The Greatest Upset Ever


Harry Vardon and Ted Ray were imposing figures in the world of golf in 1913. The distinguished looking Vardon, a five-time winner of the Open Championship (he would win it a record sixth time, one year later, in 1914), was the best player in the world, the Tiger Woods of his era, if you will. Ray, the reigning Open champion, was a large, thick man with a walrus mustache. He was distinctive for his massive drives, making him the John Daly of his day in terms of his larger-than-life persona and everyman demeanor. The two were in the midst of an extensive tour through the United States, where the Brits would team up against anyone foolish enough to challenge them.
Entering the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., the two had built up a record of 41 wins and no losses. Their mere presence at the relatively young U.S. Open was a great boost for the tournaments prestige.
The two stood in stark contrast to Francis Ouimet, an unknown 21-year-old amateur golfer from a working class family. Ouimet had grown up across the street from The Country Club, and as a child he would peer through the trees for hours, watching the wealthy and privileged members play the game. Golf captured Ouimets fascination early on, and he would often sneak onto The Country Club grounds, playing a few holes with a single golf club that belonged to his brother. By the time he turned 11, Ouimet had started caddying at The Country Club, furthering his education about the game and nuances of the grand old New England golf course. He developed into a solid player and entered the 1913 U.S. Open principally for the chance to see his hero, Vardon, up close.
Through the first two rounds, the tournament played out as scripted. Vardon and Ray were at the top of the leaderboard, with a host of accomplished players in contention. Ouimets play was respectable, if unnoticed, and he kept himself within striking distance of the lead. In fact, by the end of the third round, the overachieving Ouimet would find himself tied with Vardon and Ray atop the leaderboard.
Midway through the tournament the weather began to turn foul, and by the final round, The Country Club was saturated, making the already long and difficult golf course even more formidable. Usually a situation such as this would be an advantage for the sage professionals, Vardon and the long-hitting Ray, yet through the muck and tension, the two champions struggled home with 79s. Ouimet, who seemed remarkably unfettered by the gravity of his position, likewise struggled through the difficult conditions, and it took an assertive birdie on the 17th hole to insure his position in the three-way play off the following day against Vardon and Ray to determine the U.S. Open champion.
The morning of the playoff dawned under gray skies and a light mist. It wasnt until Ouimet was standing at the first tee, looking out at the thousands of spectators lining the hole, about to start a play off against the two best players in the world that he realized the significance of the position he was in. However, that revelation was lost on his fellow competitors. Vardon and Ray, and presumably everyone else, had already decided that the championship would be determined between them. While polite to Ouimet, the two legends otherwise hardly took notice of the young amateur.
Ouimet was a humble, unassuming young man. So much so, in fact, that he asked Eddie Lowery, a small for his age 10-year-old kid from his neighborhood to caddie for him during the championship. The two boys standing on the tee box, next to Vardon and Ray and their respective caddies, looked markedly unusual.
As he had done through the first four rounds of the tournament, Ouimet seemed unaffected by the crushing pressure that seemed to be slowly consuming his seasoned competition. His cool could be chalked up partly to his youth and inexperience; not having been in such a position before, he did not have a point of reference from which to draw. Yet, his mental state was also due to his solid upbringing, his sense of having nothing to lose, and his own steely-eyed determination.
After the first nine holes, all three men were tied with scores of 38. At the par-3 10th hole, Ouimet would take the lead after Vardon and Ray three-putted for bogeys. Ouimet would continue his inspired play while a stunned and visibly shaken Vardon kept it close. Ray, however, fell two shots behind Ouimet by the 16th hole and effectively gave up the fight. At the par-4 17th hole, Vardon attempted to gain the advantage by cutting his drive close to the dogleg in the hope of a better position on the approach shot. The result of his gamble was that his drive landed in the fairway bunker, leading to a bogey. Ouimet, with the heart of a lion, split the fairway with his drive. A laser-like approach shot set up a 15-foot birdie putt that Ouimet drilled home, icing his victory and the biggest upset in the history of the game.
The inspiring victory of Francis Ouimet, the youth (literally) from the wrong side of the tracks, against a field of world-famous professionals and amateur golfers of power and means, provided the ultimate example of the game of golf as a metaphor for the most important game of all, the game of life.
Ouimets triumph was front-page news. Not only is it credited with being the impetus for the explosive and sustained growth of golf in the United States, but the victory by the young man who would not give up has also inspired millions to have the courage to believe in themselves, regardless of the field of battle, and not to allow their level of accomplishment and success to be defined by the limited view of others.
Copyright 2008 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a golf journalist, best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life), golf course general manager and host of the Fairways of Life show on the PGA TOUR Network and a member of their PGA TOUR broadcast team. To view Matt's books or sign up for his 'Golf Wisdom Newsletter,'go to