FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
U.S. Open 2022: Dripping in history, the Ouimet House is an homage to the game’s amateur roots
This article originally appeared on the Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
BROOKLINE, Mass. — On the other side of the street, a few hundred yards from the giant Rolex watch presiding over The Country Club’s 18th tee, stands the house that Francis Ouimet made semi-famous: 246 Clyde Street. If you’ve seen The Greatest Game Ever Played, you might feel as if you’ve been in the modest wood-frame home, although the house in the movie was a stand-in. On Friday afternoon, the gent who recently bought the house and is overseeing its restoration, gave a tour to the fellow who translated the movie’s namesake book from English into Chinese. This reporter was next in line.
“Oh, we’ve had a constant stream of visitors,” said the owner, a Country Club member a tick over 80 named Tom Hynes. He bought the house as an act of philanthropy, and the plan is for it to become an offshoot of The Country Club, for overnight guests or staff housing and for golf history buffs to visit and hold seances with the unlikely winner of the 1913 U.S. Open, a 20-year-old American amateur, Mr. Francis Ouimet. In that era, an amateur named Smith went by Mr. Smith and a pro named Smith was Smith.
Tommy (to his Class of ’57 Boston College High classmates) is a greater Boston real-estate legend, not that you’d know it if you saw him on his hands and knees at sunrise the other day, tending to the homestead’s modest garden beside its modest porch.
“Too bad you weren’t here a little earlier—Ben Crenshaw was here.” Crenshaw, the winning captain of the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, is devoted to the life and times of Ouimet, the man and all he represents, which is golf for golf’s sake. Crenshaw can go deep on Eddie Lowery too, Ouimet’s schoolboy caddie, who looks to be saying “I got this” in every photo you see from that 1913 Open at The Country Club. His little white bucket hat and square-bottomed tie complete the look, not that he was hunting for Instagram likes.
“Pick up that phone and give a listen!” Hynes instructed me after showing me the appliances in the cozy kitchen.
The house phone was one of those old-time box wall phones, where you talk into a black cone and you listen through a hunk of cylindrical lead that weighs about a pound. You pick up the receiver like you’re at a museum and hear Lowery and Ouimet, the actual men, remembering their historic win 50 years after the fact. They sound almost like actors — they’ve been telling the story for a half-century — and go straight to type.
Talking about Ouimet’s final tee shot in the playoff, Lowery says, “Straight down the middle and way out there.”
He later became a member of Augusta National.
“Well, I don’t know what you call way out there,” Ouimet says. “But it went out as far as I could get it.”
Ouimet became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Hynes lives on Clyde Street, not a mile down the road. The houses in that section are mansions, or at least lean that way. In the other direction, you head toward what locals used to call Button Hill, for all the policemen and firemen who once lived there, with their dress-occasion pea coats, adorned with brass buttons. A Brookline cop manning traffic on Clyde Street, right in front of the Ouimet House, explained that to me.
I asked Hynes how Ouimet’s personality had come down to him. “Modest, confident, capable,” Hynes said. He’s a talker, but to my mind he captured Ouimet in three words there.
Clyde Street is four lanes now, closed to traffic during this 122nd U.S. Open, save the hissing buses. Hynes said it was a dirt road in Ouimet’s day. He must have crossed it repeatedly during the 1913 U.S. Open. He surely left the house with his mother’s breakfast in his stomach and a tie around his neck as he headed to the 1st tee. Lowery was half Ouimet’s age (exactly) and half his height (pretty much). Ouimet won that Open in an 18-hole playoff over the era’s two greatest British touring pros, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, thereby becoming the second American to win.
Yes, the second.
