• PGA Philadelphia Section Hall of Fame •

John Joseph "Johnny" "Jack" McDermott
Class of 1992

           

Born in West Philadelphia on August 12, 1891 his friends called him Jack and the public called him Johnny. He was 5 feet-8 inches tall and at the peak of his career he only weighed 130 pounds. McDermott, the greatest player in the history of the Philadelphia Section, came within one stroke of winning three U.S. Opens before he was 21. The famous sportswriter Grantland Rice called McDermott “The greatest golfer that America had ever produced”. If he had a weakness it was his putting, but otherwise from inside 150 yards he was the best in the United States. From the time he began as a caddy he always putted with his heels together and his knees touching. McDermott grew up on Florence Avenue in West Philadelphia. He first became aware of golf at the age of nine when he visited his grandfather whose farm was across the street from the Aronimink Golf Club, which had opened in 1897. The Aronimink Golf Club was located on 52nd Street and Chester Avenue, which was also the home of the Belmont Cricket Club. McDermott then decided that he wanted to be a caddy. The Aronimink golf professional Walter Reynolds got him started as a player and taught him the art of clubmaking. By the summer of 1906, and not yet 16, he was playing in the caddy championship at Aronimink with a “scratch” handicap. Two other boys, Frank Sprogell and Morrie Talman, grew up on the same block with McDermott and they all caddied at Aronimink. They all went on to very successful careers as golf professionals. McDermott gave the most credit for the development of his game to Bill Byrne, who became the head professional at Aronimink in 1906. McDermott began his professional career as an assistant at the Camden Country Club in 1906 and he was the head professional at the Merchantville Country Club from 1907 to 1910. In 1910 he lost a three-way playoff for the U.S. Open championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The next year as the professional at the Atlantic City Country Club he became the first American born to win the U.S. Open after being part of a three-way playoff again. McDermott was a serious and determined competitor. At Atlantic City he would be at the course at daybreak for practice. He would place newspapers on the ground at various distances for targets to shoot at. In 1912 he won the U.S. Open again and he also became the first player to break par for the 72-holes of the U.S. Open. In 1913 he won the Western Open and the Shawnee Open. He was the Philadelphia Open champion in 1910, 1911 and 1913. In 1914 he suffered a mental breakdown and was sent to the State Hospital in Norristown. No one is sure exactly what caused his problems but there were several possible reasons given. He is said to have had some heavy losses in the stock market. He also received a great deal of criticism for comments he made at the 1913 Shawnee Open, which he won by eight strokes. The Shawnee Open was played shortly before the U.S. Open with the great British professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the field. During his victory speech he was quoted as saying that the British pros had been stopped there and they would be stopped again at Brookline. Afterwards, when McDermott was told that he had offended Vardon and Ray, he apologized to them. Vardon and Ray didn’t seem to be offended but some of the press made a big thing of what McDermott had said. Several days after the Shawnee incident, the Philadelphia Public Ledger printed a detailed story of what McDermott felt that he had meant by his remarks, but the damage had been done. The incident was very unfortunate and unexpected. George Crump had taken him under his wing and given him the polish as a person that he possessed as a player. He had gone from being as well liked by his fellow professionals as he was disliked a few years before. It was said that McDermott had the suavity of Gil Nicholls, which was saying something. In 1914 he went to Scotland for a third attempt to win the British Open. All players had to qualify and a missed ferry connection from France to England caused him to miss his starting time for the qualifying round by one day. McDermott was in France when he should have been in London and he was in London when he should have been at the Troon Golf Club in Scotland where the qualifying event was being held. He then left for home on a ship, the Kaiser Wilhelm II. In a heavy fog on the English Channel the Kaiser Wilhelm crashed into a grain vessel and had to return to port. McDermott and the other passengers were transferred to another ship and left for home a few days later. He played in the U.S. Open in Chicago that summer but the fire had gone out of his game. In mid October of that year he blacked out and collapsed in the golf shop at the Atlantic City CC. A number of PGA Sections played charity exhibitions to help his mother pay the weekly hospital fee for him. The hospital laid out a six-hole course on their grounds for him. In 1925 McDermott attempted to make a comeback by playing in the Philadelphia Section Championship, the Philadelphia Open, the Pennsylvania Open and the Shawnee Open. His scores were in the high 70s to low 80s and not competitive. Unable to resume a normal life he spent the rest of his years at the mental hospital. For more than thirty years his two sisters took him to various golf courses on weekends to visit the professionals that he knew and on occasion he would still play with some of them. On Mondays he would be in attendance at the local PGA event. McDermott died in August 1971 at the age of 79, after having attended the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club just a few weeks before. He was still a resident at the State Hospital in Norristown when he died. He is in the PGA of America’s Hall of Fame and he was an original inductee into the Philadelphia Section PGA Hall of Fame in 1992.

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