“The Greatest Game Ever Played, A Nation’s Unexpected Flame”

His name so surprisingly and unexpectedly swept across the nation in 1913. Francis Ouimet, the most unlikely victor, had just made American golf history, and provided America with the spark it so desperately needed to put itself on the world wide golf stage. A comeback of the century, one David struck down two Goliaths, and where better for this to occur than the country club across the street from where Ouimet grew up. Born into the working class to two immigrant parents, his father a French Canadian and his Irish mother, Francis Ouimet was seen at the time as to having no business partaking in this gentleman’s game. He was often mocked and ridiculed by those of high born and country club status for his attempt to compete in golf, and that all changed the day he sunk the putt that would make him an American hero and beacon of hope.

As a child, Ouimet grew up in a fairly poor household and would caddy at the local country club to bring home some extra money that would be put in the family savings jar. Carrying bags day after day for members of the golf club and being around the sport so much, Ouimet developed a deep admiration for this gentlemen’s game. However, in the early 1900’s, golf was a sport historically reserved for those born into high class families, of which young Francis was not. One afternoon Ouimet’s mother took him into town, against the will of his father, to a local sporting goods store where his golf idol and then the three time British Open Champion and golf God, Harry Vardon, was displaying his skills. Vardon was passing through Boston for an exhibition golf tour in 1900. We may have never heard of the name Francis Ouimet if this had not been the case, and the history of American golf could have been far different. At this showcase, Vardon asked for the services of a volunteer to come up at hit a ball. The then seven year old Francis Ouimet immediately jumped up to share the stage with his idol and hero. Ouimet was handed a club and had a very pitiful first attempt at hitting the ball. Then on his second chance, after Vardon showed him the correct way to hold the club and gave him a few pointers, Ouimet made a miraculous shot and the crowed cheered. Little did the two know at the time, but Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet would meet again 13 years later as the center point of attention for a much larger crowd and on a much larger stage changing the way American golfers were perceived world wide.

Ouimet practiced day in and day out ever since the day he met is golf hero in Boston. He would often keep his mother up at night by putting balls into a small silver cup tipped on its side, providing a practice target on the warped hardwood floor of his upstairs bedroom. He even won a couple of local public High School golf tournaments along the way. One afternoon when Ouimet was twenty, the member he was caddying for demanded that Francis bring his clubs and play with him. Knowing full well that caddies were not permitted to play on the course, Ouimet ran to get his clubs and decided to play anyways. He ended up shooting an eighty one his first time around the hardest golf course in New England with a nine on fifteen. After this showing, Francis was awarded a spot to potentially compete in the National Amateur Championship where he would need to shoot a 78 to qualify, just three strokes off his first ever round on the course. After a long meeting with the executive board of the club and being ridiculed by them for even trying to play the game of golf, Ouimet found a club member in good standings to sponsor him for this tournament. All he had to do now was be able to afford the fifty dollar entrance fee, which was not cheap to a family in his socioeconomic standing. After asking his father, whom he knew didn’t have that kind of money to spare, Ouimet was given the money under the condition that every penny would be paid back, and if he did not qualify for the tournament he would give up golf and focus on getting a job to earn a decent wage to help support his family. Francis missed the cut by one stroke on the 18th hole where he missed a relatively easy putt because he got flustered when he saw his father standing ominously in the crowd.

That should have been it for Ouimet’s golfing career, he had given his word to his father that he would “give up this fool’s game” if he couldn’t qualify for the National Amateur Championship. As promised, Francis found a job in town at a local sporting goods store hoping to work his way up and in the future make a decent living for himself. One afternoon a few months later, as he was cleaning golf clubs and dusting the displays in the store, Ouimet got a surprise visit from someone very unexpected. The president of the U.S.G.A. (United States Golf Association) came by to seek him out and give him an incredible opportunity. The U.S Open Championship was being held at the country club across the street from Ouimet’s home, and the U.S.G.A president was looking to add a local amateur to the field in hopes that a local fan base would be more compelled to come and watch the tournament. This spot was offered to Ouimet, and at first he reluctantly declined the offer because of the promise he had previously made to his father. After the shop had closed that night, Francis swung a golf club a couple times allowing the love for the game to come rushing back and completely consume him again. The very next morning he rushed from his house to the golf course to catch a glimpse of the practice round, and that’s when he saw his idol again. The legendary Harry Vardon was just teeing off in front of a large crowd. It hit him right then and there, Ouimet had just passed up on a once in a lifetime opportunity that he could have never even dreamed of getting. Francis ran to the president’s tent and told them he had changed his mind about the tournament and would love to play if the spot was still available. After being dismissed from the tent by some very busy officials, Francis waited anxiously outside the tent for an answer. A few minutes later news from the tent came out, and Francis would have a spot to contend to be the 1913 U.S Open Champion.

