There’s a ghost in Brookline, Mass., but nobody is afraid of him. Instead, he’s revered, beloved, adored. He’s a legend, perhaps the most famous product of a town without many, stuck next to a city with more famous natives than it can count.
Driving into The Country Club for the 113th United States Amateur (not to be confused with any other country clubs – this is the one), reminders of Francis Ouimet are impossible to miss. At one of the oldest and most prestigious golf courses in the world, Ouimet’s picture adorns the streets, his legacy carried on in a small museum off the pro shop.
If you weren’t aware of who Ouimet was when you arrived at The Country Club, just a handful miles outside of Boston, you had no choice but to be aware of him by the time you left. His name is synonymous with the course itself. A caddie at The Country Club while growing up in Brookline, Ouimet became one of the defining figures in golf’s growth throughout the country when he captured the 1913 U.S. Open, held at The Country Club, as a 20-year-old amateur.
He outlasted professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff for the title, making the ending to most of the world’s famous fairytales seem downright ordinary. His story was captured in a book, “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and later (regrettably) made into a Hollywood movie in 2005.
One hundred years have passed since Ouimet pulled off the feat, and it’s no coincidence that The Country Club is the site of this year’s U.S. Amateur, where 312 players are trying to follow in his footsteps and take their place among the greatest amateur golfers in history.
It’s truly a sight to behold, like you’re living in the present but in possession of a direct sightline to the past. If you stand next to the 17th green, there are the best amateur golfers in the world firing wedges at the pin after 300-yard drives, getting frustrated when they don’t make birdie.
There’s also the memory of Justin Leonard standing on the green during the 1999 Ryder Cup, ramming home a 40-foot putt to all but clinch the victory for the Americans, one of the greatest moments in Ryder Cup history.
When I was standing next to that same green on Monday, a man approached me to shoot the breeze, and it turned out that he was visiting from North Carolina. He’s a golf fan, but more than that he’s a fan of the Ouimet story. When he found out the Amateur would be played at The Country Club, there was no doubt that he’d be there. He made the trek – by himself. He was standing by the 17th because on that hole in 1913, Vardon hit his ball into a sand trap during the 18-hole playoff with Ouimet. Vardon thought he was in the fairway, only to find his ball buried. He made bogey while Ouimet made birdie, essentially locking up the tournament right there.
The course lived up to its pedigree during Monday’s first round of stroke play qualifying, with only three players shooting under par for the day. Defending U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox met with the media afterwards and said that the course was playing harder then Merion Golf Club, where he competed at this year’s U.S. Open.
That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, though. Founded in 1893, The Country Club is one of the five original clubs of the USGA. It precedes Augusta National by 40 years. It’s been the site of five U.S. Amateurs, three U.S. Opens and a Ryder Cup. It’s built to test the world’s best golfers.
“It was pretty brutal,” said Cumberland’s Jamison Randall, the only qualifier with a Rhode Island hometown to his name. “It was fun though. It’s fun to play a course like this.”
Randall didn’t end up qualifying for the match-play portion of the tournament, which whittles the field down from 312 to 64 after two days of qualifying. Fox, who said on Monday that he would gladly take the No. 64 spot right then and there if it was offered to him, didn’t make the cut either.
Anthony Maccaglia, a 20-year-old from Tampa, Fla., made a hole-in-one on the 16th hole on Tuesday. He also didn’t make the cut.
Players in the field ranged from David Szewczul, a 59-year-old, to Andrew Walker, only 14 years of age. Countries from all over the world are represented. Many of the players finish up play and then return to their day jobs, with the hope that their day job may one day be playing the game they love.
It’s amateur golf at its finest, on the biggest stage, with the greatest amateur golfer this side of Bobby Jones watching over the 312 best current amateur players out there. The ghost of Brookline, Francis Ouimet, sees it all.
The driving range was packed with players from the start of the day until nightfall. When Randall came off the course after his first round, he couldn’t wait to get out on the range and work on his game.
Such is the mindset of players with the dream of winning a United States Amateur, of holding the trophy that greats like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones and Phil Mickelson have held before them.
Ouimet held it too, as he won the Amateur in 1914. But it’s the 1913 U.S. Open win that he’s most remembered for, the first amateur to ever win the national championship.
And 100 years after his historic, sport-altering win at a country club that doesn’t need a qualifier or a location in its name to identify itself to the world, his legacy lives on, with hundreds of others aspiring to etch their own names into history.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.