Anything can happen in match play. Just ask any of the Westchester area golfers competing in the US Amateur Championship this week at Olympia Fields in Chicago, arguably the most important match play tournament in the game. Winning at match play depends on skill, talent, grit, and oftentimes a bit of luck. That was certainly true of the first US Amateur played in Westchester, which was held at the Apawamis Club in Rye in 1911.
The US Amateur was a major tournament of the day, second only in importance to the British Amateur, and drew the leading golfers from both sides of the Atlantic. Competing at Apawamis that year were luminaries of the game like Francis Ouimet, Walter Travis, and Charles B. MacDonald.
One of the leading contenders for the Havemeyer Trophy was Harold Hilton, an Englishman who had won both the British Open and Amateur twice by that time. His opponent in the final round, Brooklyn-born Fred Herreshoff, was a lesser light, who made a miraculous comeback from six down to tie the 36-hole match and send it into extra holes.
Both players hit good drives on the tricky par-four first hole at Apawamis. Hilton played first from the fairway and either shanked or badly sliced his second shot. Luckily for him, it caromed off a big rock outcropping and landed on the green to set him up for a two-putt par. Apparently, Hereshoff was so unnerved by Hilton’s fortunate accident that he topped his own second shot, then pitched his third 20 feet past the pin. Hilton two-putted for par to win the hole and the title.
A plaque on the rock at Apawamis commemorates the shot and Hilton’s win.
The layout Hilton and Hereshoff played isn’t much different from the one members and guests play today, although the course itself has been delightfully updated. Scotsman Willie Dunn laid out the original course in 1896. As with most tracks built in that era, it was modified several times over the years. Gil Hanse authored a renovation and restoration in 2001 and two years ago several new tees were added, bunkers reconfigured, and numerous superfluous (and turf-killing) trees were removed. Apawamis now plays about 300 yards longer, stretching to 6,741 yards.
Among the local golfers competing this week in the 2015 US Amateur in Chicago are Ike winner Cameron Young; Stewart Hagestad, who won the Mittelmark this year; former Yale golfer Sam Bernstein, who plays out of Century CC; Norwalk’s Ross Kronberg, who is coached by GlenArbor’s Rob Labritz; and David Weisfeld of Scarsdale. They have two rounds of medal play this week, then match play leading to the 36-hole championship match set for August 23. Any one of them would be ecstatic to “miss” a shot like Harold Hilton.