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A True Medalist

The young man plopped onto the floor, leaning against a wall and next to a metal cabinet.

It was in the Cleveland-area home library of a woman who lived to be 101 and had passed months earlier.

“It was just sort of a place where she would go and read and be comfortable,” says Morris Everett Jr.

Bored, or curious, or both, the young man, Everett’s stepson, opened the cabinet and pulled out a book. An art book. The woman had been part of a family of collectors, and by design or not, she had accumulated many art books.

Finished thumbing through it, Johnny started to put the book back.

“Uh, Morrie,” he said to his stepfather, “there’s some stuff back here.”

Everett remembers well that day in 2012.

“I said, ‘What is it? Take it out,’” he says.

The woman, Everett’s mother, had stashed a bit of family history.

She was Eleanor Everett, the only child of one H. Chandler Egan, a Medford icon transplanted from Chicago early in the 20th century, and who once was the best golfer in the land.

The find was significant, for it uncovered two Olympic medals for golf from 1904, the second and last time the sport was in the Games.

Egan earned a gold medal for captaining the winning team, and a silver for finishing second to Canadian George Lyon in the individual competition at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis.

Golf returns to the Olympics this year, beginning Thursday, and for that reason, the spotlight is again on the exploits of Egan.

♦♦♦

Morris Everett Jr., Egan’s grandson, is a collector of considerable repute.

His father was a first-class confederate stamp collector and “could speak about the war between the states through the eyes of the postal service,” says Everett.

Everett’s brother, Chandler, collects lead soldiers and club ties.

Everett himself first dallied in stamps, but that didn’t stick. Then, while in college, someone introduced him to a small collection of movie posters and told him of a store in New York City that sold them.

“I bought a few items, then I bought a lot more, then I bought a ton, then I bought 10 tons,” says Everett. “I really went at it.”

He now is the world’s largest collector of movie posters. Last year, Everett sold a small percentage of his holdings, including some of his best: “Casablanca,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Dracula,” “Frankenstein.”

It brought more than $3 million for some 7,000 posters. He now has 189,000 posters spread throughout five storage units and his shop in Cleveland.

“It’s still the largest collection in the world,” he says, “but it’s going to slowly dissipate.”

Needless to say, Everett knows collectibles.

When his stepson dug into the metal cabinet and pulled out a metal box, which housed two smaller boxes, and opened them, Everett saw the Olympic medals for the first time.

“I said, ‘Wow, this is something,’” he recalls.

They weren’t the only items of interest retrieved. There were more than 60 other medals Egan earned, some 200 photos and three bulging scrapbooks, meticulously kept by Egan’s sister, Evva. There were mountains of letters. And scorecards.

Some in the golf industry were flabbergasted, a representative of the U.S. Golf Association among them.

“She told me, ‘This is the largest and most complete collection of material on a famous golfer, all in one place, that I have ever seen,’” says Everett.

She had come to pick up the Olympic medals for display earlier this summer in the USGA Museum. Then it was off to Oakmont, site of the U.S. Open. Now they’re on loan to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the person most intrigued by the Egan collection was Don Holton, a 30-year Exmoor Country Club member, where Egan honed his skills as a junior. Holton, the club historian, was enlisted by the Everett clan to be the archivist of Egan’s legacy.

“He knows more about Chandler Egan than we do,” says Everett, who was born four years after his grandfather’s death.

When revealing the discovery, Everett had a little fun at Holton’s expense.

They were at the Exmoor, in a room across the hall from an Egan exhibit. Everett had bagged and boxed the goods, then slowly presented them to Holton. He started with medals from Egan’s college days.

“I brought out what I thought was the least important, one at a time, and Don was wiping the drool off his chin,” Everett says with a cackle. “I mean, I had a lot of fun with it, I really did. He would go, ‘Oh my God; oh, oh, look; I can’t believe this exists. We thought they were lost forever.’ Those kinds of remarks.”

Holton admits he nearly fell off his chair.

Everett says he and the family hadn’t given much consideration to the whereabouts of the Olympic medals. They were a family of tennis players, anyhow.

“Huh,” he says, “I think it just sort of passed us by.”

They’ve become a hot topic recently. Numerous stories about Egan and his medals have appeared across the country.

“We’re very proud,” says Everett, “and very happy.”

♦♦♦

Henry Chandler Egan, Chan to his friends, established himself as a golfer without peer in the early 1900s, prior to moving in 1911 to Medford, where he bought 115 acres of pear and apple orchards off Foothill Road.

Egan’s competitive career stalled for several years while he grew fruit. He re-emerged in 1914 as a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Amateur. He also was in the early stages of golf-course design, a venture that would bring him further acclaim.

Among the courses he designed or redesigned were Pebble Beach, Eugene Country Club and Rogue Valley Country Club.

Egan’s play, and the gentlemanly manner in which he went about it, had elicited admiration far and wide.

Bobby Jones, who would later become the greatest amateur player in history, penned Egan a letter and asked for his autograph.

Chick Evans Jr., who started a caddie scholarship foundation nearly 90 years ago that is still going strong, looped for Egan and later wrote glowingly of him.

Following Egan’s death from pneumonia in 1936 at age 51, some of sport’s most well-known figures came to Medford for a memorial celebration and the dedication of a granite water fountain that still stands at Rogue Valley Country Club.

