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Despite US Open victory, Francis Ouimet remained kind, humble

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This story was originally published on June 9, 2013.

Given the breadth of the separation (127 years since his birth on May 8, 1893, almost 107 years since his epic US Open triumph, and almost 53 years since his death), few living people can say they knew Francis Ouimet.

So how come so many can’t forget it?

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Ouimet was of niblicks and mashies, shovels and spoons, foreign instruments to almost all of us. But she also had dignity and grace, conscience and character, qualities that are still at the core of our being.

What he accomplished in those September days of 1913: A 20-year-old who walked across the street from his home to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he had caddyed just a few years earlier, not just to play in the U.S. Open but to win, that’s why Ouimet’s memory is still celebrated.

But it is what he did for the next 54 years that strikes at the core of the man. He never lived off his celebrity.

No question asking a lady, but then Barbara McLean laughs.

At the time this story was first published, he said he was 92 years old, and although “I can’t move like I used to, from the neck up, I’m fine.”

His father was “just a dad, a very, very modest man,” and for most of their childhood, Barbara and her sister Jane, who live on Cape Cod, never knew the greatness of what Francis Ouimet had accomplished as a young man. .

At a time when golf was dominated by the British and the game was only for the elite, Ouimet and his caddy of 10 years, Eddie Lowery, scripted an incredible story. After his playoff triumph over the greatest players of the day, Britain’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, it has been said that 2 million people started playing golf in the United States, and Ouimet has been hailed as the “Father of Golf”. American”. .” A true icon of American sports.

But for McLean, Francis Ouimet was the man who greeted them at breakfast in the morning and sat at the table in the evening. “I always wondered, ‘How was school today?’ He never talked about himself,” McLean said.

Later, when he attended a local college, McLean said he would drive with his father from their Wellesley home to the public transport stop. He “he took the train to work; I took the car to my college classes. I should have been the one to take the subway.”

A celebrity who melted into society

Boys turn professionals before they can shave. Parents are mortgaging houses again to turn their children into athletes. It is our world, so how are we expected to understand and appreciate the time in which Ouimet lived?

No media blitz, no agent, no endorsement deals. A national hero, yes, but then he blended into society, smoothly and proudly. Ouimet served a few years in the army, married Stella Sullivan in 1918, and opened a sporting goods store with her brother-in-law, Jack Sullivan.

Never a rich man, Ouimet was extravagantly rich in friends. Many reached out to him, including Charles Francis Adams, a self-made man who was awarded the NHL franchise from the Boston Bruins in 1924. Adams brought Ouimet into the organization in 1931 and named him president of the Boston Tigers, a minor league team that played in the Canadian-American hockey league. Ouimet’s first action: Reduce ticket prices.

In the late 1930s, Ouimet was part of a syndicate that bought shares in Adams’s ownership of the National League’s Boston Braves. They sold their share in 1944.

Meanwhile, Ouimet had gravitated toward the world of investments. He worked for Harrison & Bromfield, then White, Weld & Co., until 1954, when at age 61 he joined Brown Brothers Harriman.

John Sears sat at a desk next to Ouimet and is one of the few people alive who can say he met the man and played golf with him.

“He was the most wonderful person on the golf course,” said Sears, some 40 years younger than Ouimet and later a prominent Boston politician. “He was a great soul, but he never wanted to be treated like one.”

A favorite Sears story notes how Ouimet was never ashamed of where he came from. At dinner one night with Sears and Herbert Jaques, a renowned New England industrialist and former USGA president, Ouimet caught the eye of a young waitress.

“She really hovered over him, and Mr. Jaques asked Francis if he should tell the woman to stop bothering him. Francis smiled and said, ‘Are you bothering me? I am very excited to see my sister. ”

‘The most significant US Open’

Born on May 8, 1893, the son of Arthur Ouimet, a French-Canadian immigrant, and Mary Ellen (Burke), of Irish descent, Francis Ouimet had two brothers and a sister. In a world without comforts, the Ouimets had even fewer.