This was to be no easy tournament, considering that the two best players in the world, Englishman Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, had sailed over from England to compete. All the talk leading up to this tournament was that all Vardon and Ray needed to do to win was show up, and that no American golfer quite had the fighting chance to keep the Brits from taking the title away from U.S soil and back to England again as they seemed to always do. There was certainly no hope at all for the ridiculed and mocked amateur caddy Ouimet. Towards the conclusion of the qualifying round for the U.S Open, Ouimet found himself in a position where he had to make up four strokes on the remaining six holes if he wanted to be a part of the field. After making six straight birdies Ouimet found himself earning a spot to actually compete on golfs biggest stage in America. Francis then faced another problem when his caddy left him right after the qualifying round to carry for a British golfer who offered him more money to carry his bag. Scrambling, Francis ran into his buddy Jack who was a caddy at another local golf course, and Jack was ecstatic when Ouimet asked him to caddy for him the next day in the Open. Round one of the Open Francis was waiting for Jack to show up when Eddie, Jack’s fifth grade ten-year-old brother, came running up with the news that the truant officer caught Jack and made him go to school. However Eddie’s enthusiasm and pleading awarded him the opportunity to carry Ouimet’s bag which was just as big as him. This unlikely pairing would turn out to be an incredibly pivotal part of Ouimet’s success.

After topping his very first drive with the ball traveling no more than 40 yards in the first round, Ouimet found himself in seventh place heading into round three. Eddie was waiting outside Ouimet’s home on the third day of the tournament carrying an umbrella that seemed twice as big as him. The weather conditions that day had the likeness of a monsoon, yet Eddie told Francis he had a dream that past night that Francis was going to shoot a seventy two. Trying to look on the bright side, despite the weather, Francis replied “You’re right, its a great day for seventy two.” After a long day of playing on what seemed like more of a lake than a golf course, Ouimet found himself in third place just behind Vardon and Ray. The newspapers the next morning had the headline “America’s Last Hopes” with a picture of Ouimet just below. The most unlikely American amateur had become the flame in the dark for an entire nation overnight. Ouimet in the fourth round came back from two strokes down to be neck and neck with the Brits, and was able to sink a putt on the eighteenth green, that seemed like it was a mile long, to tie for the lead and put himself in a three way playoff with Vardon and Ray.

Ouimet became the last beacon of hope for Americans all over the country by ensuring that the U.S Open would not come down to an all English playoff. Francis found himself in a similar position as the biblical David, however in this case he would be going up against two Goliaths. Francis drew the short straw at the commencement of the playoff round and thus had to tee off first. Each of the three competitors were tied at five after the first hole, and remained tied through the front nine. Francis was not only showing the world that he had a chance in this playoff, but was inspiring Americans everywhere by showing them they can compete at the level of these Englishmen who were dominating the world’s golf stage. On the thirteenth hole Ted Ray hit his drive into the woods, where he would then end up farther in the woods after hitting a tree on his second shot. He had fallen too far back to remain in contention, leaving the championship up for grabs between Ouimet and Vardon. The seventeenth hole on this championship course was an almost 90 degree dogwood right, and Vardon, feeling bold, decides to cut the corner and hit it over the trees in hopes of gaining a positional advantage. Francis decides to follow suit, but just as he is taking his club out Eddie stops him and asks “What are you doing?” Francis replies “I’m going to cut the corner.” Eddie quickly puts a stop to that making Francis aware that there is a bunker on the other side of those trees and that they have no way of knowing if Vardon hit over it. So Francis decides to play it safe, despite the fact that Vardon would only be a chip away if he had cleared the bunker, and hits it right down the fairway. It paid off, Vardon found his ball imbedded in the front lip of the bunker giving him no choice but to have to chip it out to the middle of the fairway, while Francis was able to take a shot at the green. This was just the kind of break Ouimet and Americans desperately needed. Going into the last playoff hole of the U.S Open Championship, Ouimet shockingly found himself with a one stroke lead. On the eighteenth green Vardon made his putt, putting all the pressure on Ouimet. Francis had to sink his putt to clench the victory at the U.S Open. In front of a crowd 10,000 strong, Ouimet held his nerve and he and Eddie were carried off the eighteenth green on American shoulders after his ball found the bottom of the cup.

In a Cinderella story that is almost too good to be true, the improbable happened. Francis Ouimet, a poor amateur caddy boy that had no business playing golf as far as the majority of people were concerned, had gone head to head with his hero Harry Vardon. The man and role model that inspired him to even consider taking up the sport. From taking his first swinging lesson from Vardon 13 years earlier as a volunteer in a crowd of hundreds to beating him in an eighteen hole playoff for the U.S open championship, Ouimet had pulled off a miracle. He was the spark that that lit the flame causing the American people to see that there was indeed hope for them in this sport, and stopped the British giants from taking the U.S Open Championship back overseas. Francis Ouimet did this all in what would be considered “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

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