Let's take a peek under the grill room rug.........
The revoking of Francis Ouimet's amateur status

 

When I first started bouncing around the idea that the golf world in 1913 had something against Francis Ouimet I was told to get my head examined. Instead I decided to take a closer look and as I did the truth became clearer, it wasn't specifically Francis, it was simply any 20 year old  amateur that came along to win the most important golf tournament ever played in a 3 way play off with the two top rated golfers in the world. Why it might have even been you say...right ? 

To support this theory let's take a look under the grill room rug and see what we can find.

Francis Ouimet started to caddy at The Country Club at age 11. He was a keen observer not only of the golf being played but the golfers themselves. Some time along the way to age 16 he figured out that he could use golf to advance himself through the contacts the game brought him further than he could advance himself as a professional golfer. Thus the day before his 16th birthday he resigned his caddying post. He did so as caddies 16 and beyond were deemed professional golfers.

Point one-Francis "carried the bags" of many of The Country Club's golfers. Although he had many a helpful patron for sure their were those of the mind set "once a servant always a servant", and when he came back to play the US Open as a "gentleman" you can bet some feathers were ruffled upon his walking into the clubhouse and receiving member benefits with the other amateur golfers.

The next point to consider is when he was asked if he would like to play in the US Open by the USGA he politely refused. The USGA, needing one more player for its qualifying rounds, simply would not accept that as an answer. So a "misunderstanding occurred". They must have had quite the little "giggle" when Francis found out he had been entered, and that his employer George Wright had already approved his time off. So what we have in short is permission from his employer to take time off and play golf. (Did this make him professional ? )

What happened "next" still leaves me perplexed. ( not speechless ) Half way through the tournament, 4 strokes from the lead, and 2 strokes ahead of the next amateur Francis is asked to consider withdrawing. WHAT ?*&)$%?????? The more I think about it, it had nothing to do with "letting the professionals" have their show, as it was assumed by most everyone that Vardon or Ray would take the championship. No, they wanted Francis to withdraw because they were afraid he would win "the amateur division". You see to date no amateur had won the Open, and it was expected no amateur ever would, so the amateurs were considered to be playing a tournament within a tournament, and Francis was not supposed to win it, as it did carry significant rewards, including open access to many of the top golf and country clubs.

Now as is so well documented on this site and else where Francis went on to win the 1913 US Open. The headlines from papers around the country and through out the world reporting the news. These are still brought forth for all to see. What does not get brought out though is the column by Henry Leach, a British golf writer, from the depths of the September 21, 1913 New York Times....

"No amateur possibly can beat the best professionals. Then again, these British players are in the prime of their golfing lives - one just past 40, one under - ripe in experience, judgment, skill. Nobody can beat them. "

"...as much coolness and composure of only the most seasoned professional."

"Used to be a caddy. (The) New champion carried bags of clubs around the Brookline course." 

"Virtually brought up on the golf links."

"When a mere lad, he was a caddy at The Country Club of Brookline, where he carried bags of clubs around the course day after day and saw good golf...."

"As a caddy, Ouimet knew the Brookline course well and was one of those wise youngsters who could tell a player where to avoid the "rough" and the hazards."

The next day Henry continued his attack on the young champion with a piece for the Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph.......

"English golfers think the young American achieved the impossible and that his astonishing coolness was incomprehensible, inasmuch as nobody believed any English amateur would be able to face successfully such a nerve-trying ordeal."

Why would Henry Leach write this stuff ? Looks to me like the table was being set, with plenty of questions for those who may have wanted a different out come.

But wait there is more from 5 time British Open winner John Henry Taylor in the September 23 New York Times. He describes "The defeat of Harry Vardon and Edward Ray by young Francis Ouimet as humiliating." Jeez, I wonder how he feels about his own 30th place finish. Anyway he then goes on "It is a maxim among golfers that any one can win over eighteen holes, but only the best man can win over thirty six." HELLO ! Am I missing something here including the playoff this little match was ninety holes. As in 90, is that not enough ?  (This from the New York Tribune "In match play at 18 holes or even at 36 holes, there is an element of luck, but when the game extends to 90 holes, a fair test is afforded of a golfer's skill and nerve.") And there is more, "Youngsters playing golf do not realize how difficult it is to play really well." Believe me Francis knew how difficult it was, and he knew how important it was, if he didn't know before he teed it up for the playoff I am sure the largest crowd  in golfing history reminded him. I can't for the life of me figure out what these people were doing other than attacking Mr. Ouimet.

