Remembering Ouimet: The search for Francis

By Mercer BaggsJune 6, 2013, 11:30 am

BOSTON – You don’t stumble across Barbara McLean’s home. You have to go looking for it (praise Jesus for Google maps and iPhones).

It resides down in the tail-end tip of Massachusetts, near Cape Cod, in the town of Osterville. Inside, there is an obvious Francis Ouimet feel, which is appropriate since Barbara is his daughter. But aside from the famous image of Francis in his red R&A captain’s jacket which hangs above her mantel, most else needs a bit of explaining.

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Baggs: Who was Francis?
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Timeline | Trivia | Bag | Photos
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The Country Club
Vardon and the Titanic
Inspiring other writers
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“Everything of interest to me was stuff around the house,” Barbara says. “The things that I kept were the things that meant the most to me.”

Among the items in Barbara’s house include Francis’ original World Golf Hall of Fame plaque, presented at Pinehurst in 1974. There are some small, engraved cups for awards given to her father and a handful of post-mortem tributes, but nothing that jumps out at you in terms of significance.

That’s because the significance is personal.

“That trophy over there,” Barbara says pointing to an antique-looking, silver piece of memorabilia. “That is the Shepard’s cup. That’s one of my favorites. Caitlin used to sit in that when she was a baby.”

Caitlin is Barbara’s granddaughter. The John Shepard Jr. trophy was won by Francis in 1914, in a tournament contested among Boston-area clubs.

Francis Ouimet medal

On a table rests a gold medal. It was given to Francis for tying third in the 1925 U.S. Open. Barbara used to wear it around her neck as a charm, on a chain which formerly held her father’s pocket watch.

An antique dealer once offered Barbara $5,000 for it. “Not for sale,” she replied. He upped the offer to $12,000. “Not. For. Sale.”

In searching for her father – the notion of who he was – I met Barbara and her husband of nearly 71 years, Obder “Bro” McLean, at their Massachusetts home. We talked for two hours, even had coffee and English muffins. I also talked to Francis’ granddaughter, Sheila Macomber, and his great-granddaughter, the aforementioned Caitlin Wallerce.

If you can judge a man based solely on his descendants then, on first impression, Francis Ouimet was an exemplary individual. His family, and others engaged during a three-day visit to the Bay State, substantiated that assessment.

The centerpiece of the trip was the annual Ouimet Scholarship Fund gala, this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Francis' 1913 U.S. Open triumph. Arnold Palmer was the honoree (he was also honored at the first gala in 1997). Mark Frost, who authored “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” based on Ouimet’s improbable victory, was there, as was Bill Paxton, who directed the movie. There were several video tributes, including those from Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

The highlight of the evening, however, was Julia McCarthy.

McCarthy is a Ouimet scholar, of which the fund motto is: “From what golf has given you – let’s give back to golf.” Since 1949, 5,100 young men and women who work in the Massachusetts golf industry (many who served as caddies like Francis) have been granted a total of $26.5 million in financial assistance to help obtain a college education.

Ellis Jones was a recipient. He is now a 27-year-old husband and father of two, who is successfully working as a Xerox auditor.

“The scholarship gave me the opportunity to really further my education,” Jones says. “It relieved angst and anxiety. Without it, it would have meant taking a lot more loans and it would have been a decision (whether or not to go to college) I would have really had to think about.”

Ellis grew up attracted to golf; he began playing when he was 6. As Julia puts it in her speech before 2,100 attendees the night of the gala, “I did not grow up with an instinctual love or gravitation toward the game. I never went to any summer camps or clinics to improve my own play. ... I did not come to love golf so naturally. I first came to golf in order to help out my family.”

Julia is one of 11 children. When the economy tanked, her family lost their home and they hotel hopped for several months. Her father also split on them.

She started caddying at Green Hill Golf Course while in the seventh grade, after the facility got funding to accept inner-city kids to a caddie program. In addition to helping her mother pay for gas and groceries, she earned something of more lasting value than a paycheck.

“Every time I was at that golf course, I felt at peace,” she says. “I found a renewed faith in manners, in people. I felt safe, wanted, valued.

“Golf is more than just a game. It is a way of life.”

Julia is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross, majoring in English and theater.

“We’re not talking about golf,” Palmer says that evening, in relation to the scholarship fund’s importance. “We’re talking about people and children and letting them know how important their actions are on our lives.”

During the gala, Frost remarks, “All you had to do was listen to Julia’s speech and know where (Ouimet’s) impact is being felt today.”

And the genesis was Brookline.

Francis Ouimet houseFacing The Country Club’s 17th hole is 246 Clyde Street, home to the Ouimet family. At least it once was. It is currently owned by Jerome and Doris Wieler.

The house was built in 1887; the Ouimets moved in, in ‘96; and the Wielers bought it in 1989.

“The historical footprint is still the same. The rooms are the same size. Other than a few things here and there, very little has changed on the inside,” Jerome says.

The outside of the house looks very similar to historical photos. Except there is a fence out front now, along with four lanes of paved road and an employee parking lot between the house and the club. The backyard, which used to be a cow pasture and was where Francis’ brother Wilfred built three holes, is now trees and manufactured property as far as the eye can see.

A peek through the front porch window shows the old hardwood floors and the confined rooms. It also alerts a slightly chagrined home owner. But he’s used to strange people snooping around his house.

“Interest in the house goes in spurts,” Jerome says. “It picked up with the book, the movie, the (1999) Ryder Cup (at Brookline). People wanted to talk to us and take photos of the house.

“My wife and I are not golfers, but when we moved here I read up on him. I can say that I have really come to admire Francis Ouimet. Everything I know about him shows that he was a genuinely decent man.”

A couple of miles down the road from his childhood home, in Holyhood Cemetery, Francis is buried alongside his wife of 49 years, Stella Sullivan.

Armed with a digital image of the headstone and this knowledge, but without the knowledge that the cemetery is situated over 35 acres, I embarked on a futile endeavor.

Amazingly, I found a Ouimet headstone for Arthur and Mary Ellen, Francis’ parents, but gave up on the Sullivan search after an hour. Apparently, John Sullivan is a very popular name in the area. At least it used to be. It seems everyone with that name has died and been buried at Holyhood.

Francis Ouimet Room

The final stop on the trip is the William F. Connell Golf House & Museum at TPC Boston, home to the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship. It houses the Ouimet Room as well as the office of Bob Donovan, executive director of the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.

As Donovan shows, the room is sectioned according to different aspects of his career, ranging from his Walker Cup appearances (nine times as a player, three times as a nonplaying captain) to his U.S. Open victory to the book and movie which honored his great accomplishment.

There are artifacts, like the $.25 stamp commissioned in his likeness in 1988, making him one of only four golfers to have such an honor (Bobby Jones, Babe Zaharias, Palmer), trophies and presidential letters. Again, there is the famous Red Jacket portrait, which Donovan points out was painted by president Dwight D. Eisenhower and that the original version resides at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in a “place of prominence.”

Ouimet's most significant memorabilia resides at the USGA Museum, in Far Hills, N.J., in an exhibit entitled "America's First Golf Hero." It includes his putter and four of his irons from his 1913 victory – mid-iron, mashie, mashie-niblick and jigger; the three balls used by Ouimet, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the playoff; their scorecards and Ouimet's championship medal. It also houses his championship medals from the 1914 and '31 U.S. Amateurs.

His red R&A jacket hangs there, as well. Funny story about that coat.

"My sister had one of those portraits over her mantel piece," Barbara tells, referencing the one that hangs in her house. "One day there was a girl playing there, and she said to Les (Barbara's niece, Leslie), 'Who is that?' Les said, 'That's my grampy.' The little girl says, 'What is he, a waiter?'

"Dad would have gotten a big kick out of that."

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.