Remembering Ouimet: Who was Francis?

By Mercer BaggsJune 5, 2013, 11:25 am

BOSTON – “So, you’re here about Dad,” the sweet lady with the strangely familiar face says as she shuffles from the front door to the living room.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, I can’t tell you much about his golf, but I can tell you what he was like.”

If you’re interested in Francis Ouimet the player, these are the facts:

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• Winner, 1913 U.S. Open

• Winner, 1914 U.S. Amateur

• Winner, 1931 U.S. Amateur

• Original Hall of Fame inductee

Those are CliffsNotes. For the full resume, check his Wikipedia page.

Barbara McLean doesn’t know Wikipedia from a wookie, but she knows Francis DeSales Ouimet. He was her father. If you’re thinking, ‘Wow, that’s gotta make her …’ – yes, she’s 92 years old.

Her dad was the son of immigrants, born in 1893 to a French-Canadian father (Arthur) and an Irish mother (Mary Ellen). They moved to Brookline, Mass., just across the street from the 17th hole at The Country Club, when Francis was 4. The family was relatively poor, and Francis caddied to provide extra income. He had two brothers and one sister.

Further details of Ouimet’s life are in fine print, as well as celluloid and digital media. Mark Frost wrote an award-winning book, “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” on his ’13 U.S. Open triumph. Bill Paxton directed the Disney movie. A Google search can tell you just about anything else you’d want to know.

Except for one important thing: Who was Francis Ouimet?

His autobiography, “A Game of Golf,” details his playing career and highlights the whats and the whens, but does little to reveal who he was. For that, it’s best not to rely on the man himself.

Barbara McLean

“Dad didn’t like talking about himself and the things he did,” Barbara (pictured right) says from her home in Osterville, Mass., where she lives with her husband of 70 years, Obder “Bro” McLean.

“I don’t think we really completely understood (his accomplishments) until after Dad died. Of course we knew this (pointing to a portrait above her mantel featuring Francis as the first American-born captain of the R&A) was a great honor. We knew when he won the 1931 (U.S. Amateur) that was a big deal. But other than that, he never discussed these things.”

In talking with Ouimet’s descendants, who over the years expanded to two daughters, five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, one thing is evident: Francis was a family man.

“My grandmother told me that there was one big tournament that he won, and all of his friends asked him to come out and celebrate,” relays Francis’ great-granddaughter Caitlin Wallerce. “He told them, ‘Go on without me. All I want to do is go home and celebrate with my family.’”

The deeper you dig in discovery of Ouimet, the more there is to appreciate. Frost interviewed more than 100 subjects for his book. With that sample size, you figure he had to hear at least one negative thing said about – or by – Ouimet.

“Never. Not one. He was a man of sterling character,” Frost proclaims. “This distinguished him from just about every other athlete I’d ever come across.”

Says Bob Donovan, executive director of the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, “The worst thing I ever heard about Mr. Ouimet was that he was too nice and complimentary. If you were playing golf with him, it was all about you, never about him. You might skull a chip – basically a terrible shot – and it might roll next to the cup. He would say something like, ‘Oh, wonderful shot. Well done.’ He wasn’t being patronizing. He was just being pleasant.”

Donovan first met Ouimet when he was 15 years old, the morning of the 1963 U.S. Open playoff at The Country Club – 50 years after Ouimet won there. “He said, ‘Master Donovan, how are you?’ He was so kind. I’ll never forget walking away and saying to my dad, ‘What a nice man.’”

Arnold Palmer lost that playoff to Julius Boros, and the bitter taste lingers. His memory of meeting Ouimet that week is much more palatable.

“More than a wonderful golfer, he was a true gentleman,” Palmer says. “He was a true tribute to the game of golf.”

Wonderful has several synonyms: amazing, astonishing, astounding, awesome, etc., etc. But those words are a little too extravagant, too flamboyant for Mr. Ouimet – or, we should say, Francis.

“'Call me Francis.' That is what he would always say to people,” Bro tells. “I had a hard time with that, because he was Mr. Ouimet to me. But that’s what he wanted.”

Francis Ouimet

Francis Ouimet, 1910 (Getty Images).

Francis stood 6-foot-2 and weighed a buck-75. He was long and lean, angular in face and bespectacled with age. If you knew him only by looks, you’d consider him friendly. If you knew him personally, you’d consider him … what’s that word?

“He was wonderful, a wonderful father,” Barbara says. “He was interested in everything we did. He drove us to school in the morning. We came home. We all sat down for dinner at 6 o’clock at night. ‘What did you do at school today?’ he would ask.”

“There were no dishwashers back in those days,” Barbara continues. “Dad would always want to help out. He would say, ‘I’ll be the Garbage King,’ with a big grin on his face. He was just Dad.”

And Granddad.

