Mystery shrouds U.S. Open champion from 1911

By Associated PressJune 13, 2011, 7:51 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Johnny McDermott arrived at the golf course without fanfare – virtually unnoticed, to be more precise – dropped off by his sister near the front door.

The assistant golf pro at the Overbrook Golf Club was scheduled to meet McDermott at the door, take him to the course and play nine holes, the way they did every Saturday and Sunday when the weather was good.

“It was him and me and one caddie and that was it,” said the golf pro, Jerry Pisano, who worked at Overbrook, one of the very first country clubs on this side of the Atlantic, situated near the Main Line just outside Philadelphia. “No real conversation to speak of, except maybe a little bit about golf. I was always interested in trying to figure out his past, what happened to him over in Europe, but I never could get any definitive answers.”

Very few could. But before Arnie had an army or Nicklaus had won any of his 18 majors or Tiger turned golf into front-page news, Johnny McDermott set the standard for American golf.

At 19, the diminutive kid from West Philly became the first American to win the U.S. Open in a sport dominated by the British. This year marks the 100th anniversary of McDermott’s groundbreaking win. But even today, a century later, McDermott’s sudden rise and equally quick fall remain a mystery to most.

Within five years of his crowning moment, he was all but gone from professional golf, assigned to a home for mentally ill patients, driven crazy – legend has it – by a series of mishaps that cut short a career that could have been for the ages.

More than four decades after McDermott’s decline, Pisano spent the better part of a year playing on weekends with the two-time champion (he also won in 1912), who remains the youngest person to win the U.S. Open. They played hour after hour of golf without really saying a word.

“It was two different worlds,” Pisano said. “He knew his golf. He could talk golf to you – ‘I cut that one a little, turned that one over.’ Talking about anything other than that, practically, he was not able to do that. It was ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ and that was about it.”

McDermott used old clubs with hickory shafts, a wood-shafted Bobby Jones putter and a double-overlap grip in which only eight fingers touched the club.

He was 5-foot-8, weighed maybe 130 pounds but could swing as hard and hit the ball as far as any of them back in his day. He had what was described as a “wristy” swing, one that would be frowned upon in this day and age, where the players and their swings all seem to come out of a factory. But in an era well before golf coaches and swing gurus and video, McDermott learned his game in the dirt on the practice fields near his home in Philly.

Had the game – and the hype – been what it is now, McDermott might have been trumpeted as the leader of “The Next Generation of American Golf.” Instead, he was part of America’s first generation, alongside Walter Hagen and Francis Ouimet, the 1913 U.S. Open winner whose victory is widely credited for giving golf its popular start in the United States.

Hagen and Ouimet went on to long, successful careers.

McDermott’s was all but over by 1916.

It started unraveling three years before. After crushing the greats of the sport – Brits Alex Smith, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray – at a U.S. Open tuneup tournament in Shawnee, Pa., McDermott was quoted as saying: “We hope our foreign visitors had a good time, but we don’t think they did, and we are sure they won’t win the National Open.”

It was a show of brashness and bravado that fit McDermott’s personality, but he claimed his words had been taken out of context, that he had only been joking. The U.S. Golf Association, shocked by the behavior, considered barring McDermott from the U.S. Open but let him play. But the damage had been done. According to a New York Times account, McDermott “worried greatly over the affair and has almost broken down under the strain.”

Meantime, McDermott’s financial picture had grown worse, as the investments he made with his earlier U.S. Open winnings sank. In 1914, hoping to climb back atop the golf world, he headed across the Atlantic for the British Open, but missed the ferry and train he needed to catch to get to qualifying.

His return home on the Kaiser Wilhelm II was disrupted early when a grain carrier hit the ship in the English Channel. The ship made it back to land in Britain, but not before McDermott and a number of other passengers were sheltered in lifeboats.

“Physically, McDermott was OK, but his mind was fragile,” Bill Fields wrote in a stirring account of McDermott’s life in Golf World magazine.

“Everything had hit within a year,” McDermott’s sister, Gertrude, is quoted as saying in the magazine. “First the stock failure, then the awful results of the Shawnee tournament, then the Open and finally that wreck.”

McDermott played in the 1914 U.S. Open but finished ninth. “The indomitable – some would say abrasive – self-confidence that had always marked his demeanor was nowhere in evidence,” wrote James Finegan in ‘A Centennial Tribute to Golf in Philadelphia.’

That turned out to be McDermott’s final major. Later that year, his parents checked him into a mental hospital for the first time. In June 1916, his mother committed him to the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pa., where, according to Golf World, she was ordered to pay $1.75 a week “for support of said lunatic in said Hospital, until further notice.”

McDermott dabbled in golf for the rest of his life – on a six-hole course built on the grounds of the hospital, in a few more professional tournaments and on outings such as the ones he made to Overbrook during the summers of 1956 and ’57.

Pisano was a pretty good pro himself and a student of the game. He played in four U.S. Opens, beginning in 1962, when Jack Nicklaus won his first major, beating Arnold Palmer in a playoff at Oakmont.

Pisano said the scene of McDermott walking through the door at Overbrook more than 40 years after his U.S. Open win wouldn’t hold a candle to watching Palmer or Nicklaus walk into any golf club today.

“No, because, basically, I don’t think too many people knew he was there,” Pisano said. “It was always in the afternoon. Nine holes. Whatever notoriety he had was strictly of a local nature. When he came to the course, I’m not sure anybody recognized him. I knew him. But I’m a whole different story. Golf was my business. I don’t think there was any hoopla about it.”

McDermott died in 1971, again virtually unnoticed. The inscription on his simple gravestone, an easy one to miss at the expansive Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pa., reads: “First American Born Golf Champion 1911 - 1912.”

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."