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Not every pilgrim is stopped at the door. Some years ago a bespectacled writer talked his way in, and some time later we had the book version of The Greatest Game. Its author, Mark Frost, went on to produce and write the movie; but as often happens in Hollywood, the Ouimet house, built in 1887 on what was then a dirt road, didn't get to play itself. That role went to a dwelling in Montreal. "I had a brief hope that they would do the movie in our house, and we'd get it redone without having to pay for it," Dedie jokes. "But that didn't work."
That disappointment aside, the Wielers think the Montreal interiors performed creditably, failing only to replicate the odd footprint of their five-walled living room. "Tinkering around the edges is O.K.," says Jerome, waving off the movie's other minor inaccuracies, which include an invented girlfriend for Francis and a 17th hole that doglegs right instead of left. "Now, if they had cast Leonardo DiCaprio as [10-year-old caddie] Eddie Lowery, that would have been a real problem."
Touring the real Ouimet house takes imagination, but the Wielers have that in spades. Caressing a mahogany newel post, Jerome says, "It's fun to imagine that Francis Ouimet put his hand on this as he was bolting down the stairs and out the door." In the same spirit Dedie points to her newly remodeled kitchen, saying, "If you want to see Francis Ouimet's chimney, it's right here in this wall." (Translation: You can't.) Then, walking up the narrow-treaded, twisty staircase, Jerome says, "It's sort of like being on the USS Constitution. You realize how short the sailors were in those days."
Two of the three upstairs bedrooms face the street, but the room on your right—probably used by Francis's younger sister, Louise—is no bigger than a walk-in closet. (The Wielers use it for storage.) The other bedroom is big enough for a couple of twin beds, two double-hung sash windows and a legend.
"So, I'd like to show you the famous view from Francis's bedroom," Dedie says, conjuring up the classic depiction of the child caddie staring longingly out the window at The Country Club's 17th green. "Unfortunately, the trees have had a hundred years to grow, the road has become a four-lane street, and there are power lines and a parking lot across the way." She bends slightly to peer out. "We don't really see the green at all. We just see a nice tree line and a great sunset every day."
It's hard to measure the impact of a golf-course view on a child. Their own son, the Wielers admit with a trace of shame, slept in the bigger, east-facing bedroom in back, and thus missed out on tournament stardom. But neighbors told them early in their residency that Wilfred Ouimet was actually a better golfer than his little brother until he started hitting the bottle. "We have no idea if there's any truth to that," says Jerome, "but now, whenever I think of Francis, his brother is there as a spectral presence."
No tour of the Ouimet property is complete without a visit to the tiny backyard, which slopes away and narrows to a point defined by two chain-link fences. Today it's a warren of trees, vines and newer houses, but at the dawn of the 20th century it was a swampy pasture fed by a brook. The Ouimet boys built a three-hole golf course there, placing the tin-can cup for the opening hole on the other side of the brook. The hundred-yard carry was too much for little Francis, who hit countless balls into the stream. "The day he finally landed a ball on the far side of that brook," writes Frost, "was the proudest of his eight years on earth."
The brook is gone, but the trough where it once babbled remains, roughly 75 yards from the kitchen windows. "I can't throw a football from here to there," says Fred Waterman, The Country Club's historian, who has joined the tour. "That would have been a big carry for an eight-year-old hitting a beat-up Haskell ball. He would have had to pound that brown ball back into shape after each use." Moving from the particular to the general, Waterman adds, "You know, if Francis hadn't lived across the street, he'd never have won that Open. It makes you wonder how many other youngsters there were who didn't live across the street from a tennis court or a country club or a pool."
It's this feeling that their house has something to say about American values that keeps the Wielers from making more substantial improvements. "There's a sense of custodianship or stewardship," says Jerome. "Francis was such an interesting human being; not simply a golf phenom but a genuinely decent person. And the fact that he remained an amateur and never exploited it economically, I find that fascinating."
So while the Wielers have replaced every pipe, widened the archway to the kitchen, removed an unsightly window between the dining and living rooms, replaced the tree-trunk basement supports with lally columns, and installed modern fixtures and countertops, they have stuck with the basic layout. "We toyed with the idea of taking a closet and bathroom out to restore the kitchen to its original dimensions," Jerome says, "but if we ever want to resell, having only one bathroom these days doesn't fly." Asked if they'd ever alter the clapboard exterior, he shakes his head. "Knowing that Francis Ouimet lived here gives it the aspect of a shrine."