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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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.