By BILL BROTHERTON
When the 2017 U.S. Senior Open concludes on July 2 at Salem Country Club, the champion will pocket more than a half-million dollars and get to hoist the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy in front of adoring fans.
Who was Ouimet?
Those of us who grew up golfing in Massachusetts are well aware of Ouimet’s legacy. Quite simply, he is the most important figure in the history of
“Francis Ouimet’s victory as a 20-year-old amateur in a playoff in the 1913 US Open Championship over British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray was the turning point in American golf,” said Bob Donovan, executive director of the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund for the past 26 years. “It propelled golf into a mainstream American sport.”
The trophy the USGA now uses for its Senior Open championship had been at The Country Club in Brookline, the site of Ouimet’s improbable victory. “TCC contributed the trophy to the USGA, and it is thrilled to have it,” said Donovan, adding that in addition to the Ouimet Museum at the Scholarship Fund’s home in Norton, Mass., there’s also a Ouimet Room at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.
Donovan said as spectacular as Ouimet’s Open victory was, his 1914 U.S. Amateur win at Ekwanok CC in Manchester, Vermont, “was the one he really wanted to win, to prove that the Open win was not a fluke.”
Ouimet would go on to win six Mass. Amateur titles and compile an 11-1 record as a member of 12 Walker Cup teams, which pits top American amateurs against counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland. Ouimet was an original inductee into the PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame along with Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.
The Ouimet Museum occupies a small room at the William F. Connell Golf House and Museum adjacent to the TPC Boston course in Norton. The state’s top amateur golf associations share space in this modern, welcoming building. Connell, the late Lynn businessman, philanthropist and “golf nut,” as characterized by Donovan, partnered with Bank of Boston and the TPC Boston partnership in funding the headquarters.
The museum showcases a red jacket from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrew’s presented to Ouimet when he became the first American-born captain of the R&A. Today, it’s wisely protected in a frame on the wall; Donovan said “we had it on a coat rack, and people could touch it, people with greasy fingers.” There’s also a painting of Ouimet wearing the jacket, painted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower who enjoyed golf, painting and Ouimet’s company.
Donovan said this year the Ouimet fund will award $1.8 million to some 340 scholars who caddied or worked at area golf courses. Since its inception in 1949, when 13 scholars received a total of $6,400, it has helped 5,600 young men and women pay for their college education. Applications are up 40 perfect in the past three years, he said.
For more information on Francis Ouimet or the scholarship fund, go to ouimet.org.