The guests included Jones, famed sports writer Grantland Rice and Horton Smith, who won two of the first three Masters.

Egan was born Aug. 21, 1884, and took up golf at age 12 when his cousin, Walter, tutored him during a vacation in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The son of W.C. Egan, a successful distiller in Chicago, Egan grew up on a five-acre property overlooking Lake Michigan. He and his brother, Bill, and cousin, Walter, built a nine-hole course on the family estate, known as Egandale.

They also drew up 13 rules for their “club,” one of which was: “Any lady golfer caught casting sly glances at the gentleman golfers will have the glances returned without comment.”

Egandale was six blocks east of the entrance to Exmoor, where W.C. Egan joined in 1899 so Chandler could further develop his game.

“We’ve always heard (Chandler’s) name,” says Holton, “and our history books at the club know him, celebrate him, revere him.”

Egan played at Harvard, winning the individual collegiate national championship in 1902 as a sophomore. He captained that team to the championship, and did likewise the ensuing two years.

It was in 1904 that Egan had one of the finest amateur years on record. He was the low amateur at the U.S. Open, won the prestigious Western Amateur at Exmoor, then claimed the U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol, site of the recent PGA Championship.

Soon after, he was charged with assembling a 10-man Western Golf Association team of Chicago players for the Olympics, where it would compete against two other American teams — the Trans-Mississippi Association, made up of players from Missouri and Iowa, and the U.S. Golf Association squad, a loosely formed group from many areas.

♦♦♦

Five of the 10 players on Egan’s team were from Exmoor.

“I don’t think they had a fleeting idea of what they were going to create when they won it,” says Holton, “or that they’d be the last to do it for more than a century. Nor could they have imagined the world today would be recalling their names and celebrating them as Olympic champions.”

The Midwest was a hotbed of golf. Top high school and college players traveled about to play one another.

They could be seen at commuter train stations, bags of clubs strapped over their shoulders, heading to their next competition. The automobile had recently been invented, but decent roads hadn’t. Trains were the way to go.

“These were like the top young studs,” says Holton. “They could compete, they played hard, and I think they partied hard.”

They had reason to celebrate after the Olympics, which were held in conjunction with the St. Louis World’s Fair and stretched over five months. The golf was in September.

After losing the first day in a 36-hole match against Trans-Mississippi, the WGA team pulled away on Day 2 for a comfortable win.

The individual event was a different matter. Egan and Lyon each played 36 holes of qualifying, then 36-hole matches for four straight days just to get to the final.

An ESPN article called it “as grueling a test of stamina as it was an examination of skill.”

Egan was a powerful player, winning a long-drive contest amongst the Olympians with a shot that carried 234 yards. He also was 26 years Lyon’s junior.

Lyon led 1 up after the morning 18, which was played in a downpour. On the second 18, Egan drove into the rough on the second hole and behind a tree on the third. Errant shots at 15 and 16 sealed a 3-and-2 loss.

He credited Lyon with being a particularly clever player and admitted he was “over-golfed and stale.”

Egan was the top-ranked American player in 1904, one of three times he commanded that distinction.

He continued his solid play in 1905, repeating as the U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur champion, the only man do so.

Egan won the U.S. Amateur twice, and was runner-up in 1909. He didn’t enter again until 1929 at Pebble Beach, when, at age 45, he was a semifinalist. There’s reason to speculate, then, that his amateur record would have been even more glorious had he been a steady participant in amateur golf’s grandest event.

Egan won a total of four Western Amateurs and five Pacific Northwest Amateurs. At age 50, he was invited by Jones to play in the Masters, where he was the No. 2 amateur and placed 60th overall.

Michael Trostel, director of the USGA Museum, where Egan’s artifacts were displayed in June, says Egan was “under appreciated,” both for his success in the U.S. Amateur, the preeminent tournament in America “for the first three to four decades of its existence,” and the Games.

“I don’t think his role in Olympic golf was appreciated, at least by me, as much as it should have been until these medals came to light,” says Trostel.

Egan was working on a design project, Legion Memorial in Everett, Washington, when he came down with lobar pneumonia in late March of 1936. He died six days later on April 5 and was buried in Medford.

♦♦♦

Holton has kept busy organizing the Egan material. He’s made more than 3,000 scans while digitizing the collection.

“And there are some interesting things about Medford,” he says. “There are many scrapbooks, photo books that were saved by Chandler and his daughter in the years they lived there.”

Holton also was busy with a three-person crew from The Golf Channel recently. It interviewed him at Exmoor, then went to Cleveland to visit with Everett, then went to Glen Echo Country Club for background on the 1904 Olympics.

Holton was expected to fact-check the script this weekend in advance of it airing before golf begins in Rio.

It will be one more way for the spotlight to find one of golf’s remarkable historical figures.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

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Egan, right, with fellow Oregonian Dr. O.F. Willing, of Portland in the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. Willing defeated the 45-year-old Egan in the semifinals. PHOTO FROM THE EVERETT FAMILY COLLECTION
Egan's gold and silver Olympic medals from the 1904 Games in St. Louis. PHOTO FROM THE EVERETT FAMILY COLLECTION