Before Max Marston’s incredible season of 1923, which included a victory in the U.S. Amateur Championship, there were some notable near-misses - and in particular - while competing in the U.S. Amateur.
Marston, who grew up in Cranford, was one six-inch putt away from advancing to the final match in 1915. Holding a 1-up lead vs. nemesis Robert Gardner of Chicago on the 36th hole, he missed that putt – and it led to a seemingly crushing defeat on the 37th hole.
The loss must have rattled him because it took eight years – until his magical year of 1923 – to advance past the first round of the U.S. Amateur. Remarkably, in 1922, the year before he was victorious, he didn’t even qualify.
However, he was still making his name known with victories in numerous regional amateur tournaments. He was good enough to be one of eight players selected in 1922 to represent the United States in the inaugural Walker Cup match, an 8-4 victory for the American side. Marston and team captain William Fownes defeated Britain’s John Cavan and Willis McKenzie, 2 & 1, in foursomes, although he lost in singles to McKenzie, 6 & 5.
For Marston, his 1923 season is regarded as one of the best single-year performances by an amateur golfer. Most golf historians consider it second only to Bob Jones’ iconic Grand Slam of 1930 as the era’s best amateur competitive season.
His sustained excellence, highlighted by the legendary 1923 season, has led to Marston’s honor as an inductee into the NJSGA Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021.
Marston’s stellar 1923 campaign began with winning his two matches in Scotland during his second Walker Cup appearance. He and Gardner combined for a 7 & 6 foursomes victory over Robert Harris and Charles (Chubby) Hooman. The following day, he bested William Hope in singles, 6 & 5, as the U.S. narrowly won at St Andrews, 6-5.
He returned home to capture the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s stroke play (Patterson Cup) and match-play championships in successive weeks. In June, he won the Pennsylvania Amateur Championship and finished as the low amateur in the Philadelphia Open at Pine Valley Golf Club two weeks later. Later, he won the club championship at Merion Golf Club.
At the U.S. Amateur in September of 1923, played at Flossmoor Country Club in Illinois, Marston defeated some of golf’s biggest names. He came from behind to beat Jones (then the current U.S. Open champion) in the second round, topped Joseph Wills of Ohio, 4 and 3 in the quarterfinals, defeated former U.S. Open champion Francis Ouimet in the semifinals, 3 and 2, and beat defending champion Jess Sweetser in a 38-hole final match.
Against Jones, considered by most as the favorite to win the event, Marston was four holes down through 16 holes. He then played the next 19 holes in the equivalent of 5-under par and defeated Jones, 2 & 1. Jones later called it “one of the best matches I can remember.”
In winning the final match on the second hole, a crowd of 4,000 gathered around the green. Marston left his birdie putt short, but directly in Sweetser’s line, the third stymie Marston had laid against Sweetser in the last four holes. Due to the rules of the day when players did not mark balls, Sweetser was unable to sink his putt, and Marston won the Amateur.
Marston returned to Pine Valley in October, where he won the famed Crump Cup for a seventh victory of the summer to cap his season for the ages.
According to a 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer article by Frank Fitzpatrick, “He was never a long hitter. His swing was described as ’a graceful whirl,’ one with ‘perfect timing that takes the place of brute power. If not possessed of Jones’ talent, he was well-suited for a match-play era when wits and will were just as vital.’ “
Marston was truly a tough competitor, described in his obituary by The Associated Press as the kind of player “who never gave up.”
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., the Marston family moved to Cranford when Max was a child. He attended Pingry School in Elizabeth and the Pawling School in New York. During his childhood, the Marstons were members of the Cranford Golf Club (now Echo Lake Country Club) before joining the Baltusrol Golf Club. While a member of Baltusrol, Marston won the NJSGA Amateur Championship in 1915, was runner-up to three-time champion Oswald Kirksby of Englewood C.C., in 1916, and won again in 1919. He also claimed the Baltusrol’s club championship in 1914, 1915, and 1916.
After finishing his service in the U.S. Navy during World War I and then winning his second NJSGA Amateur title in 1919, Marston joined his father-in-law’s investment firm in Philadelphia. He became a member of Merion Golf Club, and later Pine Valley Golf Club.
Marston’s fine play extended beyond his banner 1923 year; he also won the Pennsylvania Amateur in 1921 and 1922 and was named to the Walker Cup team in 1922, 1923, and 1934, all of them victories for the United States. His 1934 effort came on the heels of finishing as runner-up in the 1933 U.S. Amateur, where he lost in the final match to Kearny, N.J. native George Dunlap, 6 and 5.
In the 1934 Walker Cup match, he partnered with Chandler Egan in a 6 & 5 foursomes victory over Britain’s Harry Bentley and Eric Fiddian. Marston lost his singles match to Tony Torrance, 4 & 3, as the U.S. won at St Andrews, 9-2.
In Fitzpatrick’s article Marston was described as “Handsome and impeccably groomed, Marston often wore colorful argyle sweaters to accent the standard golfing attire of knickers, white shirts, and ties.”
The writeup quoted his grandson, Max Marston III, saying, “He was noted for being quite a dandy. He was a man of his age. He’d been used to summer resorts, yachts, golf clubs. But like so many people, the Depression hit him hard. Things were never the same.”
Marston retired to Connecticut, where he died in 1949 at 56.
Today, the Golf Association of Philadelphia honors the man with the annual Marston Cup, a tournament for golfers 55 and older. The narrative reads: “The Marston Cup honors Max Marston. For four months in the summer of 1923, Marston was America’s best amateur golfer.”