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The Inside Track

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January 10, 2003|Steve Horn

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

What: "The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet and the Birth of Modern Golf"

Author: Mark Frost

Publisher: Hyperion

Price: $30

This might stun some people, but America's first golf hero was not Tiger Woods. It wasn't Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead or even Bobby Jones.

No, America's first star was a young amateur named Francis Ouimet, who stunned Britain's Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open.

That Open was held at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which happened to be across the street from Ouimet's home. That was also the site of the 1999 Ryder Cup matches, where Justin Leonard made his dramatic putt on the 17th hole and the pro-U.S. crowd went wild in his singles match against Jose Maria Olazabal.

Ouimet also turned the tide on the 17th hole, and the celebration put the one 86 years later to shame.

Leonard, however, was already a star in his own right, having won the 1997 British Open. Ouimet, on the other hand, was a complete unknown before the 1913 Open, and he accomplished his victory against the two best professional players in the world in Vardon and Ray.

Mark Frost's story of the 1913 Open makes up most of "The Greatest Game Ever Played," but he leads up to it with the compelling and strangely parallel histories of Vardon and Ouimet. There might be a few too many non-golf asides and it's unlikely that everyone talked or thought exactly as Frost writes it, but it is still a fascinating story of the early days of golf in this country and how it came to be one of the major sports at the turn of the century.

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