By Mike Cullity
Museum Moment: Schenectady Putter Helped Travers Make His Mark
Aug 18, 2011
Jerry Travers burst onto the American golf scene by scoring one of the great upsets in golf history.
The scion of a prominent New York family who took his first swings on the sprawling lawn of his parents’ Long Island estate, Travers was a 17-year-old junior member at Nassau Country Club when he entered the 1904 Nassau Invitational, a tournament that attracted the country’s top amateur players, including Walter J. Travis and Findlay Douglas. The winner of three of the previous four U.S. Amateurs, the Australian-born Travis had recently become the first foreigner to win the British Amateur, while Douglas, a Scot, was the 1898 U.S. Amateur champion and a two-time Metropolitan Amateur winner.
Two years earlier, Travers had begun taking lessons from Nassau pro Alex Smith, a gregarious Carnoustie native who later won two U.S. Opens (1906 and 1910). After outplaying his peers and winning the Interscholastic Championship at Nassau in May 1904, Travers proved his mettle against more formidable competition that summer by advancing to the invitational tournament’s semifinals.
Facing Douglas, a 29-year-old St. Andrews native, Travers prevailed, 2 and 1, setting up an afternoon showdown with Travis, who was 42 and widely known in golf circles as “The Old Man.” Despite his victory over Douglas, however, Travers had been dissatisfied with his putting, a shortcoming that he would later write, “was looming like a portentous cloud on my horizon.”
Travers mentioned his struggles to Guy Robertson, a Nassau member, who offered the teen the use of a Schenectady putter, a center-shafted, mallet-headed implement similar to the one Travis had borrowed from a friend when his putting went south before the British Amateur just weeks earlier. After putting remarkably at Royal St. George’s en route to the title, Travis was still wielding the instrument.
Tossing aside his cleek putter, Travers stroked a few practice putts with the Schenectady. Liking the results, he put it in his bag.
Although the appearance of the Schenectady in his opponent’s hands surprised the cigar-chomping Travis, the veteran was determined to school the youngster. The Old Man won two of the first three holes, but Travers erased the deficit quickly, evening the match with a long putt at No. 6. Travis responded in kind, draining his own lengthy putt at No. 13 to regain his two-hole advantage.
But the kid wasn’t finished. After sensing that Travis considered him beaten, Travers won Nos. 14 and 17 before halving the last to force extra holes. After Travis missed his birdie putt on the 21st hole, Travers lined up a 10-footer to win.
“And not a word was uttered, nor did a muscle twitch perceptibly, as my ball moved away from its impact with the pendulum swing of my newly acquired putter,” Travers later wrote. “It was good all the way.”
With his stunning upset, Travers began authoring a legacy as one of America’s greatest amateurs – and one of the game’s finest putters. Over the next decade, he won four U.S. Amateurs (more than any golfer except Bob Jones), five Metropolitan Amateurs and several other titles. He capped his competitive career by winning the 1915 U.S. Open.
One of only five amateurs to win the Open, Travers was a steely competitor who kept his emotions close to the vest. “I could always tell just from looking at a golfer whether he was winning or losing, but I never knew how Travers stood,” Smith, his teacher, once said.
Although an erratic driver, Travers was a superb iron player and a master of the greens. Harold Hilton, the noted English golfer and 1911 U.S. Amateur champion, called him the greatest putter he ever saw.
Three years after defeating Travis at Nassau, Travers won his first U.S. Amateur crown at The Euclid Club in Cleveland, Ohio. He successfully defended his crown in 1908, defeating Travis in the semifinals en route to the title at Long Island’s Garden City Golf Club, the Old Man’s home course.
After a three-year dry spell – a period during which Travers learned that, as Herbert Warren Wind wrote, “a young man cannot be both a professional playboy and an amateur golf champion” – Travers won a third U.S. Amateur, defeating Travis in the second round before topping future champion Chick Evans in the final at Chicago Golf Club. Finally, in 1913, he returned to Garden City and won his fourth championship, defeating an obscure 20-year-old from Brookline, Mass., named Francis Ouimet in the second round. Ouimet, of course, would shock the world just a few weeks later by defeating British stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline.
Inspired by Ouimet’s performance, Travers became the second amateur to win the U.S. Open, prevailing by one stroke at Baltusrol in 1915. Later that year, he stepped away from national competition to focus on a budding Wall Street career.
Throughout Travers’ reign as America’s dominant amateur, the Schenectady was perhaps his most deadly weapon. Developed and patented in 1903 by Arthur T. Knight, a General Electric employee who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., the putter was banned by the R&A in 1910 but remained legal in the United States, and Travers used it to great effect. The USGA Museum has the Schenectady putter that Travers used to win his last U.S. Amateur and lone U.S. Open on display in “The Dawn of American Golf” gallery.
Despite the golf glory Travers attained, he fell on hard times after the 1929 stock-market crash. He turned professional in 1932 but had little success and his family lived hand-to-mouth throughout the Depression. After America entered World War II, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft hired Travers as an inspector at its plant in East Hartford, Conn., where he worked for the next decade. He died of a heart attack in 1951 at 63.
Although work and family commitments prevented Travers from playing much golf during the 1940s, he never lost his putting stroke. That much was apparent to Fred Calder, the son of an old friend of Travers’, who played a round with the amateur great late in the decade.
“The minute he stroked a putt, I knew he was a great putter,” Calder told Golf World in 2009. And although Travers’ ball-striking had clearly eroded, his competitive spirit remained.
“He was a cocky little fella,” Calder said. “I could see that he must have been a hell of a competitor.”
Mike Cullity is a freelance golf writer. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of only five amateurs to win the Open, Travers was a steely competitor who kept his emotions close to the vest. “I could always tell just from looking at a golfer whether he was winning or losing, but I never knew how Travers stood,” said Alex Smith, two-time Open champion.
In the 1904 Nassau Invitational, Travers faced Walter Travis, who had won three of the previous four U.S. Amateur titles, in the finals. Travis won two of the first three holes, but Travers erased the deficit and went on to pull a stunning upset of one of the world's great amateurs.
Throughout Travers’ reign as America’s dominant amateur, the Schenectady putter was perhaps his most deadly weapon. The USGA Museum has the Schenectady that Travers used to win his last U.S. Amateur and lone U.S. Open on display in “The Dawn of American Golf” gallery. Above are replica putters from the late-19th and early-20th centuries that are available for use at The Pynes Putting Course at the USGA Museum. The Schenectady is pictured to the far right.