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The first pilgrim was a gentleman with a camera. With cars and trucks whooshing and whistling behind him, he entered through a gate in the stockade fence and stepped right up onto the tiny porch at 246 Clyde Street, Brookline, Mass. He rapped on the door.
Inside, the Wielers looked up from whatever they were doing.
The Wielers (pronounced Wheelers) can't say precisely what they were doing because this happened in 1989, shortly after Jerome, Dedie and their eight-year-old son had moved into the skinny clapboard house across the street from The Country Club. They just remember that their thoughts flashed to the usual supplicants: Jehovah's Witnesses, cookie-laden Girl Scouts, magazine-subscription pests.
"I opened the door," Jerome remembers, "and there was a gentleman with a camera who asked, 'Do you have any idea whose house you're living in?' And at that point I was able to appear somewhat knowledgeable. I said, 'Well, yes. Francis Ouimet, winner of the 1913 U.S. Open.' " The stranger then asked if he could snap a photo of the front door. "And I said, 'Sure, no problem.' He took his picture, thanked me effusively and moved on. It was kind of neat."
It was also a harbinger. The Wielers had unwittingly bought a house connected to the creation myth of American golf. It is the house that Francis Ouimet lived in from the age of four; the house from which, 16 years later, he crossed the street to make history by defeating the British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a very damp 18-hole playoff. Golf nuts had been knocking on the door of 246 Clyde Street for decades, and there had always been a Francis sibling or a Ouimet heir to answer their questions.
"We weren't golf nuts," says Dedie. "We were told that someone named Francis Ouimet lived here, and he had done something fantastic. But it wasn't until we had settled in that Jerome did some research and discovered the true story."
"And I was blown away," says Jerome. "It's like discovering that you're related to somebody famous. It's like"—his eyes gleam mischievously—"we're descended from golfing royalty."
Actually, nobody in this story belongs to the purple-robe set. Francis Ouimet caddied at The Country Club from age 11, and he often accessed the golf course through a hole in the fence along Lee Street, which borders the club on the east side. The Wielers are solidly middle-class. Jerome, whose white hair and beard evoke Ernest Hemingway in his marlin-fishing prime, recently retired as a data analyst and department head at Boston Children's Hospital. Dedie, whose nickname conjoins her given names of Doris and Edith, is chief quality and corporate compliance officer at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. Neither of them has had more than an occasional look-in at the 1,300-member Country Club, which has facilities for curling, tennis, swimming, paddleball, ice skating and skeet shooting. "Back roads on a motorcycle, that's our passion," says Jerome, who has roared through thousands of miles of New England countryside on his 1986 Harley-Davidson FXRS Sport with Dedie clinging to his waist.
Nevertheless, when the Wielers closed on their house in December '89, they essentially wed themselves to The Country Club, which has been the venue for a near-record 15 USGA championships. (Merion Golf Club, site of next week's U.S. Open, leads with 17, but TCC will keep pace when it hosts the U.S. Amateur in August.) What's more, the golf world—to which the Wielers emphatically do not belong—is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ouimet's shocking victory. That should trigger a fresh wave of camera-wielding pilgrims.
"People come to the door from all over," Jerome said recently, while checking on some minor renovations to the home's interior. "I don't mind chatting because their enthusiasm is contagious." He draws the line, though, when a stranger asks to see the upstairs bedroom that Francis shared with his older brother, Wilfred—the room immortalized in the putting-after-midnight scene from the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. "That's sort of intrusive to us. The first time it happened, I said, 'This isn't a museum, this is our house. We live here.' " Jerome laughed. "Now we kind of take it in stride."