The moment the ball entered the hole, the rarefied air of The Country Club was filled with a mass cheer and individual outbursts the like of which for pure spontaneity and heartfelt joy have never been equaled on any golf course. The impossible and the historic had happened, and the spectators felt it in the pits of their stomachs. In what was a positive ecstasy, they mobbed their hero and hoisted him on their shoulders and might have done him physical damage with their demonstrations of affection and congratulation had some cool head not reminded them that Francis Ouimet had to play off the next morning with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
Americans turned to their newspapers the following morning and read about the incredible accomplishment of Francis Ouimet. Outside of Massachusetts, no one had ever heard of him. Who was this Ouimet? What had he done before? How was that name pronounced—Oymet or Umet or Weemay or what?
The name was pronounced Weemet. In time the country received answers to the other questions and learned that its hero was 10/10th a hero, compounded from the very best parts of Charles Dickens and Booth Tarkington with a touch of Horatio Alger.
When Francis Ouimet was starting grade school, his father moved the family from a thinly populated section of Brookline to a modest house he had bought across the street from The Country Club. Mr. Ouimet was a workingman with no interest in golf, and had it not been for the proximity of the course his sons might have emptied their childhood enthusiasm in other channels. Francis first walked the fairways as a trespasser, on his way to and from the Putterham School. On these walks he found a few guttaperchas now and then—Silvertowns, Ocobos, Vardon Flyers, Henleys, and the other popular brands of 1900.
Shortly after Francis' older brother, Wilfred, had become a caddy at The Country Club, a member had given him one of his old sticks. While Wilfred was off caddying, Francis practiced swinging with the club. He watched the tournaments across the street, and whenever he saw someone play an exceptionally good shot, he photographed the golfer's form in his mind's eye and then rushed home to try out the swing himself. Wilfred was as crazy about the game as Francis. It was his idea that they convert the land behind their house into three golf holes—slightly more primitive than Jerry Travers' triangle since they took in a gravel pit, a swamp, a brook, and patches of long rough grass. The first hole was 150 yards long, with a brook crossing the "fairway" about 100 yards from the tee. The second was a 50-yard pitch, and the third was a combination of the first and second played backwards. The boys built themselves some greens, and sank tomato cans for their cups.
When Francis was 11, he followed Wilfred to The Country Club as a caddy. During the big tournaments he saw his heroes at close range—Chandler Egan, Jerry Travers, Fred Herreshoff, Walter J. Travis, Alex Smith, Willie Anderson. He loved the atmosphere of the golf course, and the members were fond of the bright, clean-cut boy. One day after Francis had caddied for Samuel Carr, Mr. Carr gave him four old clubs from his locker—a driver with a leather face, a lofter, a midiron, and a putter. Nothing could stop him now. He got up at 4:30 or five in the morning and practiced on the big course until the greenskeepers shooed him off. These early-morning sessions didn't satisfy the boy's hunger for golf, and occasionally on Saturdays Francis and a school-friend would spend the whole day on the nine-hole public course at Franklin Park. One Saturday the boys played 54 holes and would have gone on indefinitely had the light permitted.
In the summer of 1908 when Francis was 15 and about to enter Brookline High, he turned up for the Greater Boston Interscholastic Championship. The officials told him he was not eligible to play since he was not attending high school, but the boy argued that he didn't see why he couldn't represent the school he was going to enter in the fall, and won his point. He qualified with an 85, but was eliminated in the first round by J. H. Sullivan. He later married Sullivan's sister.
A $25 START
In 1910 the National Amateur was scheduled to be played at The Country Club and Francis decided to enter. To be eligible for the Amateur, a golfer had to be a member of a recognized golf club. Francis applied for a junior membership at the Woodland Golf Club. He prevailed on his mother to advance him the $25 it cost to join, and paid her back with the money he earned while working that summer for $4 a week in a Boston drygoods store. Francis failed to qualify by one stroke in the Amateur that year, and was dogged by that same one-stroke margin when he tried the Amateur again in 1911 and 1912. Around Boston, though, he soon established himself as one of the up-and-coming young golfers. In 1912 he reached the final of the Massachusetts State Amateur where Heinie Schmidt, the well-dressed man, defeated him. In 1913 when the State Amateur was played at Wollaston, Francis won it. In his semi-final match against John G. Anderson, he went completely berserk on the last six holes, playing them in 2-3-3-3-3-3, six under par. In addition to his astonishing natural ability, Francis had a quality even rarer among young athletes: he used his head. He learned something from every match he lost, and from some matches he won. He did not copy the mannerisms of other players and allowed his admirable competitive temperament to develop unforced. He knew himself.
In 1913, in his fourth try, he succeeded in qualifying for the National Amateur and gave Jerry Travers a good match in the semis before bowing on the 34th green. The Open was scheduled for The Country Club, but Francis did not plan to play. He had to be talked into entering by Robert Watson, the president of the USGA. Once entered, the boy had achieved the impossible, tied the untieables, Vardon and Ray.