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America's triumph: Remembering a legend
The year was 1913. He was a young man of modest means, but he shook up the exclusive world of golf.

By ROB DUCA
STAFF WRITER
OSTERVILLE -- Osterville's Jane Salvi and her sister, Barbara McLean of Dennis, were each offered tickets to attend this week's Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline.
Thanks, they said, but no thanks.

Barbara McLean of Dennis, left, and her sister, Jane Salvi of Osterville, hold a portrait of their famous golfing father, Francis Ouimet, in Salvi's home. He wears the jacket presented when he was named a captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Scotland.
(Staff photo by Vincent DeWitt)


"We'll be sitting right here, with a front-row seat," said McLean from the comfort of her sister's living room. "It's going to be wild up there. Thirty-five thousand people. Can you imagine what that will be like? I think we'd be crazy to try and deal with that."
Yet, the two sisters will still feel a special connection to the competition, because without their father's influence, there might never have been a Ryder Cup, and The Country Club might be known only as an elitist haven, instead of a layout also famous for hosting history.
Before their father, the legendary Francis Ouimet, won the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club at the tender age of 20, golf was dominated by the British, especially a couple of swaggering pros named Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Then came the unknown Ouimet, barely out of his teens and without a dime in his pocket, to whip the world's best in classic David vs. Goliath fashion.
He was the first to beat the Europeans, and little was ever the same.
If Ouimet's story weren't true, no one would believe it. He grew up across the street from The Country Club, and, being a boy from a modest background, he might as well have been raised in Nebraska for all the chance he had of gaining membership to the exclusive club. Every day, Ouimet would pass the off-limits course on the way to school, and the more he watched golf being played, the greater his interest became in the rich man's sport.
Before long, Ouimet was sneaking onto the course and playing a few holes late in the day after the members had gone home.
"He was a five o'clock member," McLean jokes.
Even a few years before his Open win, Ouimet was still a caddie at the club, earning 10 cents an hour plus tips for toting the bags of men who didn't possess half his skills.
But after his monumental victory, everything changed -- for Ouimet and, in many ways, for The Country Club. His triumph was featured on the front page of The New York Times, and the club became known as the origin of golf's popularity in the United States.
Arnold Palmer brought golf roaring into the television age and still stands as the driving force behind today's big-money pro tour. But Ouimet was the first to introduce it to the masses, proving that one could succeed, even beat the world's best, without the ranks of privilege.
"He didn't come from a wealthy background," McLean says. "Did he have to sneak onto the course? God, yes! Don't forget, it's called The Country Club. They eventually made him an honorary member, but it wasn't until after he won the Open."
Ouimet died in 1967, and among those who attended his funeral in Wellesley were golfing legend Gene Sarazen and Clifford Roberts, the late chairman of Augusta National and the Masters.
Today, a bronze sculpture of the young and gangly Ouimet walking alongside his diminutive caddie, Eddie Lowery (only 13 at the time of the Open), stands on The Country Club's pristine grounds. Salvi and McLean attended the unveiling ceremony last month, and were pleasantly surprised, though not amazed, that their father is still remembered for his triumph of so long ago.
"After all, that's where it all started (for The Country Club)," Salvi says. "To us, he was always Dad, because he never talked about his accomplishments at home. But we came to realize later how much influence he had and how well thought of he was by so many people."
Visiting Salvi's home is like strolling through a golf museum. From the mailbox at the end of the driveway, painted with a golfer in full swing, to the distinguished portrait hanging over the fireplace of Ouimet in the brilliant red jacket he wore as captain of the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, their father's legacy is revealed in photos, trophies, sterling silver bowls and assorted other memorabilia.
One of the most striking symbols of his career is a silver cup he was awarded for winning the 1916 French Open. It is the only one of its kind in the world. In the den hangs a wooden-shafted putter, a replica of the club he wielded to win the Open. There are photos of Ouimet with Jack Nicklaus at the 1963 Open, also held at The Country Club, and in later years with President Eisenhower -- the two famous men smiling and relaxing during a break between holes. On an adjoining wall is a framed invitation from President Reagan to Salvi and McLean to attend a 1984 White House reception honoring champions of American sport.
Ouimet received numerous honors throughout his life, yet he never became wealthy from golf. He earned his living as a stockbroker, and he viewed golf as a hobby and passion. Asked what he might have thought were he alive to see the recent controversy surrounding Ryder Cup profits, along with the seven-figure incomes earned by top pros, his daughters threw back their heads and laughed.
"He'd think the same thing we do, that it's ridiculous," McLean said. "He never made any money from golf. It was just something he did on weekends. He never could have imagined making this sort of money."
All the corporate tents, the hobnobbing with celebrities and the over-heated hype that will characterize this week's Ryder Cup would have left Ouimet cold.
A shy, gentle, quiet man, he shunned pomp and publicity. During the '63 Open, he watched the entire tournament under a tree along the 3rd hole, never venturing near the clubhouse, where reporters anxiously waited.
"He would sneak in the back entrance to the club and then out again," Salvi recalls. "It wasn't that he was being snobby. Far from it. He never turned down a speaking engagement, and if you were his friend, you could call him up at any time, ask for a favor, and if it was in his power, he'd do it.
"But he never understood why he was being singled out."
After once playing golf with the Duke of Windsor, who was then still King of England, Ouimet told his daughters that as far as he was concerned, he would have been just as happy playing golf with his barber.
For someone forever linked with The Country Club, Ouimet exuded a blue-collar attitude, displaying a generosity toward the less fortunate that was legendary. There was the time, for example, when the caretaker at the Woodland Golf Club in Newton (Ouimet's home club) was in danger of losing his job and his home. Ouimet made a few phone calls, and both were saved.
A newspaper boy once mentioned in passing that he'd love to be a caddie at The Country Club. The next day, he was.
Every Christmas Ouimet would send dinners to needy families, and make arrangements with local clothing stores for others to select new wardrobes.
"He thought it was nicer for the people to select their own clothes, rather than someone doing it for them," Salvi says, "so he'd send Mother to the store and she'd work it out with the owner."
Ouimet's greatest thrill was his selection as captain of the Royal & Ancient. He remains the only American ever accorded that title. It led to the formation of the Francis Ouimet Caddie Fund. Ouimet came up with the idea when friends wanted to present him with expensive gifts to celebrate the honor, to which he replied, "Let's establish a scholarship fund to help boys and girls attend college." To date, nearly $10 million has been raised in 50 years.
Eighty-six years after his Open upset and 32 years after his death, his influence will still be felt among the hype, hoopla and history of this week's Ryder Cup.
"We'll be watching it," says McLean, "and the memories of our dad will come flooding back."


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