One of the first exhibits that visitors to the USGA Golf Museum encounter is a display that celebrates Francis Ouimet’s historic victory in the 1913 U.S. Open Championship through rare photographs, artifacts and film. The display is titled “America’s First Golf Hero,” and with good reason.
Before the 20-year-old amateur’s monumental win, the game was dominated by British professionals such as Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. And it was those two men who were tied atop the leader board as former caddie Ouimet made a late charge during the final round at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. The hometown underdog eventually drew even with the two goliaths, forcing a playoff the following day in the 19th edition of the championship.
“It’s the stuff of legend,” said USGA Museum senior historian Victoria Student. “You can’t make it up. It’s one of the most dramatic events in golf history.”
With thousands lining the fairways, Ouimet – accompanied by his 10-year-old caddie Eddie Lowery – became the first amateur to capture the championship, forever changing golf in this country.
“Following his win, thousands of Americans took up the game,” Student said. “His working-class roots helped erode the thought that golf was only for the elite. This was now a game that anyone could play and so you saw this huge rise in public golf.”
Several artifacts document Ouimet’s landmark achievement, including his putter and irons as well as scorecards and golf balls used by the three men in the 18-hole playoff. But the centerpiece of the collection is the champion’s gold medal.
Along with Ouimet’s 1914 and 1931 U.S. Amateur Championship medals, the 1913 prize had been on loan to the USGA Museum since 1984. Recently, however, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, which had retained ownership of the medals since his death in 1967, proposed putting them up for auction to raise additional funds.