Two weeks ago 61 year old Steve Jones played in the PGA Tour's The American Express in La Quinta. He got to play because he is a US Open winner and was exempt from qualifying. And that is all because of the Reverse-Overlap-Vardon-Jones Grip. "The what?" you say. Read on...
In 1996 Steve Jones won the United States Open at Oakland Hills as a Sectional Qualifier. He beat Tom Lehman and Davis Love III by one shot by parring the 72nd hole. His winning score of 2-under-par is still the lowest winning Open score at Oakland Hills. Winning a US Open is a remarkable feat. To win as a Sectional Qualifier in the modern era of golf is almost unheard of, “almost” because Jerry Pate accomplished the same feat in 1976 and if you’re a historian of the game you know what an epic win that was for Pate. However, Jones’ win may have been even more “epic”, but very few people know why.
Jones was recovering from nearly four years away from the Tour because of a 1991 dirt bike accident. The accident separated his shoulder, sprained an ankle, and ruined his left ring finger causing severe ligament and tendon damage. Over the next 4 plus years he struggled to find his game. Heck, Steve was struggling to play the game. He quit for a short time and tried a sales job. But then he read the book, Hogan. The book about Ben Hogan’s comeback inspired Steve to work harder, practice more, and develop a golf game his body could repeat. By the end of 1995 he was playing competitive golf again. If you dug deep into Steve Jones’ bio you could learn most of this information and you should rightfully be impressed. He was, after all, named the PGA Tour’s “Comeback Player of the Year”. But here’s the kicker. Here’s why what Steve Jones did in 1996 was truly epic.
Before Steve Jones had qualified to play in the 1996 US Open; actually, before Steve Jones had sent his entry for the 1996 US Open to the USGA, Steve stood on the driving range of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the Phoenix Open, and each and every golf tournament Steve Jones played during the winter and spring of 1996 and announced to everyone with whom he saw, “I am going to win this year’s US Open”. Remarkably, Steve had created a new grip that allowed him to compensate for his damaged finger by putting his index finger of his left hand on top of his right hand, the opposite of every other player on Tour! He called it the “Reverse- Overlap-Vardon-Jones Grip” and always called it that with a smile. It worked; he could control his golf ball again.
With his unique grip Steve said he could win the Open. And so as he would warm up for the day’s round he would pace the range, show people his new grip, and make his declaration, “I’m going to win this year’s Open, just watch”. In this way he told the people with whom he spent nearly every day of his life in 1996, the players, the caddies, Tour reps, and even officials. He told Tom Lehman and Davis Love, the guys he beat by one shot. He told Payne Stewart and Payne’s caddie, Mike Hicks. He even told Greg Norman and John Daly. He told everyone who had access to the driving range, the PGA Tour Player’s “office water cooler”. So when he did win, everyone who was part of the PGA Tour in 1996 was, to put it bluntly, blown away. He didn’t tell the press. He didn’t tell the fans. He only told that inner circle of people grinding out a life each and every day on the PGA Tour. I was one of those people. I am privileged to have a very unique perspective into what life is like on the PGA Tour and it is the goal of this blog to pass on to you many of those unique stories heard and seen by “the water cooler” of the PGA Tour. Hang out, have a sip, and enjoy the stories.