FRANCIS OUIMET, 1913 U.S. Open Champion
American Golf's Greatest Hero

 

  There was much debate over whether Francis should be among the inaugural inductees of the Golf Ball Factoryís Hall of Club Champions. As one of the initial requirements of the hall, is that the individual never have played professional golf. (This has since been changed) And Francis had lost his amateur status. But did he play golf for money during the time he lost his amateur status? Did he ever accept money for winning? Well, it turns out that Francis was deemed professional because he was part owner of a sporting goods store. Think about that. He sold footballs, fishing lures, hunting gear, basketballs and hockey pucks...and that made him a professional golfer? The truth is the closest that Francis came to playing professional golf was his exhibition play for the U.S. Army in WWI. So whatís up with the Untied States Golf Association ruling? Letís look at a couple of things that we found hiding under the grill room rug, so to speak.

Francis,  a great golfer came from a working class family; never finished high school and caddied until the age 16 to earn extra money to help support his family. ( At 16 years old went to work for Wright & Ditson's sporting goods store on Washington Street in Downtown Boston.) Anyway Francis was invited to play in the 1913 US Open golf tournament because they needed one more player, Francis was an amateur, a decent player and available. But to let you know how little thought the USGA gave this gesture: they didnít have a caddy for him! He ended up with an 10 year old kid with an injured foot named Eddie Lowery toting the bag. 

All quite charming in the first couple rounds I'm sure. Then Francis not only made the cut but played his way into contention.

While in contention before the final round, Francis was asked to withdraw from the tournament! Can you imagine this? Youíre in contention of winning the US Open Golf Tournament entering the final round, and somebody asks you to withdraw!  Francis in his naivetť simply said, "Oh, no thank you. Iím really enjoying myself and would really like to finish the tournament." Well, finish it he did. Shooting a stunning 74-79 on the 2nd day of play to force himself into a 3-way playoff with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. In 2012 a parallel to this would be for Joe the Ranger Picker forcing himself into a 3-way playoff for US Open with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson!  Vardon and Ray were the number 1 and number 2 golfers in the world at the time. 


A vintage photo of Francis Ouimet putting on a golfing exhibition while in the Army.
Sgt. Francis Ouimet 

The morning of the playoff, September 20, 1913, it was deemed that Francis should have a real caddy, now that all but three from the field had been eliminated and several caddies were available, rather than this young and somewhat brazen boy. (It is interesting to note it was not the caddies from The Country Club promoting this change but membership and also interesting that there even attempts made at bribing Eddie to give up the bag to no avail.)  Francis Ouimet, forever the gentleman, simply replied, "No thank you. Iíll stick with Eddie." ( most would have been willing to stick with a 1 eyed, 3 legged dog if he caddied us into contention to win a U.S. Open.  A 10 year old boy with an injured foot was as good as a dream come true.)

Well, be damned, then he goes out and becomes the 1st amateur and only the second American to win US Open, and does it with a 10 year old caddy at that ! Needless to say when the final putt dropped the place went wild !

The marker for Francis in this  "Game of Golf" was none other than Bernard Darwin considered by many as the best golf writer of all time and "the originator of the species". His description of the event is direct and to the point, "The most momentous win in all golfing history".

"Golf in the United States is the amusement of the well-to-do classes alone. The poor man has no place as yet among American golfers and the sport remains as distinctly exclusive as is polo or yachting" 

Garden Smith
1912 The Royal & Ancient Game of Golf.

 

  The stuffed shirts of the USGA and The Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts must have been ready to explode. Some punk caddie poor-boy, trying to turn gentleman no less, accepts our token invitation to play in the US Open, and then goes out with that rascal of a caddie and wins the damned thing beating the two best golfers in the world in a 3-way playoff. Well vengeance had to be gotten somehow, thus the revoking of his amateur status in 1915.  (Prior to his amateur status being revoked he went on to win the 1914 US Amateur and became the first person ever to win both the US Amateur and US Open titles.)

Well bite me. To prove the utter nonsense of the USGA ruling and its purely political motivations, they had to reverse their decision in 1918 after Francis proved himself invaluable to his country during WWI, that along with public  and political pressure, caused the reversal to take place. In a show of class beyond what is even thinkable Francis Ouimet did not bear any grudge against the USGA, and over the years served on several major USGA committees, including honorary chair of the 1963 US Open played at The Country Club.

 

 

1913 US Open

A phtoto of Francis Quimet putting on the 7th green at The Country Club Brookline

 

The Caddie Strikes Gold

With Francis not collecting any winnerís purse in the US Open, he had no money to pay Eddie Lowery, his caddy. Harry Vardon and Ted Ray passed the hat amongst those in the gallery to collect some tip money for Eddie Lowery. (Interesting note is that Arthur Ouimet, Francis's dad, who did not approve of Francis playing golf was the first to drop in a dollar.) They ended up collecting more money than the entire winning purse of the US Open, giving Eddie a major financial jumpstart in his career. (Check out the expression on Eddie's face on the cover of    "A Game of Golf" .)  Eddie's life story turned out to quite interesting as he not only became a top businessman but a Massachusetts Amateur Golfing Champion and highly ranked member of the USGA as well.

The Francis Ouimet story is one of the best in American Golf. If you wish to learn more, we suggest you read "The Greatest Game Ever Played" or "A Game of Golf" written by Francis himself. The humbleness of this kind and thoughtful gentleman is refreshing in this day and age. A visit to the Francis Ouimet Museum in Norton, MA might also be worth your time. Some of the golf clubs used by Francis Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open are on display at USGA Museum.

Francis is the first inductee into the Golf Ball Factory Hall of Champions

If you'd like to learn more about Francis Ouimet or the 1913 US Open
 you may want to continue your search here....

1913 US Open

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