Remembering Ouimet: Did Vardon avoid two historic tragedies?

By Al TaysJune 5, 2013, 12:00 pm

Was Harry Vardon connected to the most famous maritime disaster of the 20th century? Might he have perished in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, changing the course of history for Francis Ouimet and golf?

There is evidence that Vardon contemplated sailing on the ship, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank on April 15, with a loss of more than 1,500 lives, but little to back up the notion that he was booked and missed the boat only because of an 11th-hour illness.

We know this: Vardon won the 1911 British Open. Given that he was 41, had suffered a long bout of tuberculosis and hadn't won the Open Championship in eight years, his popularity soared in a similar manner to that of Jack Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters at age 46.


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Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Times of London and the Daily Mail and a friend of Vardon's, sought to cash in by sending Vardon on a tour of the United States, with an eye toward winning the 1912 U.S. Open. After 16 years of domination by Scots and Englishmen, John J. McDermott became the first American-born winner of his country's national championship in 1911. Northcliffe wanted the trophy back in Britain, and he felt that Vardon, who had won in his only previous U.S. Open appearance, in 1900, was just the man to reclaim it.

The Vardon/Titanic story makes an appearance in two books – Mark Frost's "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and Audrey Howell's "Harry Vardon: The Revealing Story of a Champion Golfer." Howell is married to Peter Howell, Vardon's son.

Neither author got the Titanic story directly from Vardon, who died in 1937. Each one words it slightly differently, leaving room for different interpretations.

Frost wrote that Northcliffe "booked first-class passage" for Vardon on the Titanic, that Vardon became ill just two weeks before his scheduled departure, and that Vardon, after the sinking, "confessed to Lord Northcliffe that it was the first and only time he could say his illness had saved his life."

Howell wrote that Vardon became ill and scrapped the trip "(w)hen it was time to make all the arrangements," suggesting that he never actually booked passage., in an email, asked Frost what his source was for the anecdote. He wrote back that he could not recall a specific source, that he did the research 15 years ago (his book was published in 2002), but that he remembered feeling comfortable enough to print it.

Howell could not be reached for comment.

Some golf historians think the story is overblown at best, and point to a lack of references to it at the time.

"We did an exhaustive search," said golf author/ historian Martin Davis. "I had one of my researchers go through it and we checked a whole bunch of sources including Herb Wind's book "The Story of American Golf" where there's a chapter on Vardon." No reference to Vardon and the Titanic was found.

Steve Guyot of North Attleboro, Mass., who created the website while doing extensive research on the tournament and its participants, said his doubt is rooted in the fact that "Lord Northcliffe was not exactly the shy, quiet type. He owned The Times and The Daily Mail and was very much a golf enthusiast, and yet I can't recall seeing anything in my reading of The American Golfer back issues, and I am unable to imagine him not letting The American Golfer in on his plans."

British golf author and historian Dale Concannon scoured back issues of The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated magazine, "of which I have copies for the years 1910–1914." He also found no mention of a Vardon/Titanic connection.

There's another angle that makes this story even more curious: It was reported in 1915, in The New York Times and other newspapers, that Vardon, Ted Ray, George Duncan and C.H. Mayo were booked on the Lusitania to depart on May 17 for the U.S. and that year's Open at Baltusrol. But the Lusitania never made it to Europe on its voyage from the U.S. On May 7 it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland, with the loss of almost 1,200 lives. If the Vardon/Lusitania story is true, it's a mystery why reports at the time did not mention his earlier having missed sailing on another doomed ocean liner.

Regardless of the veracity of any Vardon/Titanic stories, without him canceling his plans in 1912, the 1913 U.S. Open likely would have been played under vastly different circumstances, and its 100th anniversary might have a completely different meaning, if any at all.

If Vardon had played in the 1912 U.S. Open, it's all but inconceivable Ouimet would have been in the field. First, it was played in Buffalo, N.Y., negating Ouimet's appeal as a "local" entrant. Second, in 1912 Ouimet had yet to even make a cut in the U.S. Amateur, and had not yet won his first Massachusetts Amateur. He had expressed no interest in playing in U.S. Opens, instead saying that winning the U.S. Amateur was his goal. And even if Vardon had won the U.S. Open in 1912, he was no sure bet to return to defend a title in 1913. He was still suffering from the effects of tuberculosis, and trips to America were a rarity for him.

Also, if Vardon were not entered in the 1913 U.S. Open, there would have been no reason for the USGA to delay its date from June to September. Ouimet would have had a Massachusetts Amateur title to his credit, but he didn't successfully qualify for the U.S. Amateur until September of that year. So local boy or no local boy, he very well might not have been invited to play.

U.S. golf history would be all the poorer for it.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 17, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods teed off at 12:15PM ET alongside Justin Rose for Round 3 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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Fowler among 5 to skip WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 2:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five of the top 64 players in the world will skip next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott all will miss the second WGC event of the year, held next week at Austin Country Club.

As a result, the last man into the field is world No. 69 Luke List. Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Joost Luiten and Keegan Bradley also got into the field.

Julian Suri and Bill Haas are the first two alternates, if anyone else withdraws from the round-robin-style match-play event.

This is the second year in a row that Rose, Fowler, Stenson and Scott will not play in Austin. Koepka reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years, but he is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The final seeding for the event will be determined after this week’s tournaments. The bracket show is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, live on Golf Channel.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.