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“The Greatest Golf Game”

November 2, 2005

Before Michelle Wie or Tiger Woods were born, before Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer mustered their armies of fans, even before Bobby Jones became the Gentleman Golfer, a twenty-year-old caddie became an American golf hero. 

Francis Ouimet grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.  His home was across the street from a country club, one of the few private golf clubs in America before the turn of the twentieth century.  Golf came to America from Great Britain. The game fascinated Francis Ouimet.  As a child, he visited the golf course to study the ways of duffers.  As a teenager, he worked as a caddie at the club learning the finer points of the game.  He played golf as often as possible. 

In 1913, Francis heard the amazing news; the United States Open Golf Tournament was coming to the club across the street from his house!  Though he was barely old enough to qualify, Francis Ouimet entered the tournament.  He knew the course like the back of his hand.  A ten-year-old boy not quite as tall as the golf bag, Eddie Lowery, volunteered to caddie.  They were quite a spectacle, a lanky twenty-year-old and his pint-sized caddie

Throughout the four-day tournament, Francis matched the professionals shot for shot.  Boston was buzzing.  People, including many who knew nothing about golf, crowded on streetcars to get from Boston to Brookline.  By the time Francis got to the back nine in the fourth round of the Open, as many as twenty thousand people had gathered. 

On the seventeenth hole, Francis sank a forty-foot putt, drawing even with the leaders.  Three golfers were tied after seventy-two holes and entered a playoff. Twenty-year-old Francis Ouimet, accompanied by his ten-year-old caddie, Eddie, won the 1913 U.S. Open.

When I entered seminary, I discovered that many of my classmates were golfers.  Though I had never played before, several friends encouraged me to try the game.  I did so, and even purchased an inexpensive set of clubs.  Golf, for me, was a constant frustration.  I could never get the three component parts of the game going well at the same time.  Often the driver failed me.  When the driver did behave, either the irons or the putter let me down. Like other golfers, I blamed my problems on the clubs.

 I played my last golf game in the spring of 1967.  Three friends needed a fourth person to accompany them to an exclusive course in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. As we drove three hours across the Blue Grass State, I learned that two of the three men had played on their college golf teams.  The other had played golf in high school. By the time we arrived on the first tee, I was thoroughly intimidated.  

The picturesque course was nestled in a mountain valley.  A mountain stream crisscrossed many of the narrow, tree-lined fairways.  By the time we reached the back nine, I had lost half a dozen golf balls.  The eleventh hole was a long par five.  The mountain stream crossed the narrow fairway twice.  I hit the longest, straightest drive of my brief golf career.  The ball easily cleared the first creek crossing, landing in the middle of the second.

I climbed down the creek bank, nine iron in hand. Standing on the rocks in the stream, looking into the clear water for my errant golf ball, I saw a brook trout in an eddy fanning the current.  I looked at the golf club in my hand and said to myself.  “Where is my rod and reel?”   It was my last and greatest golf game, not because I played well, but because I made an important decision. Golf was not my game. 

Francis Ouimet never became a professional golfer.  He simply loved the game.  His story is told in a soon-to-be-released movie, The Greatest Game. I am glad for Francis and the many people who enjoy golf. I am also grateful for the decision I made nearly forty years ago.  For me, fishing is the restorative that golf was never was.  Besides, at least four of the first disciples were fisherman.  There is no record of any golfers being within their ranks.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, November 2005

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