By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, September 20, 1913, Francis Ouimet became the first amateur to win the United States Open at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts, in an outstanding upset over the top British top pro of the time, Harry Vardon and Edward “Ted” Ray. It was a pivotal event in the democratization of golf in the United States, later immortalized in the book and movie The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Ouimet’s own story reads like something out of a Dickens’s novel. Born and bred in Brookline, Massachusetts, Francis DeSales grew up across the street from The Country Club, in a working-class home. He learned the game with one old club his older brother, Wilfred, had procured as a caddie. They built three makeshift holes in his backyard, incorporating a gravel pit, a swamp, a brook, and a patch of long rough grass. As substituted cups, they sunk tomato cans. Francis was working at a neighborhood sports store when he qualified to compete in the U.S. Open through his victory in the Amateur Championship of Massachusetts. He was still in his teens and he was not considered a great player. But he had grown up right across the street from The Country Club of Brookline, where the Open would be played. By contrast, Vardon and Ray were the best players in the world. They had the experience the local youngest lacked.
After 36 holes, the top American-born professionals, Mike Brady and Tommy MacNamara were far behind. America’s premier amateur, Jerry Travers was not in better position than his professionals counterparts. As a result, Francis was among the few American-born players who could win.
This is how John G. Anderson remembered this Open:
“Vardon, Ray, Reid, and Tellier had set the pace early in the play, had been caught at the various times by at least a half dozen American golfers, but, starting out on the last round were in a tie at 225 only with Ouimet who was expected to fade from the picture. (During the last round) when Ray went to the turn in 43 and Vardon in 42 there was little help left in them; Tellier killed his hopes with two 6s on the first five holes coming home, blotted out international success with Francis as the victor.
He, who went out in 43, was left with the seemingly impossible task of making the last six holes in 22, bogey (sic) for which as the card indicated was 26 in order to tie the English golfers. The fifteenth hole borders on the clubhouse grounds and there came pouring forth five thousand spectators idly curious in most respects. They saw nothing to startle them for Ouimet’s drive was sliced and his second shot was forty yards from the hole with two intervening traps. I was immediately back of Ouimet when he made his approach shot and I consider it the second best shot in golf I have ever seen. To begin with, no ball pitched two feet over the traps could be held near the cup. The ball had to strike within six inches of the trap’s edge to permit of the lessening run and a windup near the cup. To make matters more difficult, Ouimet had been approaching with a mashie not laid back any too deep making the stroke ten times more severe. But he brought off the shot with a perfection to detail which has always remained in my memory. His putt of a yard he made simple.
Ouimet needed a 3 on the 360-yards seventeenth to tie the score at that point of Vardon and Ray. His drive was good; his approach six yards past the cup brought a smile to the face of his mother, watching from the wall at the back of the green. Jerome Travers had a grip of my shoulder and I knew once more where the strength came from, which had helped to win his fourth amateur championship at Garden City two weeks before.
“Ten dollars he holds it!” said Travers. Of course the putt went down. That is history. In years to come it will become more famous. Not a soul who witnessed it, including Vardon and Ray, will ever forget. The last hole, so far as the gallery goes, was played for Ouimet long before he stepped to the tee. A drive, a long approach, a run-up putt and then, well, there were a few shivers when the young lad stepped up to a three-foot putt and without sighting from front or back hit the ball into the cup for the very 22 for six holes that was needed and a tie with Vardon and Ray, a tie for America. The play next day to me seemed like an anticlimax. The game was won on the sixty-ninth and seventy-first holes.”
Until 1913, anyone who entered the United States Open could play in the championship. Then, because of the number of participants, the field has to be narrowed and a 36-hole qualifier was held at the championship site. In 1924, the USGA decided that it was very expensive for golfers to travel to the United States Open site without the assurance of a spot, so regional qualifying was adopted across the country for the first time.
John G. Anderson in The American Golfer, May 7, 1921, pp. 6 & 34.
Ken Janke, First, Facts, Feats and Failures in the World of Golf, 2007, John Wiley & Sons Inc. New Jersey, p. 11.
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005