The Greatest Game Ever Played – 1913 US Open
The Walt Disney Picture The Greatest Game Ever Played is the story of Francis Ouimet, a young man who is invited to compete in the 1913 US Open Golf Tournament despite his poor socio-economic background. Several years prior, Francis, as a 7-year-old boy, watches an exhibition by British pro golfer Harry Vardon and is intrigued by the game. He becomes a caddy at The Country Club, the golf course across the street from his home in Brookline, MA, and learns to golf on his own.
One day, a Club member named Mr. Hastings asks Francis to play a round with him and Francis shoots a 71 on the toughest golf course in New England. Consequently, both Mr. Hastings and the club’s Caddie Master wants him compete in the National Amateur Competition; the Country Club, however, refuses to let Francis compete unless he can pay the $50 entry fee. Francis gets the money from his dad, who is displeased with Francis playing golf instead of working an honest trade, and promises to quit the game and get a real job if he loses.
The next day, Francis misses a three-foot putt and falls one stroke short of qualifying for the championships. He fulfills the promise to his father and finds a job at a sporting goods store. A few years later in 1913, when Francis is 20 years old, the president of the United States Golf Association personally invites Francis to play in the US Open. It was going to be held across the street from his home at The Country Club and would feature Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two British professional golfers that were considered the best in the game at that time. After some debate, Francis decides to compete and hires 10-year-old Eddie Lowery to be his caddy.
At one point in the second round, Francis is tied with Harry Vardon for second place when he sees that President Taft has come to watch him play; this makes him nervous and he drops down the leaderboard. In Round 3, Francis moves his way back up the standings despite the rainy conditions and into third place behind Vardon. Moreover, Francis’s success has given all the “commoners” someone to root for, and they start to crowd the tournament to cheer on Francis. On the final day, Vardon and Ray finish tied for the lead and they have a celebratory drink back in the clubhouse in honor of Mother England. Suddenly, the crowd cheers and both men walk outside to watch Francis sink the putt on the 18th to tie the two Brits.
On the next day, there is an 18-hole playoff to determine the winner of the 1913 US Open. Vardon and Francis remain relatively close throughout the playoffs as Ray loses a stroke here and there. On the 14th hole, Ray drives the ball into the woods. In an attempt to stay in the competition, he goes for a risky shot through the trees but his ball hits the tree trunk and bounces back into the woods; this essentially eliminates Ray from the playoffs. Meanwhile, Francis and Harry Vardon remain relatively close. Heading to the 18th hole, Francis has a one-stroke lead on Vardon. On the green, Francis’ ball is slightly further away so he putts first, but hits the ball a few feet past the hole. Vardon takes his turn, but his putt one roll short of going in so he taps in for a 73. Francis has one putt to win the tournament, which he makes and becomes the first amateur golfer to win the U.S. Open.
Back in the clubhouse, Vardon congratulates Francis for the victory and that they will play again, sometime soon. The movie ends with Eddie and Francis walking down the golf courses fairway with the trophy.
Real Life, Reel Differences
- In the movie, Sarah Wallis is Francis’ love interest. However, in reality Francis Ouimet never met or knew a girl by that name.
- In the movie, we see Harry trying to stop his hand from shaking but we’re never told what’s wrong. In reality, he had tuberculosis, which he overcame.
- The movie does not mention Francis Ouimet’s mentor and friend, Charles “Chay” Burgess whom taught him everything he knew about golf.
- The 1913 US Open was actually moved that year to accommodate Vardon’s travel schedule because they wanted both him and Ray, considered the two best golfers at that time, to participate. Vardon was sick (and gave up his ticket on the Titanic earlier in the spring), so the US Golf Association changed the date from June timeframe to September 18-19. The four round, 72-hole tournament was condensed into two days, with the golfers playing 36 holes on Thursday and 36 more on Friday.
- In the movie, Francis Ouimet is leading by one stroke entering the 18th playoff hole and wins by one stroke, scoring 72 to Vardon’s 73. In reality, Ouimet finished with a birdie-par on the 17th and 18th while Vardon shot bogey-double bogey. Ouimet beat Vardon by five strokes and Ted Ray by six strokes.
Where Are They Now?
Francis Ouimet’s victory at the 1913 US Open is cited by many golf historians as one of the most important events in the history of golf in America. His victory, despite having status as a little-known amateur with a “commoner” background, proved to many that golf didn’t have to be a game for the wealthy and privileged. Francis went on to win 26 tournaments, including two American Amateur Championships, all while keeping his Amateur status.
On Septemeber 11, 1918 he married Stella M. Sullivan and they had two daughters. Francis eventually became a successful businessman, but remained active in golf. He became an ambassador for the game and belongs to every golf Hall of Fame. Francis Ouimet died in Newtown, MA on September 2nd, 1967 at age 74. He and Eddie remained lifelong friends after that tournament.
The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund was founded in 1949 to offer need-based college scholarships for deserving young men and women who have worked at golf courses in Massachusetts. From inception through the end of 2013, the Fund has awarded $26.5 million in financial aid to over 5,100 college students. There is a Facebook page for the Foundation that is regularly updated.
In 1963, on the Golden anniversary after that historic event, Francis and Eddie relived moments from the 1913 US Open as they walked the course at The Country Club in Brookline, MA in this interview:
Around September 2013, 100 years after Ouimet’s win, several publications like this one revisited the historical event, and the New York Times even reprinted the original article from 100 years ago about that golf tournament.
Eddie Lowery became an accomplished player himself, winning the 1927 Massachusetts Amateur, two years after Ouimet’s last victory in that event. He then moved to San Francisco, CA and became a multi-millionare auto-dealer. Eddie Lowery died on May 4, 1984 in Riverside County, CA. The Ouimet Fund narrated this biography about Eddie:
Harry Vardon won the British Open Championship for the sixth time the year after the 1913 U.S. Open; it is a record that still stands. Vardon overcame tuberculosis and won 62 golf tournaments in his career, the most won by any single player. He died on March 20th, 1937 at age 66 in Totteridge, Hertfordshire, England.