Rich History of U.S. Amateur Awaits New Chapeter In 2017

July 15, 2017


Los Angeles, CA - Bob Jones will forever be considered the face of the U.S. Amateur Championship.

Jones also will be remembered as the greatest amateur golfer in history, because his 1930 U.S. Amateur title – the record fifth and final time he won the Havemeyer Trophy – capped what many believe is the greatest year in golf history.

In the summer of 1930, the United States was still reeling from the stock market crash of the previous fall that had ushered in the Great Depression. So when Jones won the 1930 U.S. Amateur to complete an unprecedented sweep of that era’s four major championships in the same year – the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur – it seemed to lift the spirits of an entire nation.

A gallery estimated at 18,000, the largest in United States Golf Association history at the time, followed and cheered Jones as he made his way around Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pa., enroute to an 8-and-7 rout of Eugene Homans in the 36-hole U.S. Amateur final.

The victory made Jones the first and only to win golf’s calendar “Grand Slam” – or “The Impregnable Quadrilateral,” a phrase coined by sports writer O.B. Keeler.

How big were those four titles? A ticker-tape parade in New York welcomed Jones back to the U.S. as a conquering hero after he won the Amateur Championship at St. Andrews and the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, then considered the greatest accomplishment in golf history. When he won the U.S. Open at Interlachen Country Club in Minneapolis to make it three straight majors, the fan frenzy intensified as a crowd of 125,000 honored Jones with a downtown parade in his hometown of Atlanta.

And then he finished it off in style by winning the U.S. Amateur for the fifth time, a mark that still stands – one more than Jerome Travers.

Admittedly exhausted by his pursuit of the Grand Slam, Jones – a lawyer by profession who never turned pro – retired from competitive golf at age 28. Shortly thereafter, he helped Alister MacKenzie design Augusta National Golf Club and then co-founded the Masters Tournament, which evolved into one of golf’s professional majors.

Though the U.S. Amateur lost some of its luster after Jones’ departure from the competition, a number of talented youngsters used it as a springboard to greatness in professional golf.

Arnold Palmer won the 1954 U.S. Amateur, Jack Nicklaus the 1959 U.S. Amateur and Phil Mickelson the 1990 U.S. Amateur before launching their record-breaking careers on the PGA Tour, whose popularity led to the pursuit of a professional Grand Slam of majors: the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship.

Ben Hogan won three majors in 1953, Palmer won the first two majors in 1960 and Nicklaus won the first two majors in 1972, but that was as close as anyone came to achieving the modern Grand Slam until Tiger Woods – a three-time U.S. Amateur champion – rocketed to stardom upon turning pro in 1996.

In fact, the U.S. Amateur became must-see TV when Tiger reinvigorated the event by becoming the first and only player in history to win three consecutive U.S. Amateurs (1994 through 1996), on the heels of becoming the first and youngest in history to also win three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs (1991 through 1993).

In the summer after graduating from Western High School in Anaheim, Woods was 18 years old when he rallied from 6 down in the 36-hole final to defeat Trip Kuehne in the 1994 U.S. Amateur on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. He was the youngest in history to win the event at the time, a distinction that lasted until Danny Lee did it in 2008, six months younger at 18, and then Byeong-Hun An won it at 17 in 2009.

Woods won his second U.S. Amateur in 1995 by beating Buddy Mariucci, 2-up, at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island and then three-peated in 1996 by rallying from 5 down to defeat Steve Scott in a riveting 38-hole match at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon.

It was a sign of things to come as Woods turned pro that summer and began winning PGA Tour events at a pace never equaled before or since. It wasn’t long before he also revived talk of a possible “Grand Slam” for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Woods actually won four consecutive majors – the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001 – an unprecedented feat that was dubbed the “Tiger Slam.”  He currently ranks second all-time with 79 PGA Tour victories and second all-time with 14 major victories, to go along with his record six consecutive USGA titles.

Other U.S. Amateur winners who went on to enjoy successful professional careers include Gene Littler (1953), Bob Murphy (1965), Bruce Fleisher (1968), Lanny Wadkins (1970), Craig Stadler (1973), Jerry Pate (1974), John Cook (1978), Mark O’Meara (1979), Hal Sutton (1980), Billy Mayfair (1987), Justin Leonard (1992), Matt Kuchar (1997) and Ryan Moore (2004).  Two-time champion Jay Sigel (1982-83) is one of the best amateur golfers of all-time, as he added three U.S. Mid-Amateur titles to his resume before turning pro at the age of 50 to play on the PGA Senior Tour.

Another famous U.S. Amateur champion was Francis Ouimet, who won the title in 1914 and again in 1931. But Ouimet’s life story is better known for what happened in the 1913 U.S. Open – a story that inspired a book and a movie entitled “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

At the age of 20, Ouimet became the first amateur to win the U.S. Open in history, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. – across the street from where he lived and where he once caddied. Against all odds, he upset British tour stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff while using a 10-year-old neighborhood boy as his caddie.

Because Ouimet was from a working-class family of immigrant parents, his win forever changed golf, which until then had been known as an elitist sport for the wealthy.  Some consider him the “Father of American Golf, because there were only 350,000 golfers in the U.S. when he won the 1913 Open – a number that grew to 2 million a decade later. 

Interestingly, Ouimet and Jones were two of the four amateurs who won the U.S Open before they won a U.S. Amateur. The other two were Chick Evans, the first to win both in the same year (1916), and John Goodman, the last amateur to win a major in professional golf: the 1933 U.S. Open at North Shore Country Club outside Chicago. He won the U.S. Amateur four years later.

Who will be the next Francis Ouimet, the next Bobby Jones or the next Tiger Woods?  A new star will be born at the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship, which will be contested Aug. 14-20 in Los Angeles at The Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club.

More history waits to be written.

“We look forward to another chapter to be written in U.S. Amateur history as the finest amateur players in the country compete for the coveted title,” said Michael R. Yamaki, Corporate Office of The Riviera Country Club. 

Riviera, the site of the 1948 U.S. Open, will host is first U.S. Amateur Championship.  Bel-Air, which will serve as the stroke-play co-host, hosted the 1976 U.S. Amateur, won by Bill Sander.

U.S. Amateur tickets are available online at www.usga.org/usam. Tickets are $20 (single-day grounds) and $75 for a weekly pass. Military personnel and students receive free admission with valid ID.