On Golf Today

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.

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