“To us, he was just our grandfather,” says Barbara’s daughter, Sheila Macomber. “Of course, we knew about the things he had done, but it didn’t change our relationship.

“He drove me to and from school and picked up every kid along the way. He would ask each one three questions: ‘What is your name?’ ‘What does your family do?’ ‘What would you like to do when you grow up?’”

Sheila recalls fondly the times spent with her grandfather, feeding ducks and running around shagging balls. To Francis, golf was a game. It was meant to be enjoyable, not laborious. It was recreation and friendly competition. It was a passion, but never a profession.

In his autobiography, on page 5, Ouimet writes: “Mother thought I had gone crazy because golf was the only thing I seemed interested in.” On page 8, Mary Ellen warns him, “The game of golf was bound to get me in trouble.” He tells the story of borrowing $25 from his mother to get a club membership in order to compete in the 1910 U.S. Amateur and how he had to take a $4-a-week job at a dry-goods store in Boston to pay her back the full amount.

“He was,” as Frost says, “the embodiment of the Horatio Alger story – willing to sacrifice, work hard, find a place for himself in the world.”

That place ultimately proved to be in the financial world, as a stockbroker.

“Why did he remain an amateur?” repeats Donovan to the same question. “I think it’s real simple. The world was terribly different in 1913 and ’14 than it is today. Could you make a living as a professional golfer then? Not many people could. There was no such thing, really, as a tour. … It wasn’t really a career path.”

In Ouimet’s words to The American Golfer in 1934: “You see, golf and business don’t mix very well. You can have your choice, but you can’t have both. At least I never could.

“One day I woke up to the fact that I had a wife and two little girls to look after – and that I’d better get busy doing it (focusing on a business career rather than golf). I’m glad I did.”

Ouimet’s career path was astounding. Not only was he a Hall of Fame golfer, he was president of the NHL Boston Bruins, in 1931, and vice president of baseball's Boston Braves, in '41. He was a U.S. Army solider, participating in golf exhibitions as fund raisers for the Red Cross. He even served on the USGA Executive Committee, despite the organization stripping him of his amateur status during his heyday.

His final job was as a financial advisor at Brown Brothers, Harriman. “We weren’t rich. Dad always made sure to tell us that,” Barbara says. “But we always had what we needed and much of what we wanted. I never knew the Depression.”

One of her favorite stories regarding her father occurred while he worked at BBH:

“There was a young man starting out at Brown Brothers, and Dad took him under his wing. Dad was given a lot of clothing, and this man was the same size as Dad. He used to bring Paul (Hughes) the clothes in a suitcase and would say, ‘Didn’t you say you were going away for the weekend, and you wanted to borrow my suitcase?’ That’s all he would say, and he’d smile and hand him the suitcase full of clothes.”

Generous. Gifted. Intelligent. Diligent. Compassionate. Did we leave anything out?

“Wonderful. He was a wonderful man,” Caitlin says. “One major thing that my mom and grandmother wanted me to know was his values, and that he really didn’t want to make money; he wanted to help kids with their education and put them in a more positive environment. He wanted to get them involved in (golf), because it had such a positive effect and outcome in his life.”

In 1949, Francis’ friends began the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund to help young Massachusetts men and women in the golf industry further their education. For all he accomplished in life, including being among the first class inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 1940 and the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, Ouimet once said of the fund, “Of all the honors I’ve had, I can’t think of one I prize more.”

The fund motto, courtesy Ouimet, is: “From what golf has given you – let’s give back to golf.”

This year, total scholarship monies distributed since '49 exceeded $26.5 million, to more than 5,100 recipients.

“My grandfather would be shocked and thrilled with how the scholarship has grown,” Sheila says.

With 2,100 people in attendance for the organization’s centennial gala festivities, making it the largest golf dinner in the country, he’d also be a bit uncomfortable, according to Donovan.

“He would probably spend the night passing out kudos to everyone else besides himself,” Donovan says.

Says Barbara, “He’d take it all in stride. He always said, later in life when he’d receive an award, ‘Nobody remembers me.’”

More people should. There was no mention of Francis Ouimet Day in that Wednesday’s edition of the Boston Globe. There was an article in the sports section the morning after that night’s gala – on page C11.

Barbara doesn’t seem to mind: “He wouldn’t enjoy all the publicity.” Donovan agrees.

Francis Ouimet

Francis Ouimet wins the 1931 U.S. Amateur (AP)

Still, while Ouimet might not rank among the top 10 players of all time, perhaps not among the top 50, the significance of his accomplishment is inarguably No. 1. Prior to his 1913 U.S. Open victory there were an estimated 350,000 American golfers. Ten years later that number reached 2.1 million – in a still developing nation. Of the courses ranked on Golf Digest’s latest top 100 in America, 17 were designed during that decade stretch.

