Jim Barnes, 4-Time Major Winner, First PGA Champ

Golf Jim Barnes swinging the club

Jim Barnes was an English golfer who lived most of his life in the United States, where he was one of the best pro golfers of the first quarter of the 1900s. He won big tournaments from the mid-1910s until the late 1930s. Along the way, Barnes won four major championships, including the PGA Championship the first two times it was played.

Full name: James Martin Barnes

Date of birth: April 8, 1886

Place of birth: Lelant, Cornwall, England

Date and place of death: May 24, 1966 in East Orange, New Jersey

Nickname: Long Jim or Big Jim

Barnes' Biggest Wins

Today the PGA Tour credits Barnes with 22 official PGA Tour victories. Those wins are: Barnes won multiple other pro tournaments that are not, today, credited by the PGA Tour as official tour wins. Those include the 1921 California State Open and, at age 53, the 1939 New Jersey State Open. He also won the Northwest Open, a PGA sectional tournament, four times (1909, 1911-13).

Becoming the First (and Second) PGA Championship Winner

In February of 1916, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America was formed, and the first PGA Championship scheduled for October at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York.

That first PGA Championship was played October 10-14, 1916. Jim Barnes was one of 32 golfers who started the match-play bracket, five days of 36-hole matches. Barnes had tied for medalist at 147 in his 36-hole qualifier in Delaware.

In the first round, Barnes defeated George Fotheringham, 8-and-7, and in the second round, by the same score, he dispatched 2-time major winner Alex Smith. In the quarterfinals, Barnes beat Tom Kerrigan, 3-and-1, and in the semifinals he defeated Willie Macfarlane 6-and-5.

That led to a championship match against Jock Hutchison, the man with whom Barnes had tied for medalist in the stroke-play qualifier. Barnes was down four after eight holes, but rallied to be 1-down after the morning 18. In the afternoon, Barnes took his first lead after the 25th hole, but after the 33rd was 1-down again.

Barnes squared it on the 35th hole, and on the final hole of the match made a four-foot putt to win the hole, the match, and the first PGA Championship.

The PGA Championship wasn't played in 1917 or 1918 due to World War I, so Barnes didn't have a chance to defend his title until 1919. And defend it he did. Barnes beat, in succession, Carl Anderson, Otto Hackbarth and, in the quarterfinals, Emmet French. In the semifinals, Barnes dispatched Bob MacDonald, 5-and-4. Then, in the championship match, he beat Fred McLeod, 1908 U.S. Open winner, by a 6-and-5 score.

Going for the threepeat in the 1920 PGA Championship, Barnes lost in the second round to Clarence Hackney.

Barnes' Other Major Wins and Overall Record in Majors

Barnes won four majors total. In addition to the PGA Championships of 1916 and 1919, he also won the 1921 U.S. Open and 1925 British Open.

At the 1921 U.S. Open, Barnes won by a whopping nine strokes. That was the second-largest margin of victory in a U.S. Open to that point, and today remains the third-largest. Only Tiger Woods' 15-stroke win in the 2000 U.S. Open and Willie Smith's 11-shot win in the 1899 U.S. Open top it. Barnes was the wire-to-wire winner after opening with a 69. He then added scores of 75, 73 and 72 to finish at 9-over 289. That score doesn't seem that impressive until you take into account the 9-stroke margin over the runners-up, Fred McLeod and Barnes' great rival Walter Hagen.

At the 1925 British Open, Barnes shot a Prestwick course record 70 in the first round, but trailed by four strokes entering the final round. He carded a final-round 74 to post 300, and when third-round leader Macdonald Smith struggled to an 82, Barnes had the win. His margin was one stroke over Ted Ray and Archie Compston. This was the final Open Championship played at Prestwick and the last in which nobody finished below 300.

The first major Barnes played was the 1912 U.S. Open where, at age 26, he tied for 18th place. The last major he played was the 1932 U.S. Open where, at age 46, he tied for 55th place. He never played in The Masters, a tournament that debuted in 1934.

In all Barnes started in 34 majors and finished in the Top 10 in 20 of them. He was runner-up in the 1921 PGA Championship (losing to Walter Hagen, 3-and-2, in the final) and in the 1924 PGA Championship (losing to Hagen 2-down in the final). He also tied for second in the 1922 British Open, one stroke behind Hagen.

Barnes was third in the 1916 U.S. Open, and tied for fourth place in the U.S. Opens of 1913 and 1915. In addition to those tournaments previously mentioned, Barnes had Top 10 finishes in the 1920 U.S. Open, in the British Opens of 1920, 1921, 1924, 1928, 1929 and 1930; and in the PGA Championships of 1920, 1923 and 1928.

