"Long" Jim Barnes, the former head PGA professional at Essex County Country Club in West Orange, has long been one of golf's most engaging characters, not only for his nickname but for his penchant for winning. The Englishman won 22 times on the PGA Tour, including four titles in today's majors, and has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and the PGA of America Hall of Fame as one of 12 inaugural members.
Barnes's triumph in the 1921 U.S. Open at Maryland's Columbia Country Club was his career highlight, winning that title by a stunning nine strokes. 18 years later, Barnes won the 1939 NJSGA Open Championship at age 53, and remains the oldest man to achieve this feat.
Barnes, who came by his nickname for wearing long pants in the age of knickers and his towering height of 6’4”, admitted as much in a 1964 interview with Golf Journal:
"You'd have to call that championship (the 1921 U.S. Open) the crowning point of all the golf I played. Winning by nine strokes against a field like that and then having the trophy presented to me by the President of the United States!" remembered Barnes. His other major victories were the 1925 British Open and the PGA Championship in 1916 and 1919.
"(President) Warren Harding loved golf, you know…did a lot for it during the time he was in office…and he was there every day of the tournament. So was Calvin Coolidge, who was then the Vice President."
At the time, only Willie Smith of Scotland had won by a greater margin, by 11 shots against a much weaker field in 1899. Barnes's rounds of 69-75-73-72 for 289 in a loaded field placed him miles ahead of runner-up Walter Hagen (298). Chick Evans shot 302, Bob Jones 303, Englishman George Duncan 305, Gene Sarazen 311, and Jock Hutchison 312. In 2000, Tiger Woods set the current record for widest margin of victory, winning by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach.
What Barnes achieved at Columbia CC was remarkable. Having played just a few holes in a practice round the previous day, he shot a course record 69 in qualifying, then matched that number in the first round.
Barnes's journey to America began in 1906, when the 20-year-old left England for California. By 1909 he had won the first of his four Northwest Open championships.
In 1914, he captured the Western Open. Two years later, he won the first of his four majors when he notched the PGA Championship at New York's Siwanoy Country Club in the inaugural playing of that event. He defeated Jock Hutchison of Scotland in a back-and-forth 36-hole match, 1-Up.
Barnes won the second PGA Championship in 1919 (it was not played in 1917 and 1918 due to World War I) at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn, N.Y. This time he beat one of his main rivals of the time, Scotsman Freddie McLeod, 6&5.
In 1923, Barnes claimed the British Open at Scotland's Prestwick Golf Club, rallying from a five-stroke deficit in the final round. Reports at the time noted that Barnes had been fortunate to play in the morning wave, avoiding an "unruly crowd" that hampered the play of third-round leader Macdonald Smith.
Barnes won a number of other important victories. At the time the Western Open, which he won in 1914, 1917, and 1919, and the North and South Open in Pinehurst, which he claimed in 1916 and 1919, were considered "major" victories.
Barnes was the first player to win three legs of the current four majors (he was invited to the inaugural Masters at age 47, but did not play), and today is among elite company as one of only twelve to accomplish the feat.
By the time Barnes, in 1939, became the fifth professional to work at Essex County CC, one of the oldest clubs in America, he had already made a significant impact on the sport.
That summer, he added a local championship, the NJSGA Open Championship, to those that had made him a household name. Considered his last important triumph, it occurred at the now-defunct Yountakah Country Club in Nutley. Barnes closed with flair in a driving rainstorm to record a 289 total and defeat two-time champion Johnny Kinder of Plainfield Country Club by three strokes. Kinder would win his third title the next year.
In 1940, Barnes was among the inaugural class of 12 golfers inducted into the PGA of America's Hall of Fame. The class included legends Willie Anderson, Tommy Armour, Evans, Hagen, Jones, Francis Ouimet, Alex Smith, Jerry Travers, and Walter Travis.
Besides his height and long trousers, Barnes was also instantly recognizable for the clover stalk hanging from his mouth. He said he chewed the stems to relieve his thirst, but he also believed it was a good luck charm.
Barnes passed away in East Orange in 1966, at the age of 80. In 1989, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, joining previous inductees Hagen, Jones, Evans, Sarazen, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson, as well as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player.
“Long” Jim Barnes was literally and figuratively a giant among men, and was a more than worthy entrant into the Hall of Fame Class of 2021.