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May 13

Francis Quimet: Father of Amateur Golf


Francis Quimet Amateur Hall of Famer

Ask a hundred people to identify America’s first golf hero, and most will miss it. Ask who staged one of the greatest golf upsets in history (the greatest at that time), and most won’t remember it. Frances DeSales Quimet of Brookline, Massachusetts, became the first American to be elected captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Now, how does an American do that?

He does that by coming from a working class family as a former caddie, strike three if you wanted to play golf in 1913), agreeing to fill the last spot for the U.S. Open, then winning it. All right, that’s terrific, but how does that get you celebrated in England?

The 1913 U.S. Open was delayed so that Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the numbers one and two players in the world, could get there. Quimet was only supposed to occupy a position, not make the cut. When he did, he was asked to withdraw, considering his lack of social credentials – he politely declined. In the fourth round, he birdied the 71st hole to join the lead, forcing a three-way 18 hole playoff the next day.

Placing one’s self in the minds of the big brass of Massachusetts in those days, one would expect that they’d be proud of their hometown boy, but apparently, it was quite an embarrassment. For the playoff, Quimet was asked to drop Eddie Lowrey, and get a respectable caddie. Again, he politely declined. It is said that Eddie proved to be a wise source of counsel as Quimet went on to beat the two British golfers.

Outside of the very wealthy, it was a source of enormous pride, and the gracious British golfers passed the hat among the gallery for the young Mr. Lowrey. What came back in the hat surpassed the winner’s purse, had Quimet been a professional.

The USGA still didn’t grasp that one of their own had accomplished this feat, and stripped Quimet of his amateur status for opening a sporting goods store, making money off of his fame by selling footballs, etc. That was rescinded after his stint as a lieutenant in the army, and he bore no grudge, serving on numerous committees.

Quimet went on to numerous other amateur victories, became the mentor for the great Gene Sarazen, and was only unable to break through in several close losses to Bobby Jones. He did win the Bob Jones Award, however, after winning the U.S. Amateur twice and playing on eight Walker Cup teams.

In 1949, the Frances Quimet Scholarship Fund was established for former caddies of Massachusetts. At present, it has an endowment of twenty two million, with several prestigious winners.


Why, though, the title of “Father of Amateur Golf?” It is generally believed that, statistically, the game of golf exploded in America, largely as a direct result of the 1913 U.S. Open. In that year, approximately 350,000 were playing in the states, but not many years after, the figure had ballooned to 2,000,000, men and women.

Francis Quimet was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, the first American golf hero, and one of the first cracks in the belief that golf should be a game for the rich. His likeness could be seen on the 25 cent stamp, and a later motion picture was released on the story. Oh, and Eddie Lowrey? The ten-year old took that money from the gallery and parlayed himself into one of the leading businessmen in Massachusetts. Don’t you love it when the good guys win?

 

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.