Monday, July 16, 2012

Open Letter to the Editors of Golf Magazine

John McDermott - U.S. Open Champion 1911-1912 - First American and at 19 years, the youngest still to have ever won the U.S. National Championship.

This is Bill Kelly's Response to the June 2012 Golf Mag article "The Curious Case of John McDermott":

To the Editor, Golf Magazine.

I was quite surprised to read John Garitty’s “The Curious Case of John McDermott” in the June 2012 issue of Golf Magazine and learn that John McDermott was a “famously rude, combative, abrasive, embarrassing, insane bigot, best left forgotten.”

At the Atlantic City Country Club John McDermott still has the reputation for being a young, brash and determined gentleman who didn’t throw his clubs, drink or curse and attended mass every day before going to work, where he was highly regarded as the golf professional. I thought I had researched the life of McDermott thoroughly while writing the “Birth of the Birdie” history of the club, but I must have somehow missed the “bigot” and parts “best left forgotten.”

McDermott had a typical Irish-American view of the British and Scot pros who dominated the game in America and won the US national championship for its first 16 consecutive years until he came along. Maybe McDermott was a bit rude in calling a  Alex Smith a “a big lout” after losing the 1910 Open in a playoff, but he was only 18 years old at the time, and he did make good on his promise to beat Smith the next time they met.

McDermott’s “bigoted” view of the British of that era may have been justified, as it was supported by Walter Travis, who won the US Amateur at the Atlantic City Country Club before he won the British Amateur, but was so rudely treated by the British he refused to return to defend his title, especially after his center-shafted putter was retroactively banned by the Royal and Ancient Order of what he considered Snobs.

Walter Hagen, McDermott’s friend and colleague, confirmed their view when he took exception to the British rule that golf pros were not permitted in the clubhouse dining room, and refused to play until the rules were changed. And John B. Kelly, another ACCC member and Olympic rowing champion, was banned from participating in the Henley rowing regatta because he was a bricklayer and not a considered a gentleman.

It wasn’t McDermott who had bad manners and had to be taught a lesson, it was the British and UK professionals who thought they could win the US Open trophy just by showing up, and it was McDermott – the young, brash and determined teenager who taught them a lesson. He did it again at Shawnee in 1913, shortly before the U.S. Open at Brookline, when he handily won the Shawnee tournament by eight strokes.

That’s when McDermott gave his famous speech, promising to keep the US Open trophy in America, which generated international interest in the game and took golf off the sports pages and put it on the front pages of every newspaper in the United States and theBritish Empire. That speech set the stage for the showdown at Brookline, which was called “the Greatest Game” not because a local amateur won it, but because McDermott made it so. The international spirit inflamed by McDermott’s “combative” style can still be felt today during Walker, Ryder and Curtis Cup tournaments, and other “friendly competitions between nations,” especially between the USA and UK.

I hope that Golf Magazine will correct their crude and rude mischaracterization of John McDermott, and the true story is someday told of the great American teenage champion who sparked and inspired today’s international competitions.  

William E. Kelly, Jr.                                                                                                                 
20 Columbine Ave.
Browns MillsNew Jersey 08015

This letter is in response to the article that appears below - "The Curious Case of John McDermott." 

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