Bobby Jones fills the annals of history sporting books as one of the greatest golfers to ever pick up a mashie. He is known the world over, printed and talked about today because of his brilliant golf game. Behind the scenes, though, was an eccentric, hard-drinking, writer and journalist. This man was responsible for the spectacular black and white headlines and prudently crafted articles about the young Bobby Jones. The two became friends in 1916, and together they created a legend.

This remarkable man that Bobby Jones called, “the greatest golf writer that has ever lived” was Oscar Bane (O.B.) Keeler. Better known in golf circles as “Pop.”

Pop was born in Chicago on June 4, 1882. Growing up, he was famous for his ribald limericks and eidetic memory. Pop was capable of reciting at the drop of a hat quotes and classical lines of canon literature that would have an audience on its feet laughing and cheering.

At the age of four, his family moved to the small town of Tate, Georgia. It was here, in high school, that he studied Latin and Greek and found a true lifelong love of words. Pop was an awkward young man. A hypochondriac, with poor eyesight and no real direction concerning career aspirations. Upon graduating, he bounced around from one low-level job to the next like a lost pelagic fish.

Along his wayward path, Pop eventually married and had two children. And the marriage was in no way made in heaven. There was constant bickering and financial instability. His wife had been raised in an exceedingly affluent home spoiled by life’s luxuries and leisure. The future looked grim for the young Keeler.

Pop’s mental decline finally reached its zenith. He felt like he was suffocating and trapped with no way out. It was then he decided to go down to the Chattahoochee River and drown himself.

“I would go out to the Chattahoochee River and throw a rock off the bridge, without turning loose of the rock,” he would say while retelling the story later in life.

One night he did go down to the river. He stood on the bridge and gazed down at the dark churning water. But like most everything else in his fractured life, he didn’t see this plan through. Instead, he returned home.

Pop’s only aspiration was to work for a newspaper, though all his attempts over the previous ten plus years had been soundly rejected. The reason was always the same. Lack of experience.

But Pop was determined to become a journalist. In December 1908, desperate and deep in the quandary of depression, he offered his services to The Atlanta Georgian for “free” until they felt he was worth being paid.

“I even had to supply my own typewriter!” Keeler said.

The paper, seeing no real downside, took him up on his offer. His very first story made the front page. Eventually, he was hired on staff earning $18 a week. It was as much as he had earned at any of his other failed endeavors.

He went on to write over a million words and 500 columns for the Associated Press alone. He rubbed elbows with fellow journalist Ernest Hemingway. Argued the rules of tennis with baseball great Ty Cobb. Witnessed all 13 major championships won by Bobby Jones. Sang a duet in a drunken performance with famed opera singer Enrico Caruso. And wrote the now famous obituary for Yankee great, Babe Ruth.

Pop was a natural with words. Once when asked about marriage he said, “Matrimony is like a batter in baseball. The wife is the pitcher; the husband is the catcher. The wife gives the signals; the husband catches all the foul tips on his shins and finger joints. And when the
box score is announced, all of the batters errors are passed balls, and there are no wild pitches.”

After a year or so with The Atlanta Georgian, he spent the next three years writing for the Kansas City Star. He worked beside Ernest Hemingway and covered a variety of stories from lifestyles, to crime, to sports. He returned to the Georgian in 1912, and it was a year later that he found a passion for writing about golf. It was a subject that would become an obsession for the next 37 years.

Pop first began playing golf as a boy during summers in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Despite his love of the game, he was never better than an average player and never once in his life broke 90. But he sure could write about it.

Pop traveled with Bobby Jones over 150,000 miles in 16 years. Bobby’s immortality was not placed upon him solely by his splendid swing. His name is possibly the most famous in the sport not in small part due to Pop Keeler. It was Pop who wrote about the miraculous victories and gut-wrenching shots with a Shakespearean dramatic flair and wit of an old-world newspaperman.

H.G. Salsinger of the Detroit News said it best. “While Jones composed his epics, Keeler sang them to the world, and they seemed all the finer for the manner of singing.” He got his name etched amongst the greatest sports writers of all time and possibly the greatest of all golf journalists.

When Bobby was invited to take part in a radio show series on golf, Pop was there to make sure Bobby used the right words. It was a partnership that worked and never failed to live up to the hype.

In 1927, Pop was heavily involved in the writing of Bobby Jones’ autobiography called Down the Fairway. In the book, Pop created an incredible storyline painting a portrait of Bobby Jones with an intimacy that portrayed him as the regular guy he was.

The duo became one of the preeminent partnerships in all of sports history. Bobby Jones defining victory, and Pop Keeler taking it mainstream linked their names forever. No two fellows were better equipped to ride that rollercoaster than Bobby Jones and Pop Keeler.

Champions are made on the fields of play, but legends like O.B. Keeler are created late at night and in those early morning hours by the clicking and clacking of an old typewriter.

Subscribe to G&E Magazine

Receive the best of golf & entrepreneurship each week straight to your inbox!

Our newsletter is sent each Friday with the latest post and updates.