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Calamity Jane the folk hero died in 1903. Calamity Jane the putter was born circa 1921.
Exactly why the latter got named after the former is a story pieced together from dives into the archives, but the gist of the tale is understood by those with even a cursory feel for golf history. Bobby Jones, the iconic American sports hero from the golden age, was so beloved that we even knew his most important club by name.
That it was connected to a woman infamous for traits totally opposite Jones – Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary was said to have been prone to exaggeration, her hard-drinking persona connected to unscrupulous behavior in the Wild West – is hard to balance. But writing in “A History of Golf,” Robert Browning explained that it was commonplace for champion golfers to “name” their favorite clubs.
Enter Jim Maiden, a Scotsman who emigrated to America and settled in as a club professional at Nassau CC on Long Island and was apparently smitten with that part of the Calamity Jane story where Cannary explained the origin of her nickname – “It’s because of what happens to my enemies.”
Jim Maiden apparently envisioned his putter doing likewise to golf opponents, so “Calamity Jane” was the name chosen for that club. He later gave the putter to a young Bobby Jones, whose instructor was Maiden’s brother, Stewart.
When? Tough to say, but it’s clear that the most popular story forwarded – that Jones got the putter just days before going on to win the 1923 U.S. Open, the first of his majors – is not accurate. Bill Fields, writing in “Golf Digest” in 2009, said that a photo of Jones wielding the Calamity Jane putter at the 1921 British Amateur was discovered. Also, none other than Francis Ouimet, in a newspaper article advancing the 1922 U.S. Amateur, wrote that Jones was a leading contender because of his putting prowess.
“He has ‘Calamity Jane,’ that is what he calls his putter,” wrote Ouimet.
Heck, as far back as 1920, a reporter in the Brooklyn Eagle mentioned Jones, then 18, played in something called the Morris County Golf Club Invitational. At one hole, Jones made a 15-foot birdie putt and “the gallery eagerly whispered, ‘What kind of putter is he using?” read the story.
The reporter went on to write that it was a putter given to Jones by Jim Maiden, that it was named “Calamity Jane” and that it proved “calamitous” to the player beaten by Jones that day, Reginald Lewis.
All this history, of course, is cherished by purists and some others, but a guy like Bart Bryant concedes it is lost on him.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not a historian. I know about Bobby Jones, but not all the rich details,” said Bryant.
What Bryant does know is that his respectable PGA TOUR career reached a crescendo in 2005 when he exploded with an opening 62 and stormed to an impressive victory in the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club. So utterly brilliant was Bryant, then 42, that the great Tiger Woods shot four rounds in the 60s, yet still finished second, six back. Retief Goosen, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh, all in their prime, settled into a share of fourth behind Bryant.
It’s a fond memory and whenever Bryant wants a reminder, he can sit at his desk in his home office. There in the corner is a replica of the famed “Calamity Jane” putter, which in 2005 was part of the TOUR Championship trophy presentation for the first time.
“It’s in a soft, velvet case and it’s the first thing people see when they come into the office,” said Bryant. “It’s pretty heavy and I’ve never really used it, but it’s a cool trophy.”
Though he’s famously connected to Augusta National, Jones’ “home” club was East Lake. That is where he learned to play the game under the tutelage of Stewart Maiden. Jones always had a special place in his heart for East Lake, so it was fitting to salute his memory into the trophy presentation of the TOUR Championship. The first replica putter was presented to Bryant in 2005, and a strong list of names have received one since – Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy among them.
There had always been a traditional trophy presented to the winner “and it is very nice,” said Bryant, “but the second trophy, the Calamity, was so different and so much cooler.”
When told that starting with this year’s TOUR Championship that there would only be one trophy – the replica Calamity Jane putter – Bryant and his fellow winners unanimously endorsed the idea.
It makes my Calamity Jane trophy that much cooler,” said Bill Haas, winner of the 2011 TOUR Championship. Like Bryant, Haas keeps it on a desk in his office.
“Look, I’m not greedy,” he said. “I’ll appreciate any trophy I win. But (the Calamity Jane) has great history behind it that makes it special.”
Scott won the Tour Championship in 2006 and the “Calamity” trophy brings a sense of pride “every time I walk past it,” he said.
To accommodate his global schedule, Scott has maintained residences in his native Australia, the Bahamas, and Switzerland. Consequently, his trophies are not together. That will change some day, he said, and when it does, “the Calamity” will be showcased.
“It’s a beautiful trophy and is obviously unique. In some cases, it can be a bit obnoxious to display your trophies,” said Scott, “but this one is all about history and when that day comes when I have a real home, it will get a nice display.”
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