It is also interesting to look at some of the good fortune that came Francis's way following his US Open victory. Woodland Golf Club, his home course granted him a life time honorary membership. Many other Boston area clubs followed suit. The Country Club was quite specific in their phrasing, in that they did not extend Francis membership , but instead granted him playing privileges on their course for one yearNot membership privileges, not club house privileges but playing privileges on their course, as would be bestowed on any professional. (Later in the year they did up it to membership privileges, but one gets the idea a little arm twisting may have been involved.) And don't let us forget the Banquet for Francis.

In 1915 Francis decided to start his own sporting goods store, moving on from his employer, sporting goods store Wright & Ditson. "Coincidently" ( it's good to remember here that George Wright brought golf to Boston and had many powerful USGA friends ) the United States Golf Association announced new restrictions on the business activities of amateur golfers. Specifically it stated that anyone who worked as a golf architect (AW Tillinghast, a story for another day) or sold golf equipment for a living would lose or have their amateur status revoked. Interesting wording indeed. Notice that this did not include endorsing golf equipment or golf publishing leaving these gentlemen with their amateur status intact.
 

Jerome Travers

    1907 U.S. Amateur Champion
    1908 U.S. Amateur Champion
    1912 U.S. Amateur Champion
    1913 U.S. Amateur Champion
    1915 U.S. Open Champion  (won as amateur)

Mr. Travers in his later years did become a professional golfer by his own choice with limited success. His amateur status as a champion was never questioned.



Ad from The American Golfer 1913


 

 

Harold Hilton

    1892 British Open Champion (won as amateur)
    1897 British Open Champion (won as amateur)
    1900 British Amateur Champion 
    1901 British Amateur Champion
    1911 British Amateur Champion
    1911 United States Amateur Champion
    1913 British Amateur Champion

After finishing T17 in the 1914 British Amateur Mr. Hilton retired from competitive golf. His amateur status as a champion was never questioned.



Ad from The American Golfer 1911

 

 

 

Walter Travis

   1900 United States Amateur Champion
   1900 Metropolitan Amateur Champion
   1901 United States Amateur Champion
   1902 Metropolitan Amateur Champion
   1903 United States Amateur Champion
   1904 British Amateur Champion
   1904 North South Amateur Champion
   1909 Metropolitan Amateur Champion
   1910 North South Amateur Champion
   1912 North South Amateur Champion
   1915 Metropolitan Amateur Champion 

 

It is worthy of note that immediately following winning the 1915 Metropolitan Mr. Travis unexpectedly announced his retirement from competitive golf. His amateur status as a champion was never questioned. Mr. Travis as editor of The American Golfer was also one of Mr. Henry Leach's employers.

Walter Travis's contribution to golf in America is immeasurable and this piece is not intended in any way to under mine that, just simply present the facts.

Now let's fast forward a few years to some Country Club history that is of more recent memory, the 1999 Ryder Cup. As a tribute to Francis Ouimet, and the Ryder Cup matches, Texas-based sculptor Bob Pack gave a life size statue of  Francis and his caddy Eddie Lowery to The Country Club. With the golf world watching The Country Club accepted the gift with fan fare and open arms in a show of pride for the Young Ouimet's accomplishment and all it has meant to golf. Proudly placed in front of the grand club house the statue was seen by the millions of TV viewers of the Ryder Cup through out the world. Are you ready for the rest of the story ?

In 2002 with limited fan fare The Country Club "donated" the Statue of  Francis and his caddy Eddie to The Lynch Municipal Golf Course in Brookline as they felt it would be "a more appropriate setting."  Really, did Francis grow up playing there ? Oh maybe he caddied there ? Wait, you say that Lynch did not open until July 1933,  what gives ? 

1913 US Open

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