Francis Ouimet Biography: The Amateur Who Energized American Golf

Golfer Francis Ouimet
Golfer Francis Ouimet. Bettmann/Getty Images

Francis Ouimet was a pioneer of the American golf scene, a lifelong amateur whose unlikely victory in the 1913 U.S. Open is widely credited with growing the game of golf in the United States. Ouimet remained deeply involved in amateur golf for the rest of his life, as a successful player and then as an organizer and advocate.

Notable Quote

"Golfers should not fail to realize that it is a game of great traditions, of high ideals of sportsmanship, one in which a strict adherence to the rules is essential."

Sometimes called "the father of amateur golf" in the United States, his last name is pronounced "wee-MET." Ouimet was born on May 8, 1893, in Brookline, Mass., and died on September 2, 1967, at the age of 74.

Ouimet's Wins in Major Championships

Ouimet won three major championships of his day, one professional major (he played as an amateur) and two amateur majors. His victory in the 1913 U.S. Open, discussed more below, was a huge boon to golf in the USA.

Ouimet later added two wins in the U.S. Amateur Championship, the first in 1914 and the second 17 years later, in 1931.

More of Ouimet's significant tournament wins are listed below.

Awards and Honors for Francis Ouimet

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, U.S. Walker Cup team, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1934
  • Captain, U.S. Walker Cup team, 1932, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1947, 1949
  • Recipient, USGA's Bob Jones Award, 1955

Biography of Francis Ouimet

From left, Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet and Ted Ray.
Francis Ouimet stand between Harry Vardon (left) and Ted Ray (right) in 1914, one year after their historic U.S. Open playoff. Bettmann/Getty Images

Francis Ouimet put American golf on the map. In the early 20th Century, golf was dominated by the English and Scots. In 1913, the great Harry Vardon and his British compatriot Ted Ray were in America for the U.S. Open. Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur and former caddie, unknown on the national scene (he had already won the Massachussetts Amateur, however), forced the formidable duo into a playoff.

And when Ouimet won that playoff, he became an instant folk hero in the United States — and well-known to golfers around the world.

A biography of Ouimet on the website of the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund says: "There were very few players in America, no public courses, and the game was confined mostly to the wealthy. Ouimet's victory changed all of that. His victory and unlikely background combined to create an inspirational moment. Within ten years the number of players tripled." (The World Golf Hall of Fame says it more than tripled: There were roughly 350,000 golfers in America in 1913, two million within 10 years.)

Furthering the folklore, Ouimet's win came at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., a course Ouimet had grown up across the street from, in a working class neighborhood, and where he had worked as a caddie. A former caddie — a "regular guy" — winning the U.S. Open? America was ready to embrace golf.

Says the World Golf Hall of Fame:

"Ouimet's stunning triumph captured the imagination of sports fan across the globe, sweeping away the notion that golf was a stuffy game for the old and rich."

Ouimet's accomplishments extended beyond just that one event. Twice Ouimet won the U.S. Amateur. In fact, when he won it the first time, in 1914, Ouimet became the first golfer ever to win both the U.S. Open and Amateur.

As a child Ouimet had worked in a sporting goods store owned by future Baseball Hall of Fame member George Wright. Following his 1914 U.S. Amateur victory, Ouimet, with his brother-in-law, opened his own sporting goods store. The USGA ruled it a violation of his amateur status — he was profiting on his golf reputation, the governing body said — and stripped Ouimet of his amateur status. That ruling was overturned a couple years later. Ouimet won another U.S. Amateur at age 38 in 1931.

Ouimet never turned pro. But he did fare well in a few other U.S. Opens: He placed fifth in 1914 and third in 1925.

Ouimet played in the first Walker Cup in 1922, and on seven more American teams. He was player-captain on two of those, and non-playing captain four more times, the last in 1949.

He remained a major figure in golf after his competitive days ended, becoming the first American captain of the R&A in 1951. In 1974, seven years after his death, Ouimet was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Ouimet's Wife and Family

Ouimet's was an immigrant to the United States: Arthur Ouimet was French-Canadian. Mary-Ellen Burke, Ouimet's mother, was of Irish descent.

Ouimet's wife was Stella Sullivan; they married on Sept. 11, 1918. Stella died in 1965, two years before Francis. They had two daughters, Janice and Barbara.

Ouimet's 10-Year-Old Caddie, and Inspiring a Book and Movie

During his iconic 1913 U.S. Open victory, the former caddie Ouimet used as his own caddie a 10-year-old boy named Eddie Lowery. The partnership of the virtually unknown Ouimet and his boy caddie — and their toppling of the titan Vardon — was so consequential in golf history that decades later it inspired first a book and then a Hollywood motion picture.

The actor Shia LaBeouf portrayed Ouimet on film in the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, released in 2005, about the 1913 tournament. The movie was based on a book of the same name by Mark Frost that was released in 2004.

Several years later, author Frost penned another book, this one titled The Match. And Ouimet's caddie from 1913, the then-10-year-old Lowery, played a major role in that book. Lowery grew up to become a successful businessman, owning a series of car dealerships on the West Coast. He was also a major patron of amateur golf.

Lowery often employed top amateur golfers at his dealerships, and in 1956 two of his employees were amateur champs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. Lowery boasted his two employees could beat any other two golfers available to team against them. That boast led to another wealthy business taking up the challenge and producing the team of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson to play Venturi and Ward. The two pro legends won the match, 1-up.

Ouimet and Lowery were friends throughout their lives, and Lowery served as one of the pallbearers at Ouimet's funeral in 1967.

The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund

Today, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund is considered "The Golf Charity of Massachusetts," and is one of the largest independent scholarship organizations in New England. The Ouimet Fund was founded in 1949 by friends of Ouimet. It awards college scholarship funds to young people who worked as caddies or in the pro shop or course superintendent fields at Massachusetts golf courses.

Golfer Francis Ouimet pictured in 1954.
Francis Ouimet in 1954. Bettmann/Getty Images

The Ouimet Fund's YouTube page includes multiple videos about Ouimet, his playing achievements and his life.

Francis Ouimet Trivia

  • Ouimet was the first to achieve victories in both the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. His Open win came first, followed by one year his first amateur championship in 1914.
  • He faced Bobby Jones in match play four times. Ouimet won their first meeting, in the 1920 U.S. Amateur, then Jones won the next three. "A match against Bobby Jones is just as though you got your hand caught in a buzzswaw," Ouimet once said. "He coasts along serenely waiting for you to miss a shot, and the moment you do he has you on the hook and you never get off."
  • Through well-connected friends, Ouimet for a brief period was a small-percentage owner of the Boston Braves Major League Baseball team. He also for a time served as a president of a minor-league hockey team.
  • In 1951, Ouimet became the first American to serve as captain at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
  • The U.S. Senior Open trophy is named in Ouimet's honor: The Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy.
  • Ouimet appeared on a United States postage stamp issued in 1988.

Significant Tournament Wins by Francis Ouimet

  • 1913 U.S. Open
  • 1913 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1914 U.S. Amateur
  • 1914 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1914 French Amateur
  • 1915 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1917 Western Amateur
  • 1919 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1920 North and South Amateur
  • 1922 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1922 Houston Invitational
  • 1924 Crump Memorial
  • 1925 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1927 Crump Memorial
  • 1931 U.S. Amateur
  • 1932 Massachusetts Amateur
  • 1934 Boston Open