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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Wie has hand surgery, out for rest of 2018

By Randall MellOctober 18, 2018, 9:43 pm

Michelle Wie will miss the rest of this season after undergoing surgery Thursday to fix injuries that have plagued her right hand in the second half of this year.

Wie announced in an Instagram post that three ailments have been causing the pain in her hand: an avulsion fracture, bone spurs and nerve entrapment.

An avulsion fracture is an injury to the bone where it attaches to a ligament or tendon.

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I think John Mayer once said, “Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, be strong and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.” A lot of people have been asking me what’s been going on with my hand and I haven’t shared much, because I wasn’t sure what was going on myself. After countless MRI’s, X-rays, CT scans, and doctor consultations, I was diagnosed with having a small Avulsion Fracture, bone spurring, and nerve entrapment in my right hand. After 3 cortisone injections and some rest following the British Open, we were hoping it was going to be enough to grind through the rest of the season, but it just wasn’t enough to get me through. So I made the decision after Hana Bank to withdraw from the rest of the season, come back to the states, and get surgery to fix these issues. It’s been disheartening dealing with pain in my hand all year but hopefully I am finally on the path to being and STAYING pain free! Happy to announce that surgery was a success today and I cannot wait to start my rehab so that I can come back stronger and healthier than ever. Huge thank you to Dr. Weiland’s team at HSS for taking great care of me throughout this process and to all my fans for your unwavering support. It truly means the world to me. I’ll be back soon guys!!!! Promise

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Dr. Andrew Weiland, an attending orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed the procedure.

“It’s been disheartening dealing with pain in my hand all year, but, hopefully, I am finally on the path to being and staying pain free,” Wie wrote.

Wie withdrew during the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open with the hand injury on Aug. 2 and didn’t play again until teeing it up at the UL International Crown two weeks ago and the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week. She played those events with what she hoped was a new “pain-free swing,” one modeled after Steve Stricker, with more passive hands and wrists. She went 1-3 at the UL Crown and tied for 59th in the limited field Hana Bank.

“After 3 cortisone injections and some rest following the British Open, we were hoping it was going to be enough to grind through the rest of the season, but it just wasn’t enough to get me through,” she wrote.

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Wie, who just turned 29 last week, started the year saying her top goal was to try to stay injury free. She won the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March, but her goal seemed doomed with a diagnosis of arthritis in both wrists before the year even started.

Over the last few years, Wie has dealt with neck, back, hip, knee and ankle injuries. Plus, there was an emergency appendectomy that knocked her out of action for more than a month late last season. Her wrists have been an issue going back to early in her career.

“I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue,” Wie’s long-time swing coach, David Leadbetter, said earlier this year.

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Woods receives his Tour Championship trophy

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 8:57 pm

We all know the feeling of giddily anticipating something in the mail. But it's doubtful that any of us ever received anything as cool as what recently showed up at Tiger Woods' Florida digs.

This was Woods' prize for winning the Tour Championship. It's a replica of "Calamity Jane," Bobby Jones' famous putter. Do we even need to point out that the Tour Championship is played at East Lake, the Atlanta course where Jones was introduced to the game.

Woods broke a victory drought of more than five years by winning the Tour Championhip. It was his 80th PGA Tour win, leaving him just two shy of Sam Snead's all-time record.

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Garcia 2 back in storm-halted Andalucia Masters

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 7:08 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Ashley Chesters was leading on 5-under 66 at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters when play was suspended because of darkness with 60 golfers yet to complete their weather-hit first rounds on Thursday.

More than four hours was lost as play was twice suspended because of stormy conditions and the threat of lightning at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

English journeyman Chesters collected six birdies and one bogey to take a one-shot lead over Gregory Bourdy of France. Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia was on 68 along with fellow Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Australia's Jason Scrivener.

''It's a shame I can't keep going because the last few holes were the best I played all day. Considering all the delays and everything, I'm very happy with 5 under,'' Chesters said. ''The forecast for the rest of the week is not very good either so I thought I'll just make as many birdies as I can and get in.''

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

In a statement released by the Tour, officials pointed out the lawsuit and the “potential increase to the longtime caddie healthcare subsidy” are two separate issues.

“Although these two items have been reported together, they are not connected. The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”