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Playing for millions on Bobby Jones' home course? That's rich

The Bobby Jones memorabilia that lines the walls of East Lake Golf Club harkens back to a time when the game's greatest amateur ruled the sport. Keyur Khamar/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- There is a delicious dichotomy on display this week at East Lake Golf Club. A quick stroll through the ornate clubhouse offers glimpses into the life of its most famous member, Bobby Jones, the career amateur who learned the game here and whose memorabilia adorns the walls. Step outside the clubhouse doors, though, and the old-school design becomes a beacon of modern-day gluttony, with Coca-Cola-labeled signage dotting the landscape, providing unending reminders that one Tour Championship competitor will walk away from this week $10 million richer -- and the other 27 in the field won't exactly be hurting for cash, either.

On Friday morning, remembrances of Jones came flooding back before the first ball was ever struck. Despite overcast, soggy conditions, the PGA Tour elected to play the ball down, without preferred lies. This decision would have suited Jones, as it recalled a famous phrase attributed to him.

"Golf is the closest game to the game we call life," he once said. "You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots. But you have to play the ball where it lies."

It would have created an even wider dichotomy if players had concluded their 18-hole rounds in the afternoon and whined about the conditions or railed against PGA Tour officials for failing to make things easier on them. Professional golfers are often coddled and don't mind asking for a little extra coddling, even if they are multi-millionaires playing for more millions.

Instead, the competitors asked were unanimously content with the decision. Justin Rose explained that the ball sits up on this Zoysia grass, so it's not directly against the water's surface. Matt Kuchar said he only had a few instances of being in casual water. Others insisted they didn't have a single mud ball during the entire day.

Even so, scoring in the 28-man field wasn't anything that will someday be regaled on the clubhouse walls. The average score for the round was 71.61 -- well above the first-round average and well above par on the par-70 course.

Then there's this: The day's best score belonged to Jordan Spieth, who posted a bogey-free 66. Even though the venue has undergone a variety of renovations in the past century, that number was 3 strokes shy of Jones' best round here on these very grounds -- a 63 that he posted at age 20 back in 1922, when his bag consisted of wooden-shafted mashies and spoons that were barely the same species as the modern-day technology employed by players during this week's event.

Kuchar is competing in the season finale for the sixth consecutive season. A product of nearby Georgia Tech, he was once a decorated amateur player who considered never turning professional before turning the game into a lucrative career. He still takes the opportunity to tour the clubhouse each year, checking out some of Jones' achievements each time.

"He's certainly thought of as the greatest amateur of all time, one of the greatest golfers of all time," Kuchar said. "You wonder, would he have remained an amateur in today's game? It's a fair debate. The money is so good, the prestige is different than it was back then -- there was no prestige in the professional game back then. It would be interesting to think whether he'd be a pro in today's situation.

"It is pretty cool for me to take a look through the clubhouse. I always like to go not through the elevator, but up the stairs and look at all the old articles and newspaper clippings up the stairway, then check out the trophies. I get a big kick out of going through the whole clubhouse and checking that stuff out."

He was then asked what Jones would have thought of golfers competing for a top payout of $10 million on his home course. Even though Jones passed away in 1971 -- long before Kuchar or anybody else in this week's field was even born -- Kuchar offered a unique perspective that placed a positive spin on the idea.

"I think he'd be pretty pleased," he answered with a laugh. "I think he'd be pretty happy for the state of the game. The game is healthy, I think."

Posed with the same question, Rickie Fowler responded: "I don't know if he knew what $10 million was back then. They wouldn't have been able to fathom that."

Many of us still can't fathom the fact that one golfer this week will become a millionaire (again) 10 times over (again). It provides a stunning dichotomy between today's era and that of Jones so long ago. It's one that isn't just alive in spirit this week, but around the course and throughout the clubhouse, screaming so many reminders of the way things used to be.