Spang in the middle of the stucco jