Shinnecocks Enduring Legacy - Shippen

By George WhiteJune 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
The year was 1896 and golf was still a new discovery in America. The United States Golf Association had held its first U.S. Open the year before when 11 players competed as an afterthought to the featured event ' the U.S. Amateur. Horace Rawlins toured the nine-hole course at Newport Country Club in 173, and the national Open had taken its first halting steps.
The second Open was played July 18, just nine months after the opener. The starting field of 32 players was composed largely of professionals from Scotland and England, most of whom had played in was the first Open. Rawlins was there to defend his title.
A new course had been chosen, the same Shinnecock Hills site on Long Island which will host its fourth U.S. Open this week. A small group of Southampton aristocrats purchased the land for the course in 1891 with the Shinnecock Indians doing the labor. The course had been an 18-holer just one year when the USGA chose it to hold its second Open.
The 1896 Open is not remembered for its winner ' a gent named James Foulis, another pro who had crossed the ocean from Great Britain and settled in the U.S. It is remembered primarily because the USGA allowed a black man and an Indian to play in the event ' the first time such an occurrence had happened in the U.S. It was the focal point of much controversy from the other professionals, threatening to end the championship in its infancy.
John Mathew Shippen, Jr., was the son of a Presbyterian minister who had a home near the golf course. John was 10 when the family moved to the Shinnecock Indian reservation from Washington, D.C., in 1890. John began learning the game under the tutelage of the pro, Willie Dunn, and quickly becoming a caddie at the course. Then in short order he became an instructor to members of the club, a member of the maintenance crew, a tournament starter, and a golf club repairer.
Shippen, who was a black youngster, so impressed club members that they paid his entry fee into the U.S. Open ' along with Shippens close friend, Oscar Bunn, a Shinnecock Indian. But the club members did not anticipate what was to transpire when the British professionals heard about the pairs entry.
The pros met the day before the tournament was to begin and delivered an ultimatum to USGA president Theodore Havemeyer ' bar the two from competing in the Open for reasons of race, or face a mass exodus of the other players.
Havemeyer, to his everlasting credit, stood his ground. He responded to the ultimatum with words that went like this: the tournament will go on as planned, and if Shippen and Bunn are the only contestants left ' fine, it will be a two-man field and the USGA will still have a winner, be it Shippen or Bunn.
Not surprisingly, the British professionals quickly decided to compete. Shippen was in the second group off that morning, paired with noted pro Charles B. Macdonald.
'Macdonald played with the youngest competitor on the links, John Shippen, a 16-year-old colored lad who has learned his game as caddie at the Shinnecock club during the last year and a half,' an account in a local newspaper said. 'This feature added considerable novelty to the match ... But anyone who plays Shippen has got to forget his boyishness, and pay careful attention to his golf, for Shippen is, in view of the circumstances, the most remarkable player in the United States.'
And after 18 holes, Shippen was tied for second with his score of 78, only two shots behind Joe Lloyd.
Macdonald, incidentally, shot an 83 and was so enraged he didnt come out for the second round. Shippen did, and was solidly in contention when he came to the Shinnecocks 13th hole in the tournaments second and final round.
The course has been totally revamped since then, but in 1896, the 13th fairway ran beside St. Andrews Road for much of its length. Here Shippen hit his tee shot, and was chagrined to find it drifted far off course to the right, into sand abutting the road.
That 13th hole proved to be Shippens Waterloo. To the day he died in 1968, he never could forget what might have been if he could only have gotten past it ' as he had done countless times in the past.
'It was a little, easy par four,' Shippen told Tuesday Magazine in an article that appeared a year after he died. 'I'd played it many times and I knew I just had to stay on the right side of the fairway with my drive.
Well, I played it too far to the right and the ball landed in a sand road. Bad trouble in those days before sand wedges. I kept hitting the ball along the road, unable to lift it out of the sand, and wound up with an unbelievable 11 for the hole. You know, I've wished a hundred times I could have played that little par four again. It sure would have been something to win that day.'
The 11 would ruin his championship dreams. Shippen wound up the tournament with a score of 81 for the second nine, his total of 159 seven shots behind winner Foulis. Shippen tied for sixth, but had he but parred the 13th, he would have been in a playoff for the championship.
The Chicago Tribune's next-day account got Foulis winnings wrong, but the writer was most impressed by Shippen.

'Foulis got first money, $200,' the Tribune said on July 19, 1896, '...and fifth, $10, fell to the youngest player of the lot, the 16- year-old colored caddie, John Shippen of the Shinnecock club.'
The sixth-place tie was quite a bit less than Foulis took for winning - $150. Later, Shippen would compete in four more U.S. Opens, finishing as high as a tie for fifth in 1902.
Shippen made a career in golf, serving as golf professional at several clubs with his last stop being the Shady Rest Golf Course in New Jersey.
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