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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius

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In spite of all evidence to the contrary—Augusta National's refusal to allow female members, Fuzzy Zoeller's crack about Tiger Woods ordering fried chicken and collard greens for the Champions Dinner, Vijay Singh's recent refusal to play on the same course as LPGA star Annika Sorenstam—the sporting world continues to perpetuate the notion that golf is "the gentleman's game." Given that golf is rooted in idle wealth and civil-rights-flouting exclusivity, it's mighty bold for golfers to claim the moral high ground over other sports. Football, basketball, and baseball all have their share of image problems, but at least they're democratic.

Duller than a rain delay on the Golf Channel, Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius makes a big deal about the titular legend's pure love of the game, as evidenced by his refusal to relinquish his amateur status. "Money is going to ruin sports," Jones biographer O.B. Keeler (Malcolm McDowell) sanctimoniously concludes, but for all his integrity and substance, Jones wasn't exactly born into poverty. The son of a prominent Atlanta lawyer, Jones was raised in a summer home adjacent to the East Lake Country Club, where the sickly boy picked up the fundamentals by shadowing a Scottish club pro. After strong showings as a temperamental prodigy, Jones righted his early flare-ups and dominated the game from 1923 to 1929, becoming the first and only golfer to win the Grand Slam (all four major tournaments) in one year. Retiring at 28, Jones later founded Augusta National and eventually succumbed to syringomyelia, a painful, degenerative spine disease.

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Who better to play this modern saint than Mel Gibson's vacant-eyed Christ-figure: Jim Caviezel, an actor who wears virtue like a neutered puppy? With the dreadful Claire Forlani mangling a Southern drawl as Jones' steadfast wife, the charisma vacuum is briefly filled by Jeremy Northam, whose dashing take on Jones' vice-ridden rival Walter Hagen provides an important reminder that sin is the first syllable of "cinema." No one should know that better than Stroke Of Genius director Rowdy Herrington, the sleazemeister responsible for the 1989 camp classic Road House, but he's content to ladle every drop of this sun-dappled swill down viewers' throats. As the film closes with a grueling succession of golf highlights, with no one tournament distinguished from the next, Jones' unimpeachable decency does nothing to raise the dramatic stakes. To judge from Stroke Of Genius, he was great husband, a great sportsman, a great champion, and a spectacular bore.