Arthur Ouimet didn’t care that Francis had won the State Amateur or reached the second round of the US Amateur weeks earlier. When the 1913 US Open came around and Francis was pushed into it, his father sternly said no.

Francis Ouimet during a round of golf in 1910. Photo by FPG/Getty Images

However, the young Francis not only played, but produced “the greatest US Open”, in the eyes of David Fay, former USGA CEO.

Ouimet trailed Vardon by four shots in 36 holes, but a 74 in the third round brought him to a three-way tie. Ouimet, Vardon and Ray shot 79s in the fourth round to set up the tiebreaker.

The scores are etched into eternity: Ouimet, 72. Vardon, 77. Ray, 78.

Ouimet had engaged the services of Jack Lowery as his caddy, but the 12-year-old was dragged away by a truancy officer. Lowery’s 10-year-old brother Eddie, who managed to escape from the officer, was hired and received warm endorsement that last day, when a club member insisted that Francis Ouimet hire a real caddy.

Ouimet smiled. “I’ll stay with Eddie,” she said.

‘He was true to himself’

Sweet symmetry entered the Ouimet story several years ago, when Caitlin Wallerce went for a job interview at Brown Brothers Harriman’s Boston office. Venerable does not begin to describe this institution. Dating back to 1818, the oldest private bank in the United States. Neither during the interview nor in the years after she was hired did Wallerce mention why walking past or walking into BBH’s most private boardroom, the “Francis Ouimet Room,” filled her with enormous pride.

The great man was his great-grandfather.

“My mother (Sheila Macomber) and my grandmother (Barbara McLean) told me stories, so I know what kind of person she was,” Wallerce said. “He was true to himself.”

BBH is where Ouimet protected the financial investments of Ken Venturi, Lowery (who became a multi-million dollar car dealer in San Francisco), and so many other friends who had entrusted him.

He never failed them, but neither did he show his achievements. Sears marveled at that about Ouimet. He knew golf’s legendary career: the 1913 epic, of course, as well as the 1914 and 1931 American amateur titles; the nine participations in the semifinals in the national amateur; the victory of the French amateurs of 1914; the six Massachusetts amateur crowns; 12 Walker Cups as player or captain; and third place in 1925, when he played his sixth and last US Open.

Francis Ouimet, George Duncan, Bobby Jones and George Von Elm at the British Amateur Golf Championship. Photo by FPG/Getty Images

Human dignity made Ouimet special, Sears said, and that’s why luminaries like Bobby Jones stayed close.

Jones had lost to Ouimet in 1920, their inaugural meeting in the US Amateur, but the next three matches went decidedly in Jones’ favor (1924, ’26, ’27; twice 11-and-10, once 6- and- 5). However, just as a rising pro from New York named Gene Sarazen turned to Ouimet for mentorship, so did Jones.

“I can remember those times when I would answer the phone and tell my father that Mr. Jones was calling, his eyes would light up,” McLean said.

His friendships also extended to the White House, because in the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower asked Ouimet to go to Palm Springs, California, to play golf. The late Stokley Towles, a former partner at BBH, recalled that story in “The Communicator Yearbook.” Ouimet’s request appears to have been rejected by the firm’s partner, Louis Curtis, who said, “I don’t recall the firm having any business with the President of the United States.”

When the White House relented and sent Air Force One to Boston, Ouimet left. “But I’m sure he was forced to take a day off,” Sears said with a laugh.

Later, when Ouimet became the first American-born R&A captain, it was Eisenhower who produced the painting of Ouimet in the red jacket.

Jones, Sarazen and Walter Hagen were three of the first four men inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Ouimet, who died in 1967, rounded out the brilliant quartet, a testament not only to how he had played, but how he had lived his life.

“He was the great boy,” wrote Herbert Warren Wind, “who became a great man.”

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