Francis Ouimet - The Brookline Champion And Father Of Amateur Golf

The original underdog story that changed the game forever

Francis Ouimet with golf club
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This week, the US Open returns to Brookline for the first time since Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo in a playoff in 1988 but prior to that, it was the scene of one of golf's most significant stories and the birthplace of someone who is now affectionately known as "the Father of Amateur Golf." 

Francis Ouimet was that figure. Born in May 1893 to a French-Canadian immigrant father and an Irish mother, Ouimet grew up on Lee Street - directly across from the 17th hole at Brookline Country Club.

He became interested in golf at a very young age but back then, golf was reserved for the very wealthy. In the case of the Ouimet family, they sat at the very bottom of the economic ladder.

Ouimet changed that when, at age 11, he began caddying across the street at Brookline Country Club where in between rounds he would teach himself to play. It was not long before he earned the reputation of the most promising young golfer in the State. 

After claiming the Massachusetts Amateur and losing in the quarter finals of the US Amateur, Ouimet was approached by Robert Watson, the then-President of the United States Golf Association. He came with a compelling proposition, to compete against the game's elite in the 1913 US Open Championship. 

To many, that would have been an offer too good to refuse. To Ouimet, it came with complications - his relationship with his father. Arthur Ouimet did not believe that golf was a rightful choice of passage for his son and would so often beg him to "do something useful" with his life. So much so, when Francis requested permission to play in the US Open, his father abruptly refused and threatened to kick him out the family home.

Jeopardising the relationship, Ouimet accepted the invite. He would not only play but in the words of David Fay, a former Executive Director of the USGA, he produced "the most significant US Open" ever. 

Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Ted Ray pose for a photo at the 1913 US Open

Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Ted Ray pose for a photo at the 1913 US Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After 72-holes of regulation play, Ouimet was tied for the lead with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray - two of the most dominant forces in the game at the time. Vardon had won the US Open in 1900 and the Open Championship five times to that point whereas Ray had won the Open Championship the year prior. Ouimet on the other hand, was an amateur rookie that was unknown outside of the gates of Brookline. 

The trio returned for an 18-hole-playoff with many expecting the duo of Vardon and Ray to trade blows for America's National Open but Ouimet had other ideas. Defying all odds, he produced a one-under-par round in torrential conditions, beating Vardon by five shots and Ray by six. 

The 20-year-old had become the first amateur to win the US Open; yards from his childhood home.

Francis Ouimet and caddie, Eddie Lowery

Francis Ouimet and ten-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery, during the 1913 US Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The biggest American crowd ever seen at the time followed the playoff and Ouimet's victory was front-page news across the country. His success is credited for bringing golf into the American mainstream, paving the way for Bobby Jones and the greats that followed. Prior to Ouimet's victory, elite golf in America was an afterthought with the game being dominated by British players but Ouimet changed the mould and catapulted golf's popularity. 

Just ten years after his historic US Open triumph, the number of American players had tripled with numerous public golf courses built to cater for the influx. To this day, he is renowned by many as the "Father of Amateur Golf" and the one responsible for the initial growth of the game. 

Ouimet neglected the opportunity to turn professional and alongside competitive amateur golf, dedicated his life to business. He began working as a banker and a stock broker before he culminated his business career as a Financial Advisor at Brown Brothers Harriman - where the boardroom is still named after him today. 

Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Francis Ouimet's Achievements

  • The first amateur US Open champion (1913)
  • US Amateur champion (1913 & 1931)
  • Servant in the US Army during World War I
  • Played on the first eight Walker Cup teams and was captain of the next four (1922 - 1949)
  • First non-British elected Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (1951)
  • First winner of the Bobby Jones award (1955 - in recognition of sportsmanship in golf)

James joined Golf Monthly having previously written for other digital outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – from tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with items from the likes of Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Adam Scott and Ernie Els. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7. His favourite films are The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.