BOSTON – Francis Ouimet was the 20-year-old son of working-class immigrants and Eddie Lowery was a 10-year-old playing hooky from school when together they engineered one of the monumental upsets in sports history: Ouimet’s playoff victory over golf titans Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Ouimet’s improbable triumph put golf on the front pages of American newspapers for the first time and attracted as many as 2 million new golfers in the country. This influx led to the construction of hundreds of public courses, which helped to break down the notion of golf as the exclusive province of well-heeled country clubbers.
Nearly 100 years later, as golf continues to battle the perception of being too elitist and unwelcoming, Francis Ouimet returned, embodied by the scholarship fund that bears his name. On May 15, he was joined once again by a young caddie, who told her story to more than 2,000 people assembled at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for the centennial gala of Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open victory.
“When it comes to the game of golf, I recognize that I have a much different background than many of my peers,” said Julia McCarthy, a rising junior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “I did not grow up with an instinctual love or gravitation toward the game. I first turned to golf because my family needed help.”
Green Hill Municipal Golf Course in Worcester had just adopted a city-funded program that provides children in need with an opportunity to become caddies. McCarthy, who is one of 11 children, showed up with her younger brother, Joe. She was 13 at the time, Joe was 12, and there was no doubt that their family needed help. They had lost their home to foreclosure, and Julia’s father had recently left them, providing no means of support. The family was homeless for many months, moving from one hotel to another.
“Every day was a struggle,” McCarthy told the crowd, which included Arnold Palmer, Peter Jacobsen and several members of Ouimet’s and Lowery's families. “Now here I was – an inner-city girl, and a scrawny one at that – who knew absolutely nothing about golf. My brother and I were both accepted into the program, which was run by Green Hill’s golf pro, Matthew Moison. Little by little, he taught me everything I needed to know in order to make it as a successful caddie, and he soon became as close a father figure to me as anyone.
“Mr. Moison always made sure that Joe and I had enough food throughout the day, never making us pay,” McCarthy continued. “He always made sure that we felt safe, that we felt wanted, and most importantly, that we felt valued. As the summer went on, my brother and I spent more and more time at the course, staying from sunup to sundown practically every day. After each day of work, we would both proudly hand over whatever tips we had made to my mom to pay for things like gas or the week’s groceries. After that summer, I continued to work as a caddie for two more years and caddie master for another year after that.”
Green Hill – not to mention the game of golf, and its players – provided far more than employment and nourishment to the McCarthy children.
“While caddieing had always made me a good amount of money, money was not the thing that kept me coming back year after year,” McCarthy said. “On the golf course, I felt at peace, I felt reassured because in every single golfer that I came across, in every single pro-shop worker or cart master, I found renewed faith in people. Before I had ever gone out on the course for a round, I had thought that I would be looked down upon or be given less work because I was a girl. But every single golfer who I caddied for treated me with the respect that my father’s departure had led me to believe I was not worthy of.”
Moisin encouraged McCarthy to take up the game after her first year of caddieing, and she played on the girls’ varsity team at Burncoat High in Worcester for four years. “I grew to love playing the game as well, because I had found a true home on the golf course and I just couldn’t stay away,” she said.
When McCarthy entered her senior year at Burncoat High, Moisin encouraged her to apply for assistance from the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund. McCarthy had never heard of the fund, which was founded in 1949 and is as much a testament to Ouimet’s generous, unassuming nature as it is to his stature and enduring presence in the game of golf. It has provided more than $25 million in financial aid to more than 5,000 students through 2013.
“When I applied for this scholarship two years ago, I had a certain perception of what the scholarship could provide for me – maybe a little help with textbooks, something that I could brag about to my golf-obsessed brothers,” said McCarthy. “But the Ouimet Fund has never ceased to amaze me or my mother with the financial relief that they have provided me. Without them, I would not be at a college so reputable and prestigious as Holy Cross; I would not have a future ripe with so many possibilities and opportunity.”
McCarthy is a double major in theater and English at Holy Cross, and she was awarded the Ouimet Fund’s Frost Family Scholarship, which was endowed by Mark Frost, author of The Greatest Game Ever Played, the award-winning 2005 book about Ouimet’s victory in the 1913 U.S. Open. Last summer, McCarthy played 141 holes with three of her brothers and her uncle in the Ouimet Fund’s annual golf marathon, the largest such event in the country, in which players solicit sponsors and raise funds based on the number of holes they play. This week, she leaves for a month-long, college-sponsored theater program in London.
“It is still just amazing to me how many possibilities have emerged since I have become a Ouimet scholar,” said McCarthy. “Thank you, Ouimet Fund, scholars, supporters, donors, for everything that you do. … Thank you for teaching me how to be respectful and welcoming; for taking a chance on me, like Francis took a chance on little Eddie Lowery. Golf has never given up on me, has never let me down and neither has the Ouimet Fund. Being a caddie allowed me in part, to take care of my family, but I never imagined that golf in return, would take care of me.”
Ron Driscoll, manager of editorial services for the USGA, is a Ouimet Fund scholar. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.