Twenty years after Francis Ouimet’s stunning playoff victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open, venerable golf writer Bernard Darwin, who witnessed the incongruous upset, said, “There was never a wetter day and never in all of golf a more historic one.”
Surprisingly, the man who provided the game with its seminal moment in America did not consider it his crowning achievement. Ouimet was proudest of the first of his two victories in the U.S. Amateur Championship, which came one year later and 100 years ago, on Sept. 5, 1914, at Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vt. He once described it as his “greatest thrill.”
“Winning the Open was one thing – the winning of the Amateur was the fulfillment of an ambition,” Ouimet told Joe Looney of the Boston Herald in 1963. “The Open was a windfall. The Amateur was within reach, or so I thought.”
In other words, Ouimet simply couldn’t fathom beating Vardon and Ray. As he put it in his 1932 book, “A Game of Golf,” “I honestly think I never got the ‘kick’ out of winning the Open title that I might have if I had thought I could win it.”
The following year, he tied for fifth in the defense of his U.S. Open title, eight strokes behind Walter Hagen. Three weeks later, in the mountains of Vermont, he pulled off a victory in the 20th U.S. Amateur that surely cemented his stature in the game. Ouimet qualified one stroke behind co-medalists William C. Fownes Jr. and R.R. Gorton among a field of 104 players with a 36-hole score of 145.
Ouimet proceeded to reel off five match-play victories, capping his triumph with a 6-and-5 win over Jerome D. “Jerry” Travers, the four-time and two-time-defending Amateur champion. Along the way, Ouimet defeated three other players who had either already captured or would go on to win the U.S. Amateur – in order, Max Marston (1923), Robert A. Gardner (1909, 1915) and Fownes (1910). Ouimet had prevailed against staunch opposition in the U.S. Amateur, which was then and would long be considered the most important golf championship in the country.
Ouimet’s victory in that final match came over a foe in Travers who was universally acknowledged as the game’s premier match-play competitor. Ouimet continued to be a perennial U.S. Amateur contender, but he would not prevail again until 1931, a 17-year gap that remains the record for years between U.S. Amateur victories.
When asked once about his long hiatus between titles, Ouimet replied, “Did you ever hear of a fellow named Jones?” Indeed, Ouimet reached the Amateur semifinals on five occasions between 1923 and 1929, and three times, Bob Jones eliminated him (1924, 1926 and 1927). Jones captured a record five U.S. Amateurs, the last one in 1930 to complete his unparalleled Grand Slam.
Ouimet described a typical match against Jones thusly, “He coasts along serenely waiting for you to miss a shot, and the moment you do, he has you on the hook and you never get off.”
They were always amiable competitors, and they became lifelong friends who went on to play together on several Walker Cup Teams. In 1955, Jones himself presented Ouimet with the first Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor.
In 1931, Ouimet arrived at Beverly Country Club in Chicago to find a U.S. Amateur field without Jones, who had retired from competition after winning the previous year at Merion Golf Club. The average age of his first four match-play opponents was 21, leading the 38-year-old Ouimet to jokingly refer to the event as a “father-and-son tournament.”
He completed his championship run with a 2-and-1 semifinal win over Billy Howell and a 6-and-5 win over local favorite Jack Westland, deflating many of the 5,000 fans in attendance.
Later, golf writer Herbert Warren Wind would say of Ouimet, “He was the great boy who became the great man,” though it wasn’t solely Ouimet’s continued success in the game that elicited such praise. Ouimet’s good nature and sportsmanship led The R&A to name him its first American captain, and his name is attached to the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, which was founded in 1949 and which he considered the greatest honor of his life.
The Fund unveiled a 1914 U.S. Amateur display on Sept. 5 at its museum in Norton, Mass., honoring the centennial of that victory, and it also increased its scholarship awards by $100,000 to $1.6 million this year in honor of the 100-year anniversary.
Ron Driscoll is the USGA’s manager of editorial services. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.