HARTFORD, Conn. – Francis Ouimet is often referred to as “the father of amateur golf” – and for good reason.
In 1913, a fuzzy-faced 20-year-old Ouimet routed English legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the 17th hole was across the street from where Ouimet grew up at 246 Clyde Street. Ouimet authored arguably the greatest American sports story by winning the U.S. Open as an amateur.
The Ouimet family grew up relatively poor and were near the bottom of the economic ladder, which was hardly the position of any American golfer at the time. As far as the general public was concerned, amateur golf was reserved for the wealthy, while professional golf provided competition and income for former caddies, who were prohibited by the U.S. Golf Association from caddying after the age of 16 if they wanted to retain their amateur status.
Ouimet became interested in golf at an early age and began caddying at The Country Club at 11, using clubs from his brother and balls he found around the course while teaching himself to play. His game soon caught the eye of many club members and caddie master Dan MacNamara, and it was not long before Ouimet was the best high school golfer in the state.
When Ouimet was a junior in high school, his father insisted he drop out and do “something useful” with his life. He worked at a dry goods store before landing a job at a sporting goods store owned by future Baseball Hall of Famer George Wright. In 1913, Ouimet won his first significant title, the Massachusetts Amateur, which he captured five more times. Later that year, he reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur and then was asked by USGA president Robert Watson if he would play in the U.S. Open, postponed to mid-September from its original June dates so Vardon and Ray could play.
Ouimet originally declined Watson’s request, having just returned from an absence from work to play in the U.S. Amateur. But his participation in the U.S. Open was soon arranged with the cooperation of his employer, and Ouimet and his smallish, 10-year-old caddie Eddie Lowery became part of golf lore. In the playoff, Ouimet shot 1-under-par 72 in the rain, beating Vardon by five strokes and Ray by six in what was arguably the biggest upset in sports history over the two golfers considered the best in the world.
After becoming the first amateur to win the national championship, Ouimet was carried off on the shoulders of local friends, who were part of some of the biggest crowds seen in America. His achievement received front-page news coverage across the country and is credited for bringing golf into the American sporting mainstream. He ended up winning 28 tournaments at all levels, was the first non-Briton elected captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland and inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Before his death in 1967, Ouimet founded a caddie scholarship fund in 1949. The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund has awarded over $43 million to need-based young men and women who have worked in golf in Massachusetts to support college education costs. The Ouimet fundraising program is alive and well today with donations generated through an annual banquet, golf marathon, bag tags, tournaments and more to enhance his legacy by growing a cause he loved so much. www.ouimet.org
The U.S. Open returned to The Country Club in 1963 and had another memorable finish as Fairfield native Julius Boros, the greatest golfer in Connecticut annals and World Golf Hall of Famer, beat Arnold Palmer and Jacky Cupid in a playoff. Then in the 75th anniversary of Ouimet’s victory, the national championship was again at The Country Club, and Curtis Strange won his first of two consecutive titles in a playoff with Nick Faldo.
Now, the U.S. Open will complete a foursome of appearances in Brookline on June 16-19. Jon Rahm is defending champion after notching his first major championship win thanks to curling, 20-foot birdie putts on the final two holes that gave the Spaniard a one-stroke victory over Louis Oosthuizen at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, Calif.
“It is something that I still look back and I’m like, wow, I really can’t believe it happened,” Rahm told the USGA one day after winning the Mexico Open on May 1 for his seventh PGA Tour title. “Out of all the majors I thought I could possibly win, and which one would come first, I truly didn’t think the U.S. Open would be first. And that is my honest truth, based on my past experiences in the tournament. It did, and I’m proud because there’s no tougher test.”
The USGA, the Town of Brookline and The Country Club have mutually agreed only 25,000 fans will be allowed on the property each day, though that does not count the 15,000 corporate guests, volunteers, staff and players who will total 40,000. Offsite parking for fans is a considerable distance from the club and will cost upwards of $25 daily. The 2022 U.S. Open is June 16-19.
More golf history will surely be made at The Country Club!