Earlier this year at the pro-am event of the Sony Open at Wailaie Country Club in Hawaii, June Jones created quite a lot of guffaws because of a video that went viral of him using a five-iron for putting and golfing barefoot. But there are specific reasons the former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League and current head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League does both – and it’s quite interesting and actually amazing.
Jones, who lives in Hawaii in the off-season and at one time in his lengthy football career was head coach of the University of Hawaii and Southern Methodist University, happens to be a talented golfer who has a handicap in the low single digits.
“I’ve played golf all my life,” he told me prior to a recent Ticats’ football game. “I thought as young kid I was going to play professional golf. I was a junior champion in the Pacific Northwest in Oregon and played against a lot of guys that I competed with and beat that ended up playing on the PGA Tour. Peter Jacobsen was one of them. Pat Fitzsimons was another."
“After I went to high school, I didn’t get back into golf until I got to Atlanta as a quarterback (from 1977-81). I picked it up again when I was 22 or 23 years old. I got pretty good at that time.”
He was playing pretty well until he was involved in an automobile accident in 2000 that tore his aorta and physically changed his life and altered the way he golfed.
“It’s kind of a miracle that I’m alive,” he said. “Nobody ever survives that. Mine was three-quarters of the way torn. If they don’t find it and fix it you’re usually dead in 15 minutes. Even if you survive in the 15 minutes, you are paralyzed for the rest of your life. They didn’t find mine for almost four hours. They did a complete surgery.
“Everything was sewn up – my liver, kidneys, my lung was punctured – so when my blood pressure wouldn’t come back they took me back into emergency, put me on my back and found my aorta was torn.
“I was in the hospital for a long time. I couldn’t walk. I remember when the doctor came in and I said, ‘I can’t feel my legs’ and he said, ‘Coach, you are going to be paralyzed for the rest of your life.’ I just flipped and said, ‘What?’ I was just on a mission from that day forward not to be paralyzed.
“It’s hard to go upstairs or on a hilly lie. I can’t balance when I’m swinging. That’s why I like Waialae because it’s really flat. I don’t complain (about the physical problems). I’m sore every day, but I’m lucky to be alive. It wasn’t my time. God had more work for me to do here.”
When he began golfing again, he had problems with his legs and couldn’t balance in shoes, so he tried going barefoot and found it worked well in Hawaii.
As for using the five-iron, he developed the yips when putting and found a five-iron helped to calm his nerves.
He uses Japanese irons made by Daiwa that were given to him about 20 years now. He’s been fitted for just about every brand, but likes the feel of the Daiwa clubs. He prefers playing the Titleist Pro V1x.
“I’ve enjoyed golf all my life,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve played golf all over the world. For any athlete who has been competitive his whole life, it’s the only game to play. You meet people, you go to places and the things you do are pretty incredible.”
He cites a round in Scotland in 1993 at newly-opened Loch Lomond Golf Club as one of those incredible examples. Jones had a round of even par coming up to the 18th hole and the caddie told him to hit his three-wood off to the right just left of a bunker. Jones took a practice swing and asked how far it was to hit it over the lake just left of a tree. It was kind of a dog leg and the caddie told him there was no way he could do it, that it was probably 320 yards to carry it over the water. Jones figured he could do it with the wind blowing and keeping the ball high.
“I just jacked it up and hit it over the lake,” he recalled.
The caddie returned to the clubhouse and told the story and it started to circulate.
“By the time we got back to St. Andrews, we walked into this bar and the guys were talking about this guy that hit it over the lake at Loch Lomond,” Jones said. “Someone had told these caddies at St. Andrews about it.”
But there’s more to the story.
About 12 years later, his buddies at Waialae were going to go to Loch Lomond and asked him to go with them, but he was coaching SMU at the time and had training camp.
“So walking down the 18th fairway, I told my best friend, Al Souza, that Loch Lomond was a fantastic place and he would love it over there,” Jones recalled. “I didn’t tell him anything about the course. They get to Loch Lomond and come to the 18th hole and Al said to his caddie, ‘How far is it to hit it over the lake to the left?’ The caddie said, ‘You can’t hit it over the lake to the left. There’s only been one person to ever hit it over the lake. It was an NFL player from your country with a girl’s name.’
“Al said, ‘June Jones?’ And the caddie said, ‘That’s the guy.’
“So Al tees it up and hits it over the lake. But that’s not the end of the story. I’m watching the Scottish Open that year on the Golf Channel and Roger Twibell is doing a diagram of the whole course and comes to the 18th hole and says, ‘Legend has it two best friends hit it over the lake on the left several years apart, but that’s not the way to play the hole.’
“I’m watching it at four in the morning and I called Al and said, ‘Are you watching the Golf Channel?’
“He said, ‘Yeah, did you hear that?’
“So you hear all kinds of golf stories, but that’s kind of a cool one.”
So is the one about how Junes Jones survived death and has lived to play golf, albeit barefoot and with a five-iron for a putter.
“I was playing as well as I could until I had my accident and now I just have fun and compete,” he said.