By Joseph C. Dey, Jr.
From the Golf Journal Archives - Francis Ouimet and His Stories
Aug 31, 2012
(Note: This article originally appeared in the November 1967 issue of Golf Journal.)
Mr. John Q. Public’s impressions of prominent people are often far different from actuality. In golf, the warm light of personality frequently is hidden under bushels of statistical data about a player, such as greens reached in regulation figures, putts measured to the inch, bogey-birdie facts.
In the public understanding, the spirit of Francis Ouimet was obscured less than most by his playing exploits. He was held in highest esteem throughout the world of golf – a towering figure who had done great deeds and stood for the best in the game.
But there was much more to Francis Ouimet, and he saw much more in golf than do most fine players. To him, golf simply was meant to be fun. He was a gay man – a laughter-loving, harmony-singing fellow who preferred good, clean fun in the locker room to the speakers’ table. His joyous approach to the game was balanced by his devotion to its ideals and its integrity. Here was a rare man, and that is why his passing in September at age 74 leaves a particular void.
How the World Saw Him
There was no mistaking Francis Ouimet’s Boston accent. Tall and bespectacled, he gave a somewhat studious air and might well have been tabbed as a professor of economics.
Golf will remember him for many things, and especially these:
• The man who put the game on page 1 in America. As a 20-year-old amateur, an ex-caddie who lived across the road from The Country Club in Brookline, he defeated the master British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff for the 1913 United States Open Championship at Brookline. He was the first amateur to win the Open.
• Twice winner of the U. S. Amateur, 17 years apart (1914 and 1931), runner-up once, and a semifinalist nine times all told.
• Player or captain of every Walker Cup Team from the beginning in 1922 through 1949 – 12 times in all.
• The only American to be chosen as Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews Scotland.
• USGA official 1940-47 and vice president the last two years. Declined opportunity to be president.
• Memorialized by the Francis Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund, which presently helps many deserving former caddies to obtain college education.
As His Friends Saw Him
In the eyes and the hearts of those who knew him, Francis Ouimet was a fine, warm human being before he was a golfer. He was the kindest and most considerate of men. He was utterly devoid of malice or bitterness or a retaliatory urge.
He had an infallible memory for names, for facts of golf rounds played decades before, for characteristics of golf holes.
His view of golf as fun was reflected in a bottomless reservoir of stories, some self-depreciating. Here are some, as recalled by friends of Francis:
When Ouimet became Captain of the R&A, he acquired a handsome red tailcoat symbolizing that office. According to Tom Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe, “Francis liked to tell of the evening he first tried it on for the edification of Mrs. Ouimet.
“ ‘It looks lovely,’ Mrs. Ouimet said, ‘but where’s your horse?’ ”
Jack Westland, who lost to Ouimet in the final of the 1931 U. S. Amateur Championship and later won the title in 1952 at age 47, recalls a story concerning Leonard Crawley at the time of the 1934 Walker Cup Match at St. Andrews. Crawley was a member of the British Team and is now a London journalist.
“In the evening,” Westland says, “Leonard would join us at Rusack’s Hotel, where we would sit around a table and play the card game ‘hearts.’ Since Leonard didn’t know much about the game, he invariably wound up with the queen of spades, and that would cost him a few ‘bob.’ But he didn’t seem to mind, and appeared to enjoy the association.
“In the Walker Cup singles, Leonard and Francis were drawn to play each other. At the end of 18 holes, Francis was 5 up. In the afternoon Leonard won three holes back by the 12th and was on the green only 10 feet away. It looked as though Leonard might win the hole and be only 1 down.
“Francis putted, left his ball a few inches from the cup – and it completely stymied Leonard.”
After the shock had passed, Leonard looked at his putt from one side, shook his head, went around to the other side, looked it over very closely, shook his head again, and went back behind the ball for another look. Then a smile came over his face and he said: ‘I say, Francis, there’s that old black witch again!’ ”
Edward E. Lowery caddied for Ouimet in the 1913 Open and remained a firm friend throughout his life. Now a successful automobile dealer in California, Lowery remembers:
“One story that Francis loved to tell was about Sandy McTavish, who bumped into Angus Fergusson on the main street of St. Andrews at 9 o’clock one morning. While they were exchanging greetings, a hearse rolled by with a set of golf clubs on top of the coffin.
“Angus said to Sandy: ‘Isn’t that a touching procession. The man is having his golf clubs buried with him.’
“Sandy said: ‘Oh, no, Angus, That is McNair’s wife who is being buried, and McNair has a date on the first tee at 10 o’clock this morning.’ ”
Harrison R. (Jimmy) Johnston, of Minneapolis, was Ouimet’s partner in two Walker Cup foursomes and recalls his fondness for singing. “A very impressive luncheon was given for our Walker Cup Team abroad in 1923 by the Pilgrim Society,” Johnston says. “Among those present were Lloyd George Herbert Asquith, and Stanley Baldwin, all British statesmen. There were many speeches.”
“Francis originated something different. We had a little quartet of our own – Francis, Bob Gardner, Jess Sweetser and I – and we sang some barber shop songs to the assembled gathering. I recall clearly his enjoyment in singing ‘Down By the Old Cherry Orchard.’ ”
Charles R. Yates, of Atlanta, testifies to Ouimet’s love of song. When the 1936 Walker Cup Match was played at Pine Valley, Charlie and a British player, Gordon Peters, devised a parody to Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.” Charlie says that “Francis was our Captain. With his fine voice, he was right in the middle of the singing of it. It went like this:
I think that I shall never see
A course as tough as Pine Vallee,
With trees and sand traps everywhere
And divots flying through the air.
A course laid out for fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
Charles Evans, Jr., of Chicago, was a contemporary of Ouimet in championship golf. He says: “A newspaper reporter told me that Francis once told the following anecdote:
“A golfer approached the first tee with clothes and clubs of the latest and fullest. He carefully teed up the ball, took a slow-segment-sure swing, and hit the ground near the ball.
“An ant scrambled up on the ball. The golfer did the same thing again, and another ant climbed onto the teed white ball.
“The first ant then said to the second ant: ‘What are you doing here?’
“The second ant crawled a little closer to the butt of the ball and said: ‘Do you think I want to get hit?’ ”
Joe Looney, golf editor of the Boston Herald-Traveler, has compiled a great deal of Ouimet memorabilia, including the following:
“They tell about Francis and George Voigt meeting one morning in an elevator in Baltimore, just before their first-round match in the 1932 U.S. Amateur at Five Farms. ‘Let’s go out to the Club together, George,’ was Francis’ greeting.
“At the course, Francis went out in 30, and eventually won by 6 and 5. Voigt’s reaction was: ‘I wonder what I said in the elevator to make Francis mad.’
“Then there was the case of assignment of a locker to Francis at the Brae Burn Country Club. The prime location was the first locker on the left on the first aisle on the left. Francis never did make a serious claim about being the sole occupant. In fact, he left word that the locker was available at any time to anyone. As a result, many a visitor to Brae Burn went home with the happy memory of being honored to have been invited to use Francis Ouimet’s locker for a day.
“Francis’ first association with golf was on a three-hole course that his brother Wilfred laid out in a cow pasture near the family residence. The first hole was 150 yards long, with a brook crossing at 100 yards. After striving for months, Francis finally cleared the brook with a drive one Saturday morning, yet even on that occasion he was unsuccessful for the first hour.”
Tom Fitzgerald, of the Boston Globe, has preserved in Ouimet’s words some of his reactions as a caddie at The Country Club: “I learned the game lugging bags for 25 cents for a two-and-a-half hour round. And I felt lucky I wasn’t fired.’ Many years later, Ouimet was made a life member of the Club.
Fitzgerald has written of the deep mutual admiration between Ouimet and Bob Jones, “evidenced in 1960 when Ouimet was presented the Gold Tee Award by the Metropolitan Golf Writers in New York. Although he had been in poor health for some time, Jones made the trip from Atlanta and paid a wonderfully touching and witty tribute while seated in a wheelchair at the center of the dais.
“ ‘As a boy in Atlanta, in 1913,’ Jones recalled, ‘I waited for the paper to read about Francis’ playoff against Vardon and Ray. From that time on he has been an idol of mine. When an idol endures for 40 to 45 years, you know he must have a special quality.’ ”
That special quality is evidenced in a remark Ouimet made at a dinner for beneficiaries of the Francis Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund. He was touched by the fact that the Fund was named for him and by its good works; he said: “Of all the honors I’ve had, I can’t think of one I prize more.”
Francis Ouimet and Eddie Lowery, his 10-year-old caddie, during the 1913 U.S. Open, when Ouimet defeated the Englishmen Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a historic playoff and became the first amateur to win the Open. (USGA Museum)
Ouimet playing himself in as Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. (USGA Museum)
“In the eyes and the hearts of those who knew him, Francis Ouimet was a fine, warm human being before he was a golfer. He was the kindest and most considerate of men. He was utterly devoid of malice or bitterness or a retaliatory urge.” (USGA Museum)