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Tales from the Archive: Northwestern, Chick Evans and Caddyshack

Matt Keith (@mattlkeith), looks at the history of golfer Chick Evans, drawing parallels between the former Northwestern student and… Caddyshack?


Photo Source: moviefone.com

I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen and be the ball.

A force in the universe. That would be a good way to describe how Chick Evans stumbled upon the game of golf and in the process became one of its great figures.

It’s also a pretty good descriptor for the movie from which the above quote is taken, Caddyshack.

In the beginning, it seemed improbable that either would rise to the heights that they achieved in their respective domains. And yet destiny has a way of intervening. Evans rose from humble origins to become a hall of fame golfer and humanitarian. As for Caddyshack, it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest sports movies of all time, and certainly one whose lines are engrained in American cultural vernacular.

In an odd way, the most quotable sports movie is linked to Evans, who is linked to Northwestern.

On July 18, 1890, Charles E. Evans, Junior was born in Indianapolis. When he was nine years old, Chick moved to Rogers Park, just a few miles south of Northwestern. Coming from relatively humble origins, he wasn’t a golfer. However, Evans’ new home was just a stone’s throw from the Edgewater Golf Club, where caddying could earn industrious youngsters solid money.

Intrigued by golf, Evans soon exchanged some of his earnings for his first club, a cleek (roughly the equivalent of a one or two iron, although it’s groove-less, narrow face made it indistinguishable from a putter, save for the loft).

With his club in hand, Evans started emulating the swings of the more successful golfers for whom he caddied. By 1907, he had won the Chicago City Championship at Jackson Park.

Three years later Chick won the 1910 Western Open at Beverly Country Club in Chicago. At the time, the Western Open was a huge deal, and probably the third most important golf tournament held on US soil (Today, we know the tournament as the BMW Championship). He was the first amateur to win the prestigious event, and it was not until 1985 that Scott Verplank would manage to match that feat.

The victory over a prestigious field made Evans something of a sports celebrity. In 1911, President Taft, the first Commander in Chief with an affinity for golf, invited Chick to the White House and raved to the Washington Post about him. Evans took a tour of England and Scotland later that year, and his mild success was a reason for American sportswriters to rejoice and gloat over the British en masse. Newspapers as distant as Atlanta and Los Angeles found it important to keep tabs on Evans’ everyday life, reporting things such as the details of a minor throat operation that he had to endure.

It was with such fanfare that Evans arrived at Northwestern as a student and golfer in 1911. Naturally, a celebrity of his stature had to take an odd route just to wind up in Evanston.

In the late summer of 1911, the Boston Globe announced that Chick would quit the game and move to Beantown to seek his fame and fortune in the felt industry. Thankfully, he informed the New York Times a few weeks later that he had changed his mind and would pursue a degree at Northwestern.

Chick turned in a nice freshman campaign, during which the Baltimore Sun listed him first in an article about the “six best golfers in the country.” An elite golfer at an elite university, and a media darling to boot, it seemed that everything in the world was going the young Chicagoan’s way.

It’s easy to grin when your ship comes in, and you’ve got the stock market beat. But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat.

Judge Smails wasn’t long on sound advice. But his ship launching limerick might actually have come in handy for Chick Evans in 1912.

In the first place, the freshman didn’t have the financial means to continue his studies at Northwestern. Interestingly, he refused to give up his amateur status. He believed that the game should be played for its sportsmanship and own merit. While such a viewpoint is tough to understand today, at the time many felt that money would only ruin the purity of the game.

-Come on, Ty, you’re an ace. Everybody knows it.

-I don’t play golf, for money, against people.

Of course many who professed this viewpoint had the financial means to do so. Bobby Jones, for example, grew up the son of a wealthy lawyer. This is not intended to take away anything from Jones, a great man, but rather to suggest that taking a stance as an amateur was a much easier thing for him to do than for Evans. Jones refused money, but still obtained three college degrees. Evans refused money and had to drop out after one year. Perhaps not the smartest choice, but admire the man for sticking to his principles no matter the cost.

