Max Marston, American Amateur Golf Champ

amateur golfer Max Marston
Max Marston was an American amateur golf champion in the first half of the 20th century. He once missed a putt that, in its day, was considered one of the worst chokes ever. But Marston also once had a year that, in his day, was considered one of the best amateur golf seasons ever.

Full name: Maxwell Rolston Marston

Date of birth: June 12, 1892

Place of birth: Buffalo, New York

Date and place of death: May 7, 1949 in Old Lyme, Connecticut

Marston's Biggest Wins

  • 1915 New Jersey Amateur
  • 1919 New Jersey Amateur
  • 1921 Pennsylvania Amateur
  • 1922 Pennsylvania Amateur
  • 1923 Patterson Cup
  • 1923 Pennsylvania Amateur
  • 1923 U.S. Amateur
  • 1923 Crump Cup

Marston in the U.S. Amateur: Infamous Putt to Champion

Max Marston reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur in 1915, and ran up against Robert Gardner. Gardner was the 1909 winner, and, after beating Marston on the 37th hole, he went on to win the 1915 title.

It's what happened on the 36th hole that first thrust Marston into the national spotlight — but not in a good way. Marston led 1-up going to the 36th hole. And on the green, Marston had a short putt to win, but he missed. We've seen the putt described as anywhere from six inches to two feet, and had Marston made it he would have headed into the championship match (he had already beaten Jesse Guilford and Jerome Travers in early matches).

But he missed, and it was considered a shocking miss. In fact, in a 1920 article in Vanity Fair, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice cited Marston's 1915 misfortune as the most-famous instance of a short missed putt in American golf.

Marston didn't make it out of the first round in a U.S. Amateur for eight years after that miss, including failing to qualify for the tournament at all in 1922.

But in 1923, at age 31, Marston won it all. In the second round of the 1923 U.S. Amateur, Marston found himself 4-down to Bobby Jones after 16 holes. But he rallied to a 2-and-1 victory. Then Marston beat Francis Ouimet in the semifinals, also by a 2-and-1 score.

In the championship match, Marston faced defending champ Jess Sweetser. On three of the final four holes, Marston laid stymies for Sweetser, including on the last hole when his birdie putt came up just short. Sweetser's path to the hole blocked (golfers were not allowed to mark balls on the green at the time), he couldn't make the putt, giving Marston the win.

That match ended on the second extra hole, the 38th hole overall, making it then the longest championship match in U.S. Amateur history. That record stood until 1950.

In his 1924 title defense, Marston reached the semifinals before bowing out to George Von Elm. In the 1933 U.S. Amateur, he reached the championship match again but lost to George Dunlap.

Marston first advanced into the match play bracket at the U.S. Amateur in 1914 (he lost to Francis Ouimet in the first round), when he was 22 years old. He last made it into the match play bracket in 1936, when he was 44 years old and reached the fourth round.

More About Max Marston

Max Marston's 1923 season was, in its time, regarded as one of the best in American amateur golf history, although it is largely forgotten today. It started with Marston winning both his matches in the 1923 Walker Cup.

Then Marston won the stroke play Patterson Cup (a prestigious event staged by the Philadelphia Association of Golf), followed the next week by the match play Pennsylvania Amateur. He was later low amateur in the Philadelphia Open, and won the club championship at Merion.

After winning the 1923 U.S. Amateur, Marston added the title in the Crump Cup, another prestigious match play event, at Pine Valley Golf Club.

Marston's golf success began with early wins in New Jersey, where his family moved a few years after Max's birth in Buffalo, New York. His family first joined Cranford Golf Club in Cranford, New Jersey, then became members at Baltusrol. (Like many of the top amateurs of his time, Marston came from well-off circumstances. He later worked as an investment banker, after being hired by the bank owned by his father-in-law, and himself joined Merion and Pine Valley.)

Marston won the New Jersey Amateur in 1915 and 1919, and was runner-up in 1916. He also won the Baltusrol club championship three successive years, 1914-16.

After his early successes and his run in the 1915 U.S. Amateur, Marston made a big change to his game: He switched to the Vardon grip. According to The Encyclopedia of Golf (1975), after the change Marston "won six invitation tournaments that year."

But before he could capitalize on those successes, World War I intervened. Marston served in the U.S. Navy during that conflagration. After wartime, he moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and began his banking career.

For help with his golf game, one of the instructors Marston worked with was James Maiden, a Scottish pro who moved to America and who, along with his brother Stewart, was also Bobby Jones' instructor.

In the professional majors, Marston appeared only in the U.S. Open, three times. His best finish was tied for 19th in the 1915 U.S. Open.

After his huge 1923 season, Marston never again won a major amateur tournament. But he was still on the scene, and his run to the final in the 1933 U.S. Amateur helped earn Marston a spot on his fourth and final United States Walker Cup team.

Marston played on Team USA in the 1922 Walker Cup, 1923 Walker Cup, 1924 Walker Cup (the first three Walker Cups staged) and 1934 Walker Cup. He won five of his eight matches, his three losses all coming in singles (including to Cyril Tolley and Tony Torrance).

In the book Who's Who in Golf (Elliott/Kelly, 1976), the authors wrote that Marston was "a reserved, aloof person and at one time was accused of deliberately laying stymies to his opponents. This was ridiculous, of course: any putter who could deliberately lay stymies would have it easier to putt the ball into the hole." The authors also included that "a peculiarity of Marston's iron play was that ... he never took a divot."

Marston was only 56 years old when he died in 1949. Today the Golf Association of Philadelphia still plays the Marston Cup, an annual tournament for golfers 55 and over. (Marston was just starting to get into senior golf, then usually defined as for golfers 55 and older, at the time of his death.)

Marston is a member of the New Jersey State Golf Association Hall of Fame.

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