All this week, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., has been playing host to the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. For most fans of the game, the amateur championship has been eclipsed by such professional extravaganzas as the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the Masters.
Michael Trostel knows his golf. He’s curator/historian of the U.S. Golf Association Museum in Far Hills, N.J. He understands, as few contemporary golfers or golf fans do, the significance of the tournament that’s been transpiring this week in Brookline.
“The U.S. Amateur is the USGA’s oldest championship,” Trostel said. “It’s actually a day older than the U.S. Open. It started back in 1895, and, really, for the first 40 years or so, winning the U.S. Amateur was considered the ultimate prize in American golf.”
Among those who have won the U.S. Amateur in the past are Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins and Mark O’Meara. Jack Nicklaus won it twice. Tiger Woods won it three times — in a row.
As some of the world’s best amateur golfers were practicing in Brookline last weekend, one of the oldest competitors, Randy Lewis, was not inclined to bet on himself.
“Hey, at 56, this is a thrill to be here, and every time I get to do something like this, it’s special,” he said.
Lewis, who’s competed in the U.S. Amateur 10 times, makes his living as a financial advisor…meaning, I supposed, that the golf course sometimes served as his second office.
“Golf has introduced me to a lot of wonderful people who are clients, so it’s been good for my business, too,” Lewis said.
“You get out here with a couple of these young guys who are going to turn pro, and then as soon as they make it big on the PGA Tour, they got your card, they’re ready to give you a call, right?” I asked.
“I’d be happy to do that for them,” he said with a laugh.
One of those young guys who might need financial advising in the fairly near future is Jim Liu. He turned 18 just a couple of days before the U.S. Amateur began, but it’s no exaggeration to call him a veteran.
“Well, I started before I turned 6, and then when I was 6 I won eight of my first nine tournaments, so I kind of got more and more serious, to where it was almost part of my life,” Liu said.
“Almost part of…” I said.
“Yeah, it is my life,” he responded with a laugh.
In September, Liu will enter Stanford, which, no doubt, considers itself lucky to have landed him.
“Uh, yeah, I’ve had a lot of schools recruit me, and nowadays, with the recruiting process, it starts really early, like middle schoolers are committing now, which is a little strange,” he said.
Before the U.S. Amateur began, Liu said he felt no pressure. He’d already won pretty much everything there was to win as a junior. Stanford wasn’t going to revoke his scholarship if he bombed at The Country Club. No worries.
Randy Lewis seemed equally relaxed. He’d only made it past the first round of match-play once in his previous nine trips to the tournament. He was only looking to have some fun and play to the best of his ability, which sounded like a healthy attitude.
As it turned out, neither Lewis nor Jim Liu made it past the middle of the week. Still, when I spoke with them during the practice rounds, they could have been forgiven for entertaining unlikely dreams of glory…at least as Michael Trostel sees it when he recalls the U.S. Amateur Championship of 1913, won by Francis Ouimet at the same venue as this year’s event.
“Ouimet grew up across the street,” he said. “He lived right across the street from the 17th hole. And as a 20-year-old amateur with a 10-year-old kid, Eddie Lowery, who skipped school, as his caddie, he beat the best golfers in the world, which was Harry Vardon, who had won five British Opens at the time, and Ted Ray, who was the defending British Open champion.”
No wonder that performance at The Country Club is still remembered 100 years later.