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.”

Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”