Did you know the first American-born winner of our national open was Johnny McDermott of Philadelphia, who won in 1911 and again in 1912? He really was. But McDermott was a professional golfer and a brash personality, and he was never a darling of the USGA, even before his life became defined by his mental-health struggles. The USGA has spent the last half-century trying to undo its reputation for social snobbery, and some of that rep, in the odd way of these things, goes back to 1913. Ouimet was a working-class kid the high WASPs of the USGA could get behind, and all the big-pen sportswriters of the era could too. To say that Ouimet never cashed in on his fame would be a gross understatement.
By the way, the term WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) was coined by a Penn sociologist named E. Digby Baltzell. Baltzell wrote a book called Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia. His academic work was a study of meritocracies. He wasn’t a golfer, but golf is a good place to study rewards based on merit.
I left the time capsule that is the Ouimet House, crossed Clyde Street and entered the course through one of its portals. Part of the immense charm of The Country Club is that it’s in a time warp too, even with the players swinging all that plutonium, among other materials. While walking toward the clubhouse, who was coming my way but . . .
Ben and Julie Crenshaw.
We talked about …
Our tours of the Ouimet House.
“You can feel his presence in there,” Ben said. The ’99 Ryder Cup, with its unlikely outcome, was settled on the 17th green, the one closest to the Ouimet House. Crenshaw thanked the green by kissing it. Earlier this month, when Crenshaw was the Memorial honoree at Jack Nicklaus’s tournament, he spoke of his love of golf as if in a reverie. Crenshaw is a pro, of course, but in spirit he’s the second coming of Francis Ouimet.
At one point, apropos of nothing and everything, he looked at the 15th hole and the sweep of land leading to the yellow clubhouse and said, “Look at this course.” He first came to The Country Club in 1968, to play in the USGA Junior boys’ championship. It was won by a legend named Eddie Pearce. Ben can go deep on Eddie Pearce, Eddie Lowery and Eddie Merrins too (a club pro of the old school). We talked about Gitty Wind Scheft, Herbert Warren Wind’s sister, who for years was a lioness of the Ouimet Caddie Scholarship. Herb Wind wrote some keepers about Crenshaw.
Hynes received a major gift for the Ouimet House renovation from a man who told him, “I would have never gone to college were it not for my Ouimet scholarship.” The hits just keep coming. Mrs. Scheft had a son, Bill, who became David Letterman’s head writer. After Stewart Cink won the 2009 British Open over Tom Watson in a playoff, he went on Letterman and read the Top 10 list. No. 1: “Even I was rooting for Tom Watson.” Julie and Ben remembered seeing Watson the following week, at the British Senior Open, and were struck by his good cheer. Geesh, I gotta get this train back to 2022.
OK, the 2022 U.S. Open, at The Country Club. Four amateurs — four descendants of Francis Ouimet — made the 36-hole cut. The one most directly related to Ouimet is Stewart Hagestad, an unusually tall and notably lean 31-year-old who works at the intersection of real estate and finance. In other words, he’s an actual amateur golfer. He made the cut on the number, which is an astounding feat for any golfer if you think about and more astounding for an amateur. That’s even harder to do when you’re playing late on Friday afternoon, into Friday evening, and you know exactly what you have to do. He made a bunch of pars. Hallelujah.
I caught up with Hagestad after he signed his Friday card with joy and relief. As he told me, you’re not just playing for yourself, and to carry the banner of amateurism, but he had friends and family who wanted to see him play on the weekend too.
“I went to the Ouimet house in 2013, when they had the Amateur here,” Hagestad said, “and I went there again this week. I’m not the biggest golf historian, but I think the way he led his life, in golf and in business — what a life.”
Stewart Hagestad (right) and caddie A.J. Ferraro
He credited his caddie and close friend, A.J. Ferraro, with keeping him focused on the task at hand all through the two days. He introduced me to Ferraro, who played hockey and golf at Wesleyan University a decade or so ago.
“Can you see the resemblance?” Hagestad said.
Ferraro is about a foot shorter than Hagestad. He was wearing a white bucket hat right out of the Eddie Lowery collection.
On it goes.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Bamberger@firepitcollective.com