Monday, March 29

Great Shots: Johnston’s Spade Mashie at 1929 U.S. Amateur

EVERYBODY WHO LOVES GOLF loves to hear about or see a great golf shot. There’s no video clip or YouTube for what I’m about to tell you. I wish there was. I read the anecdote last week in Michael Blaine’s fine book The King of Swings, the story of Johnny Goodman’s impressive career that culminated with Goodman winning the 1933 U.S. Open, the last amateur to do so. Then I read a longer account of the shot recently penned by the USGA’s Rand Jerris.

This little golf tale takes place in 1929, the year the stock market crashed and during an era in golf when the amateur was revered and the professional was often shunned. Some had lost interest in that last U.S. Amateur of the Roaring Twenties when the 19-year-old Goodman stunned the legendary Bobby Jones in their opening match at Pebble Beach. The colossal upset put Goodman on the map, although he lost his second match after lunch on the same day he defeated Jones.

Not to worry. What transpired later that week was one of the most dramatic moments in the championship’s history.

Harrison “Jimmy” Johnston arrived at Pebble’s 18th hole one down to Dr. Oscar Willing at the midpoint of their 36-hole final match. Johnston drove his ball safely onto the 18th fairway. The most difficult shot out of the way, he then blundered badly, hooking his second shot over the cliff and onto the beach. Johnston played a provisional ball and was ready to move on when his caddie came running through the gallery and informed him that his original ball might be playable on the beach.

(Photo courtesy of USGA Museum)

“I found my ball resting securely among the small pebbles below the seawall,” Johnston said. “When I took my stance to play the shot, a wave swished up behind me and buried my feet six inches in the water. But when the wave receded, the ball was still there!”

Before the next wave arrived, Johnston calmly struck his golf ball with a Spalding Kro-Flite spade mashie, the equivalent of a modern-day 7-iron. The ball cleared the seawall and landed on the edge of the 18th green. Johnston halved the par-5 hole and rallied in the afternoon round for a 4 and 3 victory to claim the U.S. Amateur title. He was later honored with a ticker-tape parade in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.

−The Armchair Golfer

USGA story and photos of Johnston’s Spalding Kro-Flite spade mashie

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