More About Jim Barnes

At 6-foot-4 inches, Barnes was one of the tallest players of his era, and was known as a long hitter with a strong but compact swing. His size, lanky frame, and length earned him his nicknames of Long Jim and Big Jim. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Barnes was the tallest major championship winner in golf in the first half of the 1900s.

Golf writer Bernard Darwin once wrote about Barnes that "his finish was a model for a tall man who is inclined to spring up too soon after the ball is hit. Everything he did was pleasant to watch."

Barnes was the second golfer (after Walter Hagen) to win both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship; and the fourth golfer to win both the U.S. and British opens (after Harry Vardon, Hagen and Ted Ray). He was the second golfer (after Hagen) to win all three of the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship trophies, and, as of this writing (in 2021), Barnes remains one of only eight golfers to do so.

Barnes never had a chance to complete what we now call the career Grand Slam because the fourth professional major, The Masters, didn't exist until 1934, when Barnes was already 48 years old. He never played The Masters. He did win the Western Open three times, however, at a time when the Western Open was generally considered second only to the U.S. Open in stature on the American golf scene.

Barnes was not necessarily well-liked by all of his peers due to a sometimes brusque or curt manner. He rarely spoke to his fellow-competitors or opponents during competitive rounds. But Barnes was respected by all. Gene Sarazen, who didn't care for Barnes at all personally, rated him "the finest 5-iron player he had ever seen," according to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

And Barnes did help others along the way: Bobby Jones counted advice Barnes gave him among the most influential he ever received. During Jones' lean years, before he began winning the biggest tournaments, Jones was afflicted with a terrible temper. Barnes counseled him, "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 born in England and worked as a caddie and clubmaker's apprentice before becoming an assistant pro at the ripe old age of 15. He immigrated to the United States in 1906, made his way out West, and worked at various clubs as the pro, including at Spokane Country Club and Tacoma Country Club, both in Washington, and The Broadmoor in Colorado.

Barnes began winning big events on the pro circuit in 1914, when he won the first of his three Western Open titles. The late 1910s were his most productive years: His two PGAs, all three of his Western Opens, and both his North and South Opens all happened in the years from 1914 to 1919. He led the nascent tournament circuit (what we now call the PGA Tour) in victories in 1916 (3), 1917 (2, tied with Mike Brady) and 1919 (5).

In a 1916 artice, the New York Times wrote of Barnes:

"All that Barnes needs to win a golf tournament is a golf course, a putter, and a liberal supply of the clover leaves that he carries in the corner of his mouth."
(Barnes really did often play golf with a sprig of clover hanging from his mouth — you can see one there near the end of the U.S. Open video above. And one is barely visible in the photo at the top of the page.)

He continued his strong play into the 1920s, leading the tour again with four wins in 1921. And he added his two other major championship wins at the 1921 U.S. Open and 1925 British Open. United States President Warren G. Harding was in attendance on the final day of the 1921 U.S. Open. When Barnes won that title, he was presented the trophy and winner's medal by Harding, making him the only winner to receive the trophy from the sitting American president.

His final pro victory came at the age of 53 in the 1939 New Jersey Open.

In his 1919 book, Picture Analysis of Golf Strokes: A Complete Book of Instruction (affiliate link), Barnes listed his set makeup (he carried 10 clubs) at that time:

  • Driver: 42.75 inches in length, 13 ounces in weight
  • Brassie: 42.5 inches, 13 ounces
  • Spoon: 41.5 inches, 13.5 ounces
  • Cleek: 39.5 inches, 14.5 ounces
  • Mid-iron: 38 inches, 14.75 ounces
  • Mashie iron: 38.5 inches, 15.25 ounces
  • Mashie: 37.5 inches, 14.25 ounces
  • Pitching mashie: 37.5 inches, 15 ounces
  • Mashie niblick: 36.75 inches, 15.5 ounces
  • Putter: 34 inches, 14.5 ounces
That book's use of photos (view in .pdf form) is considered a watershed moment for golf instructional writing, pairing Barnes' clear descriptions with lots of large photos picturing his swing in various positions with various clubs.

Barnes also wrote the 1925 instructional, A Good Guide to Golf (affiliate link, or view as .pdf).

Jim Barnes was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1989. But nearly 50 years earlier, Barnes had been included in the first group of golfers inducted into any hall of fame: He was part of the inaugural, 1940 class of the PGA of America Hall of Fame. That helps remind us that at that point in time, Barnes was considered among the top handful of most important golfers in American history.

As one of the headlines of his obituary, when he died at age 80 in 1966, put it, "Barnes Was Giant in His Day."

Photo credit: Jim Barnes photographed by Bain News Service/public domain

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