Mystery shrouds U.S. Open champion from 1911

By Associated PressJune 13, 2011, 7:51 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Johnny McDermott arrived at the golf course without fanfare – virtually unnoticed, to be more precise – dropped off by his sister near the front door.

The assistant golf pro at the Overbrook Golf Club was scheduled to meet McDermott at the door, take him to the course and play nine holes, the way they did every Saturday and Sunday when the weather was good.

“It was him and me and one caddie and that was it,” said the golf pro, Jerry Pisano, who worked at Overbrook, one of the very first country clubs on this side of the Atlantic, situated near the Main Line just outside Philadelphia. “No real conversation to speak of, except maybe a little bit about golf. I was always interested in trying to figure out his past, what happened to him over in Europe, but I never could get any definitive answers.”

Very few could. But before Arnie had an army or Nicklaus had won any of his 18 majors or Tiger turned golf into front-page news, Johnny McDermott set the standard for American golf.

At 19, the diminutive kid from West Philly became the first American to win the U.S. Open in a sport dominated by the British. This year marks the 100th anniversary of McDermott’s groundbreaking win. But even today, a century later, McDermott’s sudden rise and equally quick fall remain a mystery to most.

Within five years of his crowning moment, he was all but gone from professional golf, assigned to a home for mentally ill patients, driven crazy – legend has it – by a series of mishaps that cut short a career that could have been for the ages.

More than four decades after McDermott’s decline, Pisano spent the better part of a year playing on weekends with the two-time champion (he also won in 1912), who remains the youngest person to win the U.S. Open. They played hour after hour of golf without really saying a word.

“It was two different worlds,” Pisano said. “He knew his golf. He could talk golf to you – ‘I cut that one a little, turned that one over.’ Talking about anything other than that, practically, he was not able to do that. It was ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ and that was about it.”

McDermott used old clubs with hickory shafts, a wood-shafted Bobby Jones putter and a double-overlap grip in which only eight fingers touched the club.

He was 5-foot-8, weighed maybe 130 pounds but could swing as hard and hit the ball as far as any of them back in his day. He had what was described as a “wristy” swing, one that would be frowned upon in this day and age, where the players and their swings all seem to come out of a factory. But in an era well before golf coaches and swing gurus and video, McDermott learned his game in the dirt on the practice fields near his home in Philly.

Had the game – and the hype – been what it is now, McDermott might have been trumpeted as the leader of “The Next Generation of American Golf.” Instead, he was part of America’s first generation, alongside Walter Hagen and Francis Ouimet, the 1913 U.S. Open winner whose victory is widely credited for giving golf its popular start in the United States.

Hagen and Ouimet went on to long, successful careers.

McDermott’s was all but over by 1916.

It started unraveling three years before. After crushing the greats of the sport – Brits Alex Smith, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray – at a U.S. Open tuneup tournament in Shawnee, Pa., McDermott was quoted as saying: “We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don’t think they did, and we are sure they won’t win the National Open.”

It was a show of brashness and bravado that fit McDermott’s personality, but he claimed his words had been taken out of context, that he had only been joking. The U.S. Golf Association, shocked by the behavior, considered barring McDermott from the U.S. Open but let him play. But the damage had been done. According to a New York Times account, McDermott “worried greatly over the affair and has almost broken down under the strain.”

Meantime, McDermott’s financial picture had grown worse, as the investments he made with his earlier U.S. Open winnings sank. In 1914, hoping to climb back atop the golf world, he headed across the Atlantic for the British Open, but missed the ferry and train he needed to catch to get to qualifying.

His return home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II was disrupted early when a grain carrier hit the ship in the English Channel. The ship made it back to land in Britain, but not before McDermott and a number of other passengers were sheltered in lifeboats.

“Physically, McDermott was OK, but his mind was fragile,” Bill Fields wrote in a stirring account of McDermott’s life in Golf World magazine.

“Everything had hit within a year,” McDermott’s sister, Gertrude, is quoted as saying in the magazine. “First the stock failure, then the awful results of the Shawnee tournament, then the Open and finally that wreck.”

McDermott played in the 1914 U.S. Open but finished ninth. “The indomitable – some would say abrasive – self-confidence that had always marked his demeanor was nowhere in evidence,” wrote James Finegan in ‘A Centennial Tribute to Golf in Philadelphia.’

That turned out to be McDermott’s final major. Later that year, his parents checked him into a mental hospital for the first time. In June 1916, his mother committed him to the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pa., where, according to Golf World, she was ordered to pay $1.75 a week “for support of said lunatic in said Hospital, until further notice.”

McDermott dabbled in golf for the rest of his life – on a six-hole course built on the grounds of the hospital, in a few more professional tournaments and on outings such as the ones he made to Overbrook during the summers of 1956 and ’57.

Pisano was a pretty good pro himself and a student of the game. He played in four U.S. Opens, beginning in 1962, when Jack Nicklaus won his first major, beating Arnold Palmer in a playoff at Oakmont.

Pisano said the scene of McDermott walking through the door at Overbrook more than 40 years after his U.S. Open win wouldn’t hold a candle to watching Palmer or Nicklaus walk into any golf club today.

“No, because, basically, I don’t think too many people knew he was there,” Pisano said. “It was always in the afternoon. Nine holes. Whatever notoriety he had was strictly of a local nature. When he came to the course, I’m not sure anybody recognized him. I knew him. But I’m a whole different story. Golf was my business. I don’t think there was any hoopla about it.”

McDermott died in 1971, again virtually unnoticed. The inscription on his simple gravestone, an easy one to miss at the expansive Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pa., reads: “First American Born Golf Champion 1911 - 1912.”

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title


Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open


Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59


Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63


Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut


Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club


Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth


The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ


Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year


And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win


Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.