Known as “Long Jim” because of his 6-feet 4-inches in height, lanky build and long hitting, Barnes won four major championships in an era best known for the exploits of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.
The tallest of the champions for the first half of the century, Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship ever played, in 1916, and won the next one, played in 1919. He won the 1921 U.S. Open at the Columbia C.C. by nine strokes and the 1925 Open Championship at Prestwick, when he came from five strokes behind after Macdonald Smith faltered with a final-round 82. He is one of only eight golfers to have won those three. He also won the Western Open three times, which in his day, was considered an elite championship.
He never played in the Masters, which began in 1934. On the U.S. tour, he is credited with 21 career victories and 14 seconds. In his U.S. Open victory, Barnes opened with a 69 to take a three-stroke lead and was never challenged. When Barnes won, he was given the trophy by President Warren Harding, making him the only player in history to receive the U.S. Open trophy from the President of the United States.
"Bobby, you can't always be playing well when it counts. You'll never win golf tournaments until you learn how to score well when you're playing badly."
Barnes was runner-up in the PGA to Walter Hagen in 1921 and 1924. He was also second in the 1922 Open Championship. He won the North and South Open in 1916, his first victory, and again in 1919. In 1916, he also won a PGA Stroke Play Championship played after the match-play event, but it was never counted as official.
His last victory came in the 1939 New Jersey Open when he was 53 years old.
Sarazen, who feuded with Barnes because of what he considered the older man’s brusque manner, nevertheless rated him the finest 5-iron player he had ever seen. In 1940, Barnes was made one of the 12 original inductees into the PGA Hall of Fame. Barnes was born in Lelant, England, in 1886. At age 15, he was made an assistant pro. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1906, but never became an American citizen, remaining an intensely patriotic Cornishman. Still, he remained attached to his native country, playing in The Open regularly and finishing in the top eight seven times between 1920 and 1928. In 1919, Barnes produced a book, Picture Analysis of Golf Strokes, which became one of the most widely read instructionals of the day. It featured full photographs of Barnes’ strong, compact swing at key points. The book revolutionized printed golf instruction.
“His finish was a model for a tall man who is inclined to spring up too soon after the ball is hit,” wrote Bernard Darwin. “Everything he did was pleasant to watch.”
Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship played in 1916.
Barnes had an angular, serious face that was topped by a thatch of unruly hair that gave him “an aspect which, to the stranger, suggested the Wild West,” according to Darwin. He was an intense, quiet competitor who often kept a sprig of clover or grass clamped tightly between his teeth. All his career, he was one of the few players who wore trousers instead of knickers, an “old school” conceit.
Barnes was a man of few words, but he possessed important wisdom, which he imparted when he felt the subject was worthy. He once told the young Jones, “Bobby, you can’t always be playing well when it counts. You’ll never win golf tournaments until you learn how to score well when you’re playing badly.” The statement made a profound impact on Jones, who later wrote, “This is perhaps what I learned to do best of all.”
Barnes died in 1966.