Who Was the First American Winner of the U.S. Open?

John McDermott displays the grip on his mashie
The early history of the U.S. Open golf tournament was dominated by British golfers. The tournament was first played in 1895, but it wasn't until 1911 that an American golfer won it. That first American winner of the U.S. Open was Johnny McDermott.

McDermott (pictured), born in Philadelphia, Pa., made his tournament debut in 1909 as a 17-year-old. He finished 49th that year, but rapidly improved. In the 1910 U.S. Open, McDermott got into a three-way playoff against two Scottish brothers, Alex Smith and Macdonald Smith. In the 18-hole playoff, Alex Smith scored 71, McDermott 75 and Macdonald Smith 77.

A year later at the 1911 U.S. Open, McDermott was in another three-way playoff. This time, though, he won: McDermott shot 80 in the 18-hole playoff, Mike Brady (another American) had an 82, and Scotsman George Simpson scored 85.

That win didn't just make McDermott the first American to claim the United States' national open, but, at age 19, it also made him the youngest winner of the U.S. Open. That's a record that McDermott still holds today.

There had been 16 U.S. Opens prior to McDermott's 1911 victory, and all 16 of the winners had been British. Twelve times the winner was Scottish, three times English, plus Harry Vardon, from Jersey in the Channel Islands:

  • 1895: Horace Rawlins, England
  • 1896: James Foulis, Scotland
  • 1897: Joe Lloyd, England
  • 1898: Fred Herd, Scotland
  • 1899: Willie Smith, Scotland
  • 1900: Harry Vardon, Jersey
  • 1901: Willie Anderson, Scotland
  • 1902: Laurie Auchterlonie, Scotland
  • 1903: Willie Anderson, Scotland
  • 1904: Willie Anderson, Scotland
  • 1905: Willie Anderson, Scotland
  • 1906: Alex Smith, Scotland
  • 1907: Alex Ross, Scotland
  • 1908: Fred McLeod, Scotland
  • 1909: George Sargent, England
  • 1910: Alex Smith, Scotland
With the exception of Vardon, all those British golfers were living and working in America at the time of their wins. Some of them — Alex Smith and McLeod, for example — even had or would represent the United States in international competitions. But none of them were born in the United States or had become naturalized American citizens by the time of their victories.

McDermott's victory in 1911 set off a string of seven consecutive wins by American golfers, including Francis Ouimet and Walter Hagen. McDermott himself repeated as champion at the 1912 U.S. Open.

Did any American golfers come close in the U.S. Open before McDermott? Here are the milestones on the way to that first American victory in 1911:

  • First American in the Top 5: John Shippen, tied 5th, 1896. Shippen was also the first Black golfer to play the U.S. Open.
  • First American in the Top 3: Amateur Herbert Leeds finished third in 1898.
  • First American runner-up: Amateur Walter Travis tied for second in 1902. Travis was born in Australia but became a naturalized American citizen in 1890.
  • First American runner-up born in the U.S.: Tom McNamara, solo second, 1909.

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