Big Law Lessons from Golf and Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones is widely considered one of the greatest golfers of all time. He is right there in the conversation with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson, among others. In many ways though, Jones was in a league of his own. He is the only golfer ever to win the “Grand Slam”, which he did in 1930 winning all 4 major golf events in the same calendar year. He also helped design the Augusta National in 1933 and co-founded The Masters in 1934.

But what is not as well-known about Jones, is that he was also a lawyer. He was a highly educated man, earning a BSME from Georgia Tech in 1922, an AB from Harvard in 1924, and a JD from Emory in 1926, whereafter he joined his father’s law firm Jones, Evins, Moore & Powell in Atlanta. Impressed yet? Perhaps even more impressive than that was the fact that Jones chose to remain an amateur throughout his golf career, simultaneously pursuing law and golf until age 28 when he retired from golf during the prime of his career. Jones’ reason: to focus on his family and his growing legal practice.

Jones was also famous for the quote: “Golf is a game that is played on a 5-inch course—the distance between your ears.” Isn’t the same true of law? In a January 17 article for The Recorder by Michele Corvi, a partner with McManis Faulkner, Corvi points out 10 “tips” and lessons which lawyers can take from golf:

  1. Keep your head down: Get in early, work hard, and stay late
  2. Follow through and do not hesitate: Take it 1 project at a time, and follow through
  3. Appearance matters: Like you how look, “a confident lawyer is a successful lawyer”
  4. Practice, practice, practice: Practice/preparation leads to consistency/confidence
  5. Be a good sport: Learn from the bad days and bogeys. Treat everyone with respect
  6. Set yourself up to succeed: Set realistic expectations, and push yourself by goals
  7. Play with people better than you: Learn from your peers, and invest in others
  8. Do not talk when someone else is swinging: Listen first and be respectful always
  9. Do not walk across anyone’s line on the green: Don’t let drive or focus blind you
  10. Keep your eye on the ball: Remember what you’re working towards and take aim

The similarities between golf and law are many. Golf is a beautiful, intricate sport which requires hard work, patience, and practice. Some days it is incredibly rewarding, others it is taxing and frustrating. The same is true of law. The playing fields are different—fairways and greens are more appealing than courtrooms, closings, and conference calls—but both possess many of the same lessons and fundamental approaches. Bobby Jones knew this better than anyone, and to everyone’s amazement, he chose a career in the law above golf.

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