket Club. Going into the 1925 final, Jones was the prohibitive favorite against Gunn.
“On the first tee, Watts asked if he was going to give him his usual three shots,” Jones IV said. “Bub said, ‘No, I’m going to beat the hell out of you.’”
But it was Gunn who held the early advantage.
“Clubmates and warm friends – master and pupil, they called us – and before we reached the turn of the first round I was wondering why I had begged Watts’ father to send him to Oakmont,” Jones wrote in his book, Down the Fairway.
A pivotal moment occurred on Oakmont’s long par-5 12th hole, known as the Ghost Hole.
It was on that hole in the afternoon round of the 1919 U.S. Amateur final that Jones was the victim of an unfortunate incident. He was 3 down to Oakmont member S. Davidson Herron, but had the advantage off the tee. As Jones played his second shot, a gallery marshal yelled “Fore” through a megaphone when he was at the top of his backswing. Jones topped the shot into a bunker and wound up losing the hole. Herron went on to a 5-and-4 victory.
Six years later, Jones was 1 down to Gunn in the morning round. Jones was in a greenside bunker on the 12th in three, and Gunn was safely on the green in regulation.
“When I went down in that bunker I was morally certain of one thing,” Jones wrote. “If Watts took that hole from me I’d never catch him. He was playing the most ferocious brand of inspirational golf I had ever seen; he was 2 under par, and he was about to take another hole from me.”
Jones hit his bunker shot to 10 feet and, using his trusted putter, Calamity Jane, sank the putt to halve the hole.
“I shot the remaining six holes of the round 3-3-4-3-3-4, finished the round 2 under par and 4 up on Watts, and started the afternoon round 4-3, which settled matters,” recounted Jones, who went on to an 8-and-7 triumph. “But I’ll always believe the match turned on that 10-foot putt at the Ghost Hole.”
Although Gunn never made it back to the final of a U.S. Amateur, he had a fine career. He won the individual NCAA championship in 1927 for Georgia Tech (Jones’ alma mater), competed for the victorious USA Walker Cup Teams in 1926 and 1928, and won many regional events, including the 1928 Southern Amateur.
Jones would add three more U.S. Amateur titles (1927, 1928, 1930) in addition to his four U.S. Open championships (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930). In 1930, Jones achieved the Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Amateur and The Amateur Championship, along with The Open Championship and the U.S. Open.
According to his grandson, Jones was already starting to contemplate his legacy after his 1925 U.S. Amateur triumph.
“Bub apparently said on the way back from Oakmont, ‘If I could hold an Amateur or Open championship for six consecutive years, I could hang up the old clubs,’” Jones IV said. “He did exactly that.”
John Boyette is the sports editor of The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle.