The Most Famous Putter In History

February 23, 2009

When Bobby Jones got the putter that would become the most famous golf club in the world, it didn't look like much. "Well, that putter certainly wasn't new," Jones said, recalling his acquisition of Calamity Jane many years later. "It was rusty and sort of beat up, and no doubt had several owners before it ever got to me." Short (33½ inches), light (15½ ounces) and damaged (the cracked hickory shaft was mended with glue and three sections of black linen whipping, giving it the appearance of a snake), Jones using it was akin to Vladimir Horowitz performing on a dusty, out-of-tune piano in an Elks Club basement.

"It is the worst putter I have ever held in my hands," writer Charles Price once observed. "If a pro left it in a barrel of clubs in his shop at a dollar apiece, nobody would buy it."

Now no one can buy it—or to be accurate, either of them. The original Calamity Jane, with which Jones won his first three majors, is housed in the Augusta National GC clubhouse. Calamity Jane II, which he used in his final 10 major triumphs, including the Grand Slam in 1930, is on display at the USGA museum in Far Hills, N.J. "Low seven figures," says museum director Rand Jerris, taking a guess at Calamity Jane's worth.

It has been widely written that the goose-necked putter with 8 degrees of loft was given to Jones by Jim Maiden, brother of Jones' instructor, Stewart Maiden, prior to the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood CC, which Jones won to end "seven lean years" and start a dominant run of 13 wins in 21 majors. That makes for a good story, but it isn't so. There is no doubt Jones received the blade—which Jim Maiden earlier had christened Calamity Jane after the American frontierswoman—following a loss in the 1920 U.S. Amateur.

A photograph shows Jones putt-ing with Calamity Jane at the 1921 British Amateur at Royal Liverpool, his stance fairly wide and his body crouched—much different from the winning Jones style (relaxed, upright posture and very narrow stance) he employed later in the decade. Jones biographer Sidney L. Matthew attributed Jones' transformation to a lesson he received in 1924 from Walter Travis, who recommended Jones get his feet so close together the heels almost touched. "Then he must take the club back with his left hand in a longer sweeping stroke with what appears to be hinged wrists working in opposition to each other," Matthew wrote in The Life Times Of Bobby Jones.

In 1926 Jones set aside the original Calamity Jane—a Condie head made in Scotland that "also bore the mark of W. Winton, who was probably the man who completed the club with shaft and grip" around 1900, Jones wrote to a golf collector in 1969—because its face had grown irregular from buffing. Spalding clubmaker J. Victor East proved it was worn out by testing it on a billiard table, then made six identical copies. There very nearly wasn't an original to reproduce: A 1925 fire at East Lake destroyed Jones' clubs, minus Calamity Jane, which he kept with him. Jones' relationship with his putters wasn't all sweetness and light. Errie Ball told Matthew "that he personally helped to repair the shaft of Calamity Jane II when the club had left Jones' hands and made contact with the ground splitting the shaft open."

After a lousy putting round at East Lake in 1927, Jones put Calamity Jane over his knee, but the club got a stay of execution when a passersby said, "Hey, you'll want that tomorrow. You better have a devil you know than one you don't." And in 1929 Calamity Jane II was stolen, along with the rest of Jones' set, from a car in New York City, but recovered the next day.

Six years after the Grand Slam, while tuning up for the 1936 Masters at Augusta National, Jones pulled CJI out of his attic and shot 64 with only 25 putts, news that made The New York Times. "It's just like an old friend now," Jones said. "The ball kept going up to the cup and acting as though it had eyes."

If only Calamity Jane could talk, too. She might speak of the dicey 12-footer Jones made on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in the 1929 U.S. Open to force a playoff or his walk-off 40-foot birdie at the 1930 U.S. Open. Or she might best recall the scene at St. Andrews in 1927, when the British Open champion was in the middle of a throng, he and his putter head and shoulders above everybody.