For a report on the Los Angeles Open, which this week inaugurated the 1956 winter circuit, I am happy to turn over this column to SI's correspondent JAMES MURRAY.
In the second round of the Los Angeles Open, Tommy Bolt fired a searing 63, and when it was posted, Lloyd Mangrum was the one who whistled the loudest. "You know, I don't think Tommy Bolt himself realizes just how well he does play this game," he drawled. But the central fact of last week's play at the Rancho municipal golf course was that Lloyd Mangrum himself didn't realize just how well Lloyd Mangrum plays the game.
When the first tee shots had whistled down the fairway signaling the start of the 1956 golf trek which has an eye-popping $995,000 total pot for the year at stake, Lloyd Mangrum was almost as lightly regarded as any first-starting home-town youngster who teed up in the early morning fog with a looping backswing and shaky knees.
To be sure, Mangrum had been for years by common consent one of America's top five players. But he was a creaky 41 years old now and barely recovered from an attack of hepatitis and a mishap which saw three ribs pulled loose from the sternum. He had not played a round of competitive golf since last April, and the consensus had him consigned to the golfing boneyard, a sentimental entry, nothing more.
January 16, 1956
But the competing pros were quick to dry their eyes when Lloyd, swinging carefully to protect his newly mucilaged rib cage, opened with a scalding 66. When he matched that with another 66, their eyes hardened. And when he added a third-round 68, teeth were set on edge from one end of the locker room to the other, and the casual observer would have bet from the grumbling that Ben Hogan was abroad on the trail again.
What completely confounded the experts, besides Mangrum's stamina, was the fact that the old Mangrum, always considered a place hitter as golf swingers go, had suddenly become a slugger. Never too long or straight with a wood (he only carries two woods, a driver and spoon, in his bag), Mangrum all of a sudden was outdriving Cary Middlecoff and the other home-run hitters of golf. His short game, as usual, was surgically deft and his putting was scalpel-sharp. "Ball just seems to run for the hole like a rat, don't it?" he would ask affably as he stooped repeatedly to retrieve his one-putts.
Mangrum toured the course with the nonchalance of a Perry Como at rehearsal, whistling, humming, scratching his ear, chatting with onlookers. He even went so far as to leave his cigaret and holder in his mouth as he lined up crucial putts. A man who has won three Los Angeles Opens, he acted as though he couldn't be expected to get excited over a fourth. "That's what having half a million dollars does for your nerves," commented an opponent enviously as he eyed Mangrum's mink wood covers.
A MAN OPENING AN ACORN
All of the major pros were on hand for the kickoff tourney save Hogan (who played in the pretourney pro-am) and Sam Snead. Some 25,000 fans were there over the four days to greet them. The course was not difficult. Only six years old, it offered saplings instead of trees and was woefully undertrapped. But it was long—over 7,000 yards—and its weaknesses did not prevent big Mike Souchak, still looking like a man trying to open an acorn as he hunched over the little ball on the putting green, from toppling with an 81 on the third round. National Open Champion Jack Fleck lasted only to the first out, was in such a savage humor that he curtly ignored the press and bawled impatiently for the locker boy when he was bothered with questions. Tommy Bolt, a man who was described in the course of the play by the Los Angeles Time's Braven Dyer as "every other inch a gentleman," as usual had a bigger fight with himself than he did with the course. It was still clear that the sweet-swinging Bolt will have to button down his high choler before he can hope to realize his high potential.
By the last round, Mangrum had opened up such a lengthy lead—five strokes—that the betting was that he would win eased up. And, in fact, he did. When play was over and Mangrum had his fourth L.A. Open under his belt, the other pros sadly packed their tailored worsteds and rainbow alpacas for the trek north to the Crosby Open. They greeted the news that Mangrum would play the entire winter circuit with the sour looks normally reserved for a double bogey. With Hogan and Snead sitting out this year's tour and the other vintage swingers showing signs of golf decay, the hungrier pros had hoped to get a clear shot at the nearly $1 million in prize money left. "I hear Mangrum has a beautiful home in Apple Valley," said one of them sadly. "I wish he'd go live in it!"