December 18, 2006
THE SINGLE GREATEST
ACCOMPLISHMENT IN AMERICAN GOLF HISTORY
By Tom Finley
As we move into this slow
and lethargic part of the golf year, those of us who are golf historians
and analysts start searching under every rock and stone in sight
to find an interesting story and something our readers will read,
think about and consider. One question that has intrigued me and
stared me in the face is the “what is the greatest accomplishment
in the history of American golf, question?” I think about this sort
question quite often but have never forced myself to sit and ponder
it and then come up with an answer. There have been so many.
It is so easy to say that
Tiger Woods, alone, is the greatest thing to happen to golf, ever.
I personally believe that in time Tiger will own every record in
the game. But we are not there yet. When you consider the greatest
accomplishment we tend to think about the most recent period of
golf history that would include Nicklaus, Palmer, Snead and Hogan
among others. But our history runs so much deeper, so much further
back in time. The one accomplishment that comes to mind over others
is Nicklaus winning 18 professional majors. The other is Byron Nelson
winning 11 tournaments in a row in 1945 or his winning a total of
18 in the same year. Bobby Jone's Grand Slam in 1929 was an incredible
feat. Others believe that Arnie's accomplishment of being the first
to win $1 million in tour money is the ultimate milestone or Sarazin's
"shot heard 'round the world" at Augusta. You can go to
the record book and find many other great achievements similar that
might demand attention as the “greatest”.
In all of my reading of
golf history and study of the game there is one achievement that
stands tall as possibly the greatest “of all time”. It all took
place in one week in New England . It is the story about a young
man of 20 who had worked as a boy as a caddy in the greater Boston
area. As a small child he discovered one morning that something
was going on across the street from his modest home. Being curious
he ventured across the street to inquire about the construction
taking place. He learned that something called a golf course was
being set up as well as other amenities to be included in a place
to be called “The Country Club”. This was Brookline , Massachusetts
. Soon golf was being played at the new club and he found that caddies
were in need. He began to carry bags for the golfers who had become
members or the new, elite club.
The young, and impoverished
caddie became intrigued by the game and every chance he got he would
try his best to hit a little white ball with clubs made for the
purpose. He became skilled at the game and it was not unnoticed
by members of the club. When it was announced that the 1913 US Open
would be played at Brookline , some members approached this young
man and encouraged him to enter. Against the better judgment of
his family who were very conservative and hard working artisans,
he agreed and with help managed the entry fee. He soon learned that
he would have to overcome the great golfers of the United Kingdom
, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon. Vardon had been a hero of this young
man and one of his goals in playing was to see his idol in person.
This 20 year old caddie/golfer was Francis Ouimet.
As the week progressed,
and mostly in lousy weather, Ouimet hung tough. This was the Open
Championship of the United States and it was being played only 15
years after the first Open was played on American soil. The game
of golf was very new to America and heretofore no American had skill
enough to challenge the greats from Great Britain. Francis Ouimet
was by far the single, biggest underdog in the history of golf.
He persevered and by the start of the last round he was the only
American left with any chance to challenge the great English twosome.
He one putted the last four greens including a long and challenging
one on 17 to manage a playoff. The youngster stood firm in the following
playoff and won by five over Vardon and six over Ray. With this
unlikely victory golf was truly born in America . This win reverberated
loudly around the nation and the world. In my opinion, this was
probably the greatest single accomplishment in all of golf in American
golf history. It was simply an amazing accomplishment played out
over four days at The Country Club.
Ouimet never turned professional
but went on to become a very successful amateur golfer and businessman
in the Boston area. His caddie in the great Ameriican victory was
a 10 year old named Eddie, who was a last second fill-in when Francis'
scheduled caddie didn't show. Little Eddie later became a very wealthy
car dealer in Boston.