1912: John McDermott defends his U.S. Open title
On this day, In 1912 Twenty-year old John McDermott defended his U.S. Open title at the Country Club of Buffalo by defeating Tom McNamara by 2 strokes. McDermott broke several records in doing so, here are a few:
- In 1911 he was the 1st United States born player to win the United States National Open (The U.S. Open). His 1912 victory gave him the right to claim to be the 1st American to win the U.S. Open back-to-back.
- He was the first player to break par over 72 holes in a significant event which he did by shooting 74, 75, 74, 71 for a 294 total…two under par. (Par was 74 at the Country Club of Buffalo, stretching to 6,326 yards.)
The championship started on Thursday August 1st, 1912 with the first two rounds being played that day and the remaining two rounds be played the next day. Mike Brady, Dan Kenny, and George Sargent all shot rounds of two under par, 72’s to have a share of the lead. A stroke behind them after thirty-six holes was Frank Peebles and the amateur Walter Travis shooting 73. McDermott, McNamara, and five others were tied a stroke behind them shooting even par 74’s.
In the third round on Friday morning, played in rainy conditions with thunderstorms threatening to disrupt play, McDermott managed to card a 74 despite hitting two drives out of bounds. He still trailed Brady by three going into the final round in the afternoon, but Brady struggled on his way to a 79 and 299 total. McNamara, seven back at the start of the round, fired a course-record 69 to post 296; his 142 over the last two rounds was a new tournament record, but not enough to catch McDermott. Despite a bogey on the last hole, McDermott carded a 71 for a 294 total, two shots ahead of McNamara.
McDermotts misery, falling out…
From there, things only went downhill for McDermott… he even lost most of his winnings in a stock market crisis. In 1914, he entered The Open Championship in hopes of changing his luck, but he was forced to withdraw due to travel confusion. What happened next may have scarred McDermott for the rest of his life. While heading back to the United States, his ship collided with another in a misty, foggy English Channel. Passengers were forced onto lifeboats for safety. This event had a life-altering effect on McDermott, one he would struggle to recover from. He came back for the 1914 U.S. Open only to finish 10 strokes behind rising star Walter Hagen.
Months later, McDermott blacked out while entering the Atlantic City Clubhouse, where he previously worked. He was plagued by diminishing confidence and a series of nervous breakdowns; eventually, he was admitted to the Norristown State Hospital for the Insane. He proclaimed that everyone was against him and was haunted by a dark cloud of paranoia for the rest of his life. He spent the better part of 55 years at Norristown and made no effort to return to a healthy mental state.
In the last months of his life, his sisters took him to the 1971 U.S. Open, where he was received by Arnold Palmer after many failed to recognize him. There, he watched Lee Trevino win his second U.S. Open, tying McDermott’s mark. Two months later, John McDermott died in his sleep at Norristown State Hospital at the age of 79, and a sad chapter of golf history came to a close.
- Jim Barnes, a future champion in 1921, tied for 18th in his first U.S. Open.
- Horace Rawlins, the winner of the inaugural Open in 1895, made his final appearance and missed the cut.
- The field of 128 starters was a record number necessitating a start time each day of 6:30 am.
- The par-6 tenth hole measured 606 yards (554 m), the longest hole in U.S. Open history up to that point and the only time a hole was given a par more than five.
Josh Morris is the Editor of Golf History Today. A proud USGA Volunteer and golf enthusiast. In his free time he enjoys being a weekend caddie as well as playing as much as he can.