Perhaps the greatest golf story in our country’s
history is the one of the teenage boy who shocked the world by winning the US
Open – becoming the first American born golfer to win a Major Championship. The
only problem is that almost all golf fans believe that boy to be Francis
Ouimet, which is not true. Francis Ouimet’s 1913 victory was preceded by that
of John McDermott, who won the US Open back to back in 1911 and 1912. McDermott
was not only the first American born golfer to win the US Open, he was also younger
than Ouimet when he won.
But unlike Ouimet, there would be no Disney
movie made about McDermott, as there was no fairy tale ending.
While Francis Ouimet would essentially become
the Ambassador of golf in this country, John McDermott’s life unraveled at the
age of 23 due to mental illness. Starting in 1914, McDermott spent the rest of
his life in mental hospitals, group homes, or living in the care of relatives.
He would never play competitive golf again.
John McDermott’s Mashie Used to Win 1911 & 1912 US Open
In the 1990s, the golf
collecting world was abuzz with chatter about a new discovery - a golf
club used by John McDermott to win his US Opens.
McDermott, perhaps the most tragic figure in golf history, infamously
had his winning golf clubs stolen from his sister's car in April 1949.
They were never seen again. But, thankfully, McDermott gave golfing
partner Jerry Moskowitz his mid iron mashie just 3 years prior to the
theft. To our knowledge, none of John McDermott’s other clubs used in
his US Open wins are believed to still exist.
McDermott’s sisters would visit
him at the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, PA, on most weekends. They would often take him to one of the
area’s golf courses – sometimes to just watch, or when he was feeling
well, to play the game he once dominated. Those rounds were always
played with the only set he owned, his US Open clubs from 1911 and 1912.
In fact, after the 1949 theft of McDermott’s US Open clubs, McDermott
could not play golf for a while – until his sisters eventually purchased
him a new set.
This mid-iron Mashie, custom
made between 1908 and 1910 by Anderson of Anstruther, Fife, Scotland, is
stamped J.J. McDermott, as well as the Anderson “cleekmark” – an arrow.
The original wood shaft also has the shaft stamp from the clubmaker
Anderson. In 1995, a period grip was carefully replaced by master
clubmaker (and founder of the golf collectors’ society) Bob Kuntz.
The club was given by McDermott
to Jerome “Jerry” Moskowitz when they played together at Beverly Hills
Golf Club in Upper Darby, PA. Moskowitz and McDermott played golf
together in the 1940s. Moskowitz and McDermott were the only golfers
still using hickory shafted clubs, and Moskowoitz let McDermott borrow
an old wood shafted putter. When Moskowitz gave McDermott the club for
good, McDermott returned the favor by handing him a club of his own –
this mid-iron Mashie. As recounted by Moskowitz in a 1997 magazine
article about this club, McDermott said to Moskowitz “This is the club I
used to win 2 US Opens. I want you to have it."
For the entire 2011 golf
season, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of John McDermott's victory,
this club was on display at famed Chicago Golf Club - host site of the
1911 US Open. Accompanying this club is a letter of provenance from
Gloria Moskowitz - the widow of Jerry Moskowitz. A quick internet search
will also reveal numerous articles referencing McDermott's stolen
clubs, and this club gifted to Moskowitz.