“This is one of the greatest stories in the 20th century. Not just golf, and beyond sports,” Frost says.

And was Ouimet the perfect person for this victory?

“It almost seemed like this tale had to be told, given the circumstances,” Frost responds. “It was as if it was preordained.”

And yet, the 1913 U.S. Open was not Ouimet’s favorite victory. He far more cherished his two Amateur titles. After all, he never expected to win the national professional title; it was beyond a dreamer’s dreams. The amateur championship – that was always his goal.

Personal affection aside, history favors the improbable events that transpired at Brookline. Poor kid, local kid, no formal training. A 20-year-old amateur who takes down two of the game’s top professionals, in a head-to-head-to-head playoff, no less.

What if Ouimet had never entered the 1913 U.S. Open? What if he had been wealthy or prominent or bombastic? What if one of those Brits had prevailed?

Fortunately for the game, those questions never needed answering.

"The luckiest thing, however, which happened to American golf was that its first great hero was a person like Francis Ouimet," Herbert Warren Wind wrote. "He was a fine man. He never allowed his successes to swell his head. He remained free from affectation. He was an instinctive gentleman. He was the great boy who became a great man. … The more Americans learned about Francis Ouimet, the more they admired him."

“He was the kindest and most considerate of men,” wrote Joseph C. Dey, executive director of the USGA at the time of Ouimet’s death. “He was utterly devoid of malice or bitterness or a retaliatory urge.”

Ouimet died Sept. 2, 1967, a time when his beloved Boston Red Sox were closing out their ‘Impossible Dream’ season. It was also two weeks after the Sox's right fielder, a local hero himself, was hit by a pitch and hospitalized.

In an ambulance, after suffering a heart attack, a dazed Ouimet awoke to see all the personnel treating him and said, “Such a fuss. You’d think I was Tony Conigliaro.”

“He was very humble, self-effacing,” Donovan says. “You know, he was a member at certain clubs and an honorary member at several others. He never thought it was right to beat the members or win the member-guest or club championship.”

Francis was buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline. While there is a Ouimet headstone there, it signifies his mother and father. Francis is buried alongside his wife of nearly 50 years, Stella Sullivan, in her family’s plot. There is nothing grandiose representing Francis. In fact, he doesn’t even have his own headstone; he shares a singular, modest marker with members of the Sullivan family. His and Stella’s names appear on the back.

“From the family stories that I heard,” writes Caitlin in an email, “he adored Stella and enjoyed nothing more than being home with her and the kids.”

Who was Francis Ouimet? This was Francis Ouimet.

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Former champ Z. Johnson surges at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 7:31 pm

Midway through his opening round at the Valero Texas Open, Zach Johnson appeared far closer to a missed cut than a spot on the leaderboard.

Johnson initially struggled in the winds at TPC San Antonio, playing his first 13 holes in 3 over. But he eagled No. 14 and closed with three more birdies to post a 2-under 70, then went unconscious during a second-round 65 where he made six birdies over his first 10 holes.

It added up to a 9-under total at the halfway point, and instead of packing his bags the two-time major champ now shares the lead with Ryan Moore.

"You just never know. That's the beauty of this game," Johnson told reporters. "I didn't have anything going putting-wise. I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. Shoot, I made some good pars all while being 3 over. You just never know."

Johnson won this event in both 2008 and 2009, but that was when it was held across town at La Cantera Golf Club. Since the switch to TPC San Antonio in 2010, he has only one top-10 finish and two missed cuts, including last year's early exit with consecutive rounds of 74.

But Friday he played like a man unaware of the venue shift, with four straight birdies on Nos. 12-15 and a hole-out eagle from the greenside bunker on the par-4 fifth hole. His closing bogey on No. 9 was his first dropped shot in the last 25 holes.

"The confidence is there, and when you can step on the tee with this kind of wind, you trust your clubs and trust your ball, that's pretty important," Johnson said. "I felt good. It was hard, I'm not going to deny that. That was one of the better 27-hole stretches that I've had in a long time."

Johnson's 65 was his first sub-70 score since an opening-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a span of 12 stroke-play rounds. The veteran has made every cut in 11 starts this season, but his T-8 finish at the RSM Classic in November remains his only top-10 finish.

"I felt really good coming into the week," Johnson said. "Confidence was there, it just wasn't showing up on the scorecard."

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U.S. Open champ Koepka (wrist) to return at Zurich

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 7:04 pm

U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka will make his first start in nearly four months at next week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Koepka injured his left wrist late last year, finishing last at both the 18-man Hero World Challenge and 34-man Sentry Tournament of Champions. He hasn't played since Kapalua, having been diagnosed with a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU) tendon in his wrist, and earlier this month missed the Masters for the first time since 2014.

But according to an Associated Press report, Koepka will return to action at next week's team event where he will pair with veteran Marc Turnesa, who lives near Koepka in South Florida and whose lone PGA Tour win came at the 2008 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

"It feels like I've been out for six months," said Koepka, who reportedly didn't touch a club for 91 days. "I still have confidence. I feel like I can win next week."

Koepka's return means TPC Louisiana will be the first course to host all four current major champions since the Tour Championship in September. Patrick Reed will make his first start since winning the Masters when he pairs with Patrick Cantlay, while Open champ Jordan Spieth will team with fellow Texan Ryan Palmer and PGA champ Justin Thomas joins with his former Alabama teammate, Bud Cauley.

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Garcia tosses driver, likely to miss Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 6:49 pm

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he was one shot outside the projected cut line as the afternoon wave began play. Should Garcia make an early exit, it would mark the first time he missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Cut Line: Poults' Ryder rise; Slow play plague

By Rex HoggardApril 20, 2018, 5:55 pm

In this week’s edition, Colonial enjoys a sponsorship reprieve, the Ryder Cup gets an early boost and it’s time for officials at the Zurich Classic to consider relocation.

Made Cut

See you in September. Just when you thought it might be too early to start the biennial Ryder Cup build up, Ian Poulter, Europe’s own Mr. September, gave the Continent something to celebrate with another solid finish last week at the RBC Heritage.

Although he failed to convert a 54-hole lead, tying for seventh after a closing 75, he earned enough points to move onto the European team bubble (world points), just behind current automatic qualifier Alex Noren.

That the English thorn in America’s Ryder Cup side made his move one week after Patrick Reed wrapped up his spot on the team with his victory at the Masters is all the reason one needs to imagine the possibilities.

Note to U.S. captain Jim Furyk: You can probably pencil in your opening match of Reed-Jordan Spieth vs. Poulter-Rory McIlroy. Oh, and Sunday’s singles – Reed vs. Poulter – as well.

Don’t mess with Texas. Although the PGA Tour is still a few weeks away from unveiling the overhauled 2018-19 schedule, a few more pieces fell into place this week.

According to multiple sources, officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

There had been some handwringing that the Fort Worth staple, which needed to scramble this season to find replacement sponsors when Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, would be the victim of poor timing when the music stopped.

But officials are poised to announce the new long-term sponsorship deal on Monday and sources also confirmed that the event will remain in May, which had been another concern on the imminent overhaul of the Tour schedule.

Next up for the Tour: finding sponsors for The National and Houston Open.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Location, location, location. The high on Friday in Farmingdale, N.Y., topped out at 47 degrees.

Cut Line doesn’t have to explain to his friends in the northeast how long winter has lingered this season, but it’s worth pointing out that with the PGA Championship moving to May next year these long cold spells could impact conditions at future venues, like Bethpage Black, which will host the 2019 PGA.

Although this year’s PGA, which will be played in August at Bellerive Country Club, won’t be impacted, when you consider that three of the next six championships are scheduled to be played in northern states, it’s beginning to seem more likely that geography is not on the PGA of America’s side.

Bayou breakthrough. If the field for this year’s Zurich Classic is any indication, the team format that officials introduced in 2017 remains popular, which is an encouraging sign for golf in New Orleans.

It’s time now for tournament officials to continue that progress and break free of TPC Louisiana, an uninspired layout that’s too far removed from the French Quarter and not exactly popular with players.

About a year ago, officials opened the South Course at City Park, a community-based program modeled after the East Lake project in Atlanta with a mission to revitalize City Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.

For years, insiders have considered the City Park layout, which was designed by Rees Jones, an alternative to TPC Louisiana. It’s time to stop talking about moving the event to City Park and make it happen. The tournament deserves better. The city deserves better.

Tweet(s) of the week: We go with a pair of hot takes from two of the game’s most insightful and thoughtful types on what remains one of golf’s most talked-about subjects – slow play.

Missed Cut

Money trail. During his last year as commissioner of the PGA Tour, Tim Finchem earned a combined income of over $9 million.

According to the circuit’s tax forms filed for 2016, Finchem made $4.33 million in “reportable compensation” from the Tour and another $4.74 million from “related organizations.” He also earned $181,784 in “other compensation.”

Compared to 2015, when Finchem earned $5.9 million in combined income, that’s a healthy bump. To be fair, when Finchem retired after nearly 20 years of leading the circuit most observers agreed that the Tour’s unprecedented growth during his tenure justified his salary, and compared to other professional sports leagues the commissioner’s “take home” was not out of the ordinary.

It is, however, worth noting that Finchem earned more than just one player in 2016, Dustin Johnson, who narrowly clipped the commissioner with $9.3 million in on-course earnings. It’s good to be the commish, or former commish.