SI Vault
Sarah Pileggi
June 11, 1979
All the better U.S. Open courses have ghosts, and Inverness, in Toledo, Ohio, where the clan will gather next week to decide the national championship, has one of the best ghosts of all.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 11, 1979

On The 12th Tee At The 1920 Open, Vardon Stood Supreme. However...

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Standing on the tee of the 522-yard 12th, however, Vardon found himself faced with the need for more strength than he possessed. A blustery wind had suddenly risen from the north and was blowing directly into the tee. The gale caught his tee shot and held it, leaving him much too far away to reach the green with his second shot. He laid up short of the brook in front of the green but was unable to get his third shot onto the small green. He ended with a six.

Utter weariness overtook Vardon. The traveling, the exhibitions, the six rounds of the championship and his 50 years began to exact their toll. At the 13th he missed a two-foot putt for par. At the 14th he three-putted. At 15 and 16 he three-putted again. Seventeen was the hole that crushed him. Hit into the wind, his tee shot fell short.

"I was very tired," he said afterward. "When I came to my ball I knew I had a hard shot to carry the brook, about 200 yards away, and reach the green. But I had wasted so many shots on my bad putting that I did not believe I could waste any more. I knew my only chance to get home was to put my body into the swing, something I never like to do. But here it was necessary. I failed to time the swing of my club and the sway of my body properly, and while I got a fair stroke, it was not quite good enough. It just caught the brook on the carry and I knew then, even as the ball left the club head, that my bid for the championship had failed."

Grantland Rice claimed that as Vardon watched that second shot on 17 he aged 10 years. For 29 holes of the final day Vardon was three under par. For the last seven holes he was seven over. From then on it was just a matter of waiting for Ray, Diegel and Hutchison, who were still on the course. Ray was first in with 295 to Vardon's 296. Diegel needed a birdie at 18 to tie Ray but missed a 25-foot putt. Hutchison also needed a birdie at 18 to tie, but when his long putt stayed out, Ray won. Vardon, Diegel, Hutchison and Burke tied for second.

Vardon finished out the exhibition tour and in November went back to the South Herts Golf Club at Totteridge, near London, where he had worked since 1903 and where he remained until his death in 1937. His letterhead read, "Golf Club and Ball Maker. Golf Clubs of Persimmon, Dogwood & Beech. All Orders Given Best Attention."

Laurie Auchterlonie, whose father, Willie, was British Open champion in 1893 and who himself is honorary professional to the Royal and Ancient, says Vardon stayed at South Herts because once when he was very ill, five doctors, all members of the club, had kept a round-the-clock vigil at his bedside. He is buried in Totteridge Parish churchyard, just down the road from the South Herts clubhouse, and his grave, even today, is always tended.

"Everyone loved him," says Auchterlonie. "He was the best professional we ever had."

1 2 3