The first American-born (and youngest-ever U.S. Open champion) was John J. McDermott, a 19-year-old head professional at Atlantic City Country Club when he won the Open in a playoff at Chicago Golf Club in 1911.
McDermott, representing ACCC in 1912, backed up his first U.S. Open Championship by winning again at the Country Club of Buffalo. That year, he was the first player to break par over 72 holes in the Open, finishing at two-under par 294 (par was 74).
He is one of only seven men to have won back-to-back Opens. In the shortest career of any multiple U.S. Open champion, McDermott’s three-year Open record from 1910 through 1912 (two wins and a playoff loss) places McDermott in rarified air. Of the seven who have won back-to-back Opens, only Willie Anderson (with three consecutive wins), Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Brooks Koepka can touch McDermott’s record.
McDermott was a native of West Philadelphia, Pa., the son of a mailman. He was introduced to the game at age nine at his grandfather’s farm, just across the road from Aronimink Golf Club. His first professional job was as an assistant at Camden Country Club followed by another assistant’s job at Merchantville Golf Club. In 1909, he finished fourth in the Philadelphia Open and fourth in his first U.S. Open. In the 1910 U.S. Open at Philadelphia Cricket Club, McDermott was in a three-way playoff, eventually won by Scotland’s Alex Smith.
After winning the Philadelphia Open and garnering his second-place finish at the 1910 U.S. Open, McDermott replaced Bill Robinson as the head golf professional at ACCC in 1911.
He had completed his amazing run by the age of 21, which included an eighth-place finish in the 1913 U.S. Open. By 1916, just short of his 25th birthday, McDermott’s mother committed him to the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pa. Later, he would visit ACCC on occasion where he was the guest of owner Leo Fraser. His last public appearance was at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, shortly before he died at age 79, where he was greeted by many of the world’s greatest golfers.
His 1911 U.S. Open gold medal, given by the McDermott family to the ACCC, was donated by the Fraser family to the USGA Museum, where it remains on display.