It wasn’t just having to drop out of Northwestern that hurt Evans, however. In 1913, amateur Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open at the tender age of 20 in what has been dubbed by golf historians, “the greatest game ever played.”

Another amateur, Jerry Travers, won the U.S. open in 1915, and also added his third and fourth U.S. Amateur titles in 1912 and 1913. Together, Travers and Ouimet became the new darlings of the world of amateur golf. Evans, though still a big name, received nothing close to the kind of acclaim that had previously marked his career.

This crowd has gone deadly silent, a Cinderella story outta nowhere. Former greens keeper and now about to become the Masters champion.

In 1916, Chick returned to the spotlight when he made history by winning the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in the same year, a feat that in the long history of golf has been matched only by the aforementioned Bobby Jones.

Sporting a bag with only seven hickory shafted clubs, Evans fired the first tournament score in U.S. Open history that registered under par (keep in mind that the horrible equipment used at the time made this a shocking accomplishment).

It was Evans last brief moment on top of the world of golf as a player. While his play still marked him as one of the world’s greatest amateurs, like every other golfer of his day, he became an also-ran to Jones in most tournaments.

But Chick found a different way to rise above the competition. In giving back to the game that had given him so much, he was second to none.

Rather than just let professional tournaments keep the money he won, Evans placed his winnings in escrow and set about implementing the dream of his mother, so that other caddies would have the opportunity to get the education her son couldn’t afford.

He began pestering the Western Golf Association in the late 1920s to support a collegiate scholarship fund for aspiring caddies. After initially refusing to back Chick, the WGA finally relented in 1928, and Evans chose Northwestern to host the first recipients of his scholarships.

In 1930, Harold Fink and Jim McGinnis became the first ever Evans Scholars. Since then, more than 9,400 caddies have graduated from college thanks to Evans Scholarships, and Northwestern remains an integral university in the program.

The superficial connection between Evans and Caddyshack is apparent. I’d be willing to bet that most Evans Scholars at Northwestern and everywhere else are pretty sick of hearing the movie brought up in conjunction with their scholarships. After all Danny Noonan would probably be the last caddy qualified for a real-life Evans Scholarship, which in reality requires good grades and hard work to get.

But there is a much more interesting Caddyshack connection that ties back to Chick Evans.

Sure, you say. Isn’t this “interesting connection” just an elaborate ruse you’ve concocted so that you have a reason to quote Caddyshack endlessly? To that I respond with a Carl quote.

We can do that. We don’t even need a reason.

No, the ties between Evans and the movie are truly undeniable. Lead writer, Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray’s older brother, who played Lou, the head of the caddy shack) drew directly on the experiences that he and his brothers had as young caddies in Winnetka.

The only reason the Murray boys had these experiences was because their father pushed them to become caddies. Perhaps he loved toting bags so much because of his own history of doing so. The senior Murray, you see, at one point in time had caddied for… Chick Evans.

Go figure.

Of course the connections go even deeper. According to the Murray brothers’ website, the opening scene from Caddyshack and the character of Danny Noonan were inspired by the real life quest of Ed Murray, the eldest brother, to win an Evans Scholarship. Ed did in fact win that scholarship, and attended Northwestern.

What is the point of all of this?

Remember, Danny. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left.

Does there have to be a point?

If so, let it be about Chick Evans, who was inducted into the Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995. His contributions on the course during his one season at Northwestern were remarkable, but the real reason why the University honors him is due to the work he did to help caddies, the kids who shared his background, attend a great school.

He is arguably the second greatest amateur golfer in U.S. history, but astonishingly that isn’t his most significant accomplishment, as 82 years later, his foundation continues its great work.

The fact that Ed Murray had two younger brothers with the creative genius to draw from his experience in becoming a Northwestern Evans Scholar and craft a story so ridiculous that it’s timeless is, well… cool?

The fact that I’ve somehow managed to connect Caddyshack back to Northwestern is… disturbing. But perhaps there’s a slim chance that it’s also deeply significant. If you ever receive total consciousness on your deathbed, please let me know what all of this means.

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