At the 1913 U.S. Open, Francis Ouimet—a baby-faced 20-year-old caddie at the host course, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.—beat two of the greatest players of the era, England's Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, in a playoff. Ouimet's victory did so much to popularize his sport in the U.S. that he would become known as the Father of American Golf. We pick up the action following Ouimet's famous birdie putt on the 71st hole, which brought him even with Ray and Vardon, who had already finished their final rounds.
Everything now rested on the hole they called Home. A tin cup stuck in the ground on an elevated circle of grass 410 yards away, across the flats of the old racetrack. Three strokes to win it, four to tie and force a playoff.
Francis's drive split the fairway with a splash, getting no roll but far enough out to reach the green in two with a well-struck mid-iron. His caddie, Eddie Lowery, pulled the club from the bag as they walked on and handed it over before Francis had even asked for it. "Keep your eye on the ball and hit it," said Eddie.
Francis did just that. He looked up in time to see the ball sailing toward the flag, just visible above the grassy twin mounds defending the front of the green. He saw the ball land and send up a sizable divot off the top of the final embankment. That meant it must have kicked forward onto the green. "Eddie, I think I have a putt to win this championship," Francis said.
They rushed forward along with the crowd. Eddie handed Francis the putter for this last try at the win. But as they climbed the hill, they realized his ball had not kicked forward onto the putting surface; it had slammed into that embankment just short of its crest and bounced slightly backward. Francis still counted his blessings. Under normal conditions a shot that landed where this one had would have rolled back all the way down onto the unforgiving cinders of the racetrack below, almost guaranteeing bogey 5. The endless rain of the week had left the grass saturated, which is why Francis's ball stopped cold and saved him from possible calamity.
There the ball sat, in a decent lie, on top of the last mound just shy of the green. A few inches of fringe, then nothing but short grass between it and the hole, 40 feet away, sheltered in a slight depression. Francis walked off the shot for a precise measurement, then walked back to his ball. "You got the right club?" asked Eddie.
"Let's putt it," said Francis. "Up and in."
"Lay it dead," said Eddie.
Not an easy putt. Hard to calibrate the effect of those few inches of spiked wet collar, then at least two breaks through a swale before it reached the hole. Francis meant to strike it firmly, but the moisture grabbed at his club ever so slightly, and as a result he hit it even harder. The ball ran straight down the line through the swale, missed the hole by an inch and ran four feet past.
Francis wasted no time. He took no more than 10 seconds to look it over. Eddie handed him a towel, he dried his hands, then the grip of his club, stepped up, set his putter down in front of the ball to check the line, put it back behind the ball, looked down and took back the club. Do you think he considered, for one instant, that he would come this far only to miss this putt?