It was fifty years ago that Bobby Jones won his Grand Slam, making him the only man who ever has—or probably ever will—conquer the “Impregnable Quadrilateral” of golf
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
St. Andrew’s was the first, but not by much. In less than a year, the beautiful people at Tuxedo Park, New York, had a golf course. Then came the even more beautiful people in Newport, Rhode Island, followed swiftly by the Southampton set, whose Shinnecock Hills course along Great Peconic Bay was the first to be designed by a golf architect (Willie Dunn, a young Scottish professional). Shinnecock was also the first to have a real clubhouse. It was the work of Stanford White, whose success as an architect and career as Evelyn Nesbit’s lover would both be cut short by three bullets from Harry K. Thaw’s pistol.
The United States had enough golfers to play an Open championship (at match play) in 1894 and two amateur championships that year, one at medal play in Newport and one at match play at St. Andrew’s. It wasn’t until the National Open of 1913, however, that people like Francis Albertanti took cognizance of the game.
The individual who forced it upon their attention was twenty-year-old Francis Ouimet, a slightly gawky young man who played in a white shirt with four-in-hand tie, a checkered cap, rumpled jacket, and unpressed trousers. He lived with his family across the street from The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, where the touring British professionals, Vardon and Ray, were challenging John J. McDermott, two-time winner of the United States Open championship, and other homegrown and imported talent.
Vardon was the flawless stylist who had won five British Opens and would win a sixth. Ray, the longest hitter in the world, looked like an outsize walrus smoking a calabash pipe. The large field was divided for two days of qualifying play. Vardon led the qualifiers on the first day and Ray was three shots ahead of his field on the second, but just one stroke behind Vardon was the kid from across the street.
The tournament proper was a two-day affair, thirty-six holes a day. After fifty-four holes, Vardon and Ray were tied for the lead at 225 as might be expected. As nobody in the world could have expected, young Ouimet stood at 225, also, having wiped out the leaders’ four-shot advantage on the third round.
Firing his heaviest siege guns, for the course was soggy with rain and playing long, Ray got through the fourth round in 79. So did Vardon, which left them tied at 304. Ouimet had gone further than anyone could demand of an unseasoned amateur but now he had had it. “Golf is not a funeral,” wrote Bernard Darwin, the great English journalist, “but both can be very sad affairs.” After twelve holes, Ouimet was ten over par. To regain the three-way tie he must cut two strokes off par for the six remaining holes.
He got one of the two birdies he needed by chipping into the cup from the fringe of the thirteenth green. He got his par 5 on fourteen, chipped out of the rough for a three-foot putt to save par on fifteen, and ran down a nine-foot putt for a par on sixteen. Now he had two par-4 holes in front of him, and seven shots to use any way he chose.
On the dog-leg seventeenth, he put his second past the flag, leaving himself a sidehill putt of twenty feet. He rapped it crisply and the ball went in for a birdie 3. His approach on eighteen stopped in mud just short of the green. He chipped up to five feet and ran the putt down. He and Vardon and Ray would play off tomorrow.
A day and a half of rain had subsided to a drizzle by 10 A.M. There was jockeying for position on the outbound nine, but they were all square rounding the turn in 38. On the tenth Ouimet took a one-stroke lead and on the twelfth he doubled it. Vardon got back half the deficit on thirteen but on fifteen a double-bogey 6 left Ray three shots off the pace. The big man fell back another stroke on sixteen. On seventeen Vardon hooked his drive into a bunker, needed two more shots to the green, and two-putted. Ouimet, on in two, ran down an eighteen-foot birdie putt for a three-stroke lead. The eighteenth green was heaving beneath his feet as he sank the four-footer that did the deed. He left Vardon five strokes back and Ray six. America had a new sports hero to cheer.
After Ouimet came a parade—Chick Evans, the happy warrior from Chicago who waited seven years on the threshold before he won a major championship; Long Jim Barnes, Jesse Guilford, Jock Hutchison, and the one and only original unmitigated Walter Hagen.
Only two years out of the pro shop in Rochester, New York, Walter Hagen won the Open of 1914. He wasn’t Sir Walter then. He wasn’t The Haig. The Chivas Regal tan and Piping Rock swagger came later, along with the hired Rolls-Royce, the comradely rounds with the Prince of Wales, and all those championships—the U.S. Open twice, the British Open four times, the Professional Golfers’ Association title five times, the Belgian, French, and Canadian Opens, and seven tours of duty as captain of the Ryder Cup team.
When he asked on the first tee, “Who’s going to be second?” he meant it.