Who Was the First Native-Born American Winner of the US Open?

Johnny McDermott was the first golfer born in the United States to win the US Open
John McDermott with the US Open trophy (photographed in 1913). Hazard/American Golfer/Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Open golf tournament was first played in 1895, but it took more than 15 years before a golfer born in the United States won it. That golfer was Johnny McDermott, and the tournament was the 1911 U.S. Open.

Early British Domination of US Golf

The early history of professional golf in the United States was dominated by British golfers - both at the tournament level and at the club level. Golf originated in the United Kingdom, and that's where most of the world's golfers were in the late 1800s. So when American golf clubs began hiring pros, they (mostly) hired pros who were English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish.

Those were the best golfers in the USA at the time, so, naturally, those British golfers won most of the early professional tournaments in America, including the U.S. Open.

Beginning with the first U.S. Open in 1895, here is the country of origin of those early winners:

  • Horace Rawlins, England (1895)
  • James Foulis, Scotland (1896)
  • Joe Lloyd, England (1897)
  • Fred Herd, Scotland (1898)
  • Willie Smith, Scotland (1899)
  • Harry Vardon, England/Jersey (1900)
  • Willie Anderson, Scotland (1901, 1903, 1904, 1905)
  • Laurie Auchterlonie, Scotland (1902)
  • Alex Smith, Scotland (1906, 1910)
  • Alex Ross, Scotland (1907)
  • Fred McLeod, Scotland (1908)
  • George Sargent, England (1909)

That's four Englishmen and eight Scotsmen. Which brings us to 1911.

McDermott's Breakthrough Win for American Golfers

Johnny McDermott (often listed in USGA recordbooks at John J. McDermott) was  Pennsylvanian; he was born in Philadelphia and lived there his whole life.

McDermott was an American golf prodigy: He almost got the United States off the schneid at the 1910 U.S. Open, when he was 18 years old. McDermott lost in a 3-man playoff that year.

The breakthrough for USA-born golfers came the following year, in 1911, when McDermott again found himself in a 3-man playoff. This time, though, he won, beating Scottish golfer George Simpson and McDermott's fellow American, Mike Brady. McDermott was only 19 at that point.

McDermott won again the following year, at the 1912 U.S. Open, at age 20.

McDermott had some tournament victories after that - including a big one, the 1913 Western Open - but he went into a severe downward spiral in his personal life. Within a few years, McDermott was living in a mental institution. He spent most of the rest of his life - he lived until 1971 - in assisted-living homes for the mentally ill or the aged.

But McDermott will always be the first golfer born in the United States to win the USA's own national championship.

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