The storyline of the 1913 U.S. Open is simple: Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur and former caddie who lived across the street from The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the Open was being played, tied British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray after 72 holes, then beat them in an 18-hole playoff.
It’s the tournament’s myriad subplots that make it fascinating, even 100 years later. We’ll set up the circumstances, then use the accounts of the participants and observers to help tell the story.
|•||Baggs: Who was Francis?|
|•||Baggs: Search for Ouimet|
|•||Tays: Turning point in U.S.|
|•||Mosier: Eddie Lowery story|
|•||Timeline | Trivia | Bag | Photos|
|•||Why Vardon and Ray?|
|•||The Country Club|
|•||Vardon and the Titanic|
|•||Inspiring other writers
The preview: Harry Vardon from the Isle of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency located just off the coast of Normandy, France, was the biggest name in the field. He had won five British Opens and one U.S. Open. He was on a tour of the U.S. with fellow Jerseyman Ted Ray, and the USGA had agreed to postpone the Open until September so the two stars could play. It’s the only time the USGA has ever made such an accommodation.
Other notables in the field included pros John J. McDermott of Philadelphia, the two-time defending champion (and the first American to win the U.S. Open), Walter Hagen, Wilfrid Reid and Jerome Travers.
What about Ouimet? In Massachusetts, he was well known. In 1910, ’11 and ’12, he had missed qualifying for the U.S. Amateur by just one shot. In June 1913, Ouimet won the Massachusetts Amateur, then finally qualified for the U.S. Amateur but lost in the second round to eventual champion Travers. USGA president Robert Watson, who had played with Ouimet in a U.S. Amateur qualifying round in 1910, was looking for a local amateur to add to the Open field, and he settled on Ouimet, even entering him without Ouimet’s knowledge.
The course: The Country Club course played to a "bogey score" of 80, as par was a concept that was just beginning to take hold. Here are the yardages of each hole:
The Country Club course
Sept. 16, qualifying, first day
OUIMET LOSES BY A SINGLE STROKE
Vardon Beats Boston Boy. Briton’s Final Putt Does It.
Ex-President Taft Is Among Spectators.
(Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 17, 1913)
For the first time in the history of the U.S. Open, the size of the field necessitated two 36-hole qualifying rounds, with the low 64 players and ties advancing to the Open proper. Playing on the first day of qualifying, Ouimet shot 74-78–152, which looked like it was going to top the standings, until Vardon (75-76–151) sank a long putt on his final hole.
Writer D.J. McGuiness referred to Ouimet as “a player considered by experts as the golfing sensation of the year.”
“Vardon had a gallery of about 500 on his morning round,” McGuiness noted, “but after the spectators heard at the conclusion of the first 18 holes that Francis Ouimet, the only amateur who had made any kind of a showing, was leading the field by a stroke, the Woodland player (Ouimet was a junior member of nearby Woodland Golf Club) was followed by at least 700 persons in his afternoon’s play, a large majority leaving Vardon.”
John G. Anderson also covered the first-day qualifier for the Globe. (He was serving double duty as a player and newspaper correspondent.) He knew Ouimet well. A high school English teacher and golf coach in the Boston area, Anderson had inserted himself into his undermanned team’s roster for a match against Ouimet’s Brookline High team four years earlier. But Anderson was no ordinary high school coach – at the time he already had won two Massachusetts Amateurs, and in 1913 he would reach the final of a third, losing to Ouimet, and the final of the U.S. Amateur, losing to Jerome Travers, who had taken down Ouimet in the second round.
“I thought a couple of clubs would be enough for any boy I might happen to compete against,” Anderson recalled in his Globe article, “and the boy happened to be Ouimet. The first thing I knew, my young opponent was leading me three holes, and with my two clubs, I could not catch him. I’m not saying I could if I had my entire kit.”
“Within my knowledge of golf in the United States,” Anderson continued, “I know no performance by an amateur in medal play which stands out with quite such brilliancy as that of Mr. Ouimet yesterday.”
DAY 1 QUALIFYING TOP 5 AND TIES
|2.||Mr. Francis Ouimet||U.S.||74-78–152|
Sept. 17, qualifying, second day
Ted Ray led all qualifiers with a 36-hole course-record 74-74–148, and Ouimet wound up with the fifth-best qualifying score overall.
Henry Leach, an Englishman writing for The American Golfer, wrote that Ray’s scores “were the result of sound careful play in every part of the game … but it struck me that he could have driven a little further if he had wanted to do so. When he lets out, however, the rough has a great attraction for him, and at Brookline, he had developed a holy horror of the trees that line the fairway and told me that his greatest fear in regard to the championship was the dire trouble that he might get into through crooked driving.”
DAY 2 QUALIFYING TOP 5 AND TIES
COMBINED QUALIFYING TOP 5 AND TIES
|5.||Mr. Francis Ouimet||U.S.||74-78–152|
Sept. 18, Rounds 1 and 2
AMERICA HAS A FIGHT ON HANDS
British Golfers' Showing Is Most Formidable.
Small Chance of Heading Them Off Now.
(Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 19, 1913)
Ouimet shot 77-74–151, tied for seventh, four shots behind co-leader Vardon and two shots behind Ray. Ray, after opening with a disappointing 79, broke the course record with a 70 in his second round. After Ray’s first round, Leach wrote, “he uttered a declaration that he would do a 70 in the afternoon to make up for it. And he did it!” It could have been a 69, “had he not missed a two-foot putt on the home green,” the Globe’s McGuiness noted.
Ouimet got off to a double bogey-bogey start and turned in 41 in his opening round, but came home in 36.
With Vardon and fellow Englishman Wilfrid Reid leading after identical totals of 75-72–147, “Nothing seemed more certain then that the championship title would go abroad,” Leach wrote.
DAY 1 36-HOLE LEADERS
|7.||Mr. Francis Ouimet||U.S.||77-74–151|
Sept. 19, Rounds 3 and 4
IT IS OUIMET AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN’S BEST IN PLAYOFF
Brookline Boy to Fore.
Ties Both Ray and Vardon.
(Boston Daily Globe, Sept. 20, 1913)
On a dreary, rainy Friday, Ouimet opened with the best round of the day, a 74, to tie Vardon (78) and Ray (76) for the lead. All three shot 79 in the final round, setting up an 18-hole playoff the following day.
Vardon and Ray both failed to break 40 in the opening nine of their fourth round, “Vardon’s putting and Ray’s short game being mainly responsible,” Leach wrote.
“Vardon very rarely smokes when playing in public, though he is as fond of his pipe as any man alive. It was an indication of his anxiety, therefore, when he lighted up at the fourteenth hole and he played better afterwards. He told me he wished he had begun to smoke earlier!”
Tied for the clubhouse lead at 304, neither Vardon nor Ray felt that score would hold up. Vardon told Leach, “There are three or four still out who will beat us. I am very sorry, but it is my putting that has let me down again. I feared it would.”
“I played rotten,” Leach quoted Ray, “and to make matters worse Harry went and did the same thing.”
The list of contenders that Vardon and Ray feared would surpass them eventually dwindled to one – Ouimet. He had turned in a disappointing 43 and started the final nine badly with a double-bogey 5 at the 10th.
The rules of the era did not allow a player to pick up a ball and clean it or loosen it from a plugged lie, even on the green. In his first-person account of the tournament for The American Golfer, Ouimet explained his strategy at the 10th: “Fearing that a high pitch might mean that the ball would bury itself on the green, as had happened a number of times during the tournament, I tried the experiment of playing the shot with a midiron, trusting to the soft turf to keep the ball from over-running, while at the same time expecting the running shot to prevent any accumulation of mud on the ball. Like a novice, I was too eager to see what happened on the shot, looked up to watch the ball and, consequently, made a bad flub.” He reached the green in two, then three-putted for his 5.
"After that wretched five, walking to the eleventh tee between a lane of spectators," Ouimet wrote in "A Game of Golf," "I heard one man say, 'It's too bad, he has blown up.' I knew he meant me, and it made me angry. It put me in the proper frame of mind to carry on."
When he reached the 13th tee, Ouimet knew he needed to play the remaining six holes in 2 under par to tie Vardon and Ray. He got the first birdie by chipping in at the 13th, the report of which caused Vardon and Ray to venture out to the 14th hole to watch the young amateur finish.
Ouimet had targeted the 125-yard 16th hole as the most likely source of a second birdie, but he could manage only a par. But at the 360-yard 17th, he holed what Leach called a “twelve yards putt for a 3. That was a great putt for America and a great 3.” Ouimet wrote, “my putt felt good from the moment I hit it.”
Needing a par 4 at the 410-yard 18th, Ouimet was just short of the green in two, chipped up and holed “a yard putt at the finish with no more hesitation than if he were practicing,” Leach wrote.
The immediate press reports were breathless. Anderson called the reaction of the crowd, estimated at 10,000, the largest for a U.S. tournament to that date, “the most enthusiastic demonstration ever accorded a golfer in this country or probably in the world.”
Citing examples of heroes in other sports “hoisted upon the shoulders of his admirers, for a jerky ride of fame,” Anderson noted that “such enthusiasm has been generally foreign to the golf links until the modest Woodland boy, Francis Ouimet, carried the gallery completely off its feet at the Country Club yesterday afternoon.”
DAY 2 72-HOLE LEADERS
|1.||Mr. Francis Ouimet||U.S.||77-74-74-79–304|
Sept. 20, 18-hole playoff
GREAT BRITISH GOLFERS DEFEATED BY MASSACHUSETTS BOY IN NATIONAL OPEN TOURNEY
USED TO BE A CADDY.
ESTABLISHES A RECORD
First Amateur to Win the American Open Golf Title.
OUIMET’S MOTHER JOSTLED
Little Woman Holds Her Ground Until She Congratulates Her Son.
(The New York Times, Sept. 21, 1913)
Cards of the playoff
Ouimet became the first amateur to win the U.S. Open, shooting 72 to Vardon’s 77 and Ray’s 78.
“While I did not feel nervous” going into the playoff, Ouimet wrote for The American Golfer, “I did realize the formidable task in hand.” Two things and one person “helped me amazingly. The person was my little caddie, Eddie Lowrey (sic); one of the two things was the appeal which he made to my patriotism; the other thing was my determination that Vardon and Ray should not be able to say that my tying them for the championship was a fluke, which I felt they could say if I ‘went to pieces’ in the playoff.”
All three players parred the first hole in 5, but Ouimet cited it as a key to his round. “After playing four shots I was about a yard from the cup and I never felt more pleased over a putt in the entire championship than when that three-footer dropped out of sight, unless it was the putt on the home green the day before which tied me for the championship title,” he wrote.
All three players made the turn in 38, and when Vardon and Ray both three-putted the 10th, Ouimet had a lead he would never relinquish. He picked up another stroke at the 12th, with a 4 to the Englishmen's 5s. “About this time it dawned upon me that even against two such wonderful players there might be a chance of landing the title, with which thought I resolved that if they beat me it would be only by playing better than par golf,” Ouimet wrote.
Vardon closed within a stroke with a birdie at the 13th, but both Englishmen failed to capitalize on a topped brassie shot by Ouimet at the 14th, where all made 5s.
Ray fell out of contention with a double-bogey 6 at the 15th, where he needed two strokes to escape a greenside bunker. Now it was down to Ouimet and Vardon.
Both parred the par-3 16th, but when Vardon tried to cut the corner on the dogleg of the par-4 17th, he landed in a bunker, had to pitch out sideways and made 5. Ouimet took the safer straight route, reached the green in two and sank his birdie putt for a three-shot lead going to the last. A closing 4 by Ouimet, a 6 by Vardon and a too-little, too-late 3 by Ray, and the U.S. Open had its first amateur champion. Again Ouimet was hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd. A collection was taken up for Lowery.
At the awards ceremony, Vardon and Ray paid tribute to their unlikely conqueror. “I have no hesitation in saying that he played better golf the whole four days than any of us,” Ray said. “His was the best golf I have ever seen in my time in America. It has been an honor to play with him and no dishonor to lose to him.”
“We have no excuses to make today,” Vardon followed, “for we were both defeated by the highest class of golf. … America should be nothing but proud of her new champion. He has proved himself to be a superior golfer and a courageous fighter.”
The New York Times blanketed the playoff with 11 different articles. Also reported was a message of congratulations of former President William Howard Taft, who had watched Ouimet during the qualifying rounds. “I am very glad that an American won,” Taft said. “It was wonderful for a boy of only 20 years to be able to win a championship in a match of that length, a match that required strength, endurance, and fortitude to so great a degree. I congratulate Ouimet on his victory.”
Ouimet closed his American Golfer piece with praise for Lowery, Vardon and Ray: Lowery “was a veritable inspiration all around.” As for Vardon and Ray, “I can say only that I admire them as fine golfers and good types of sportsmen, and am only sorry that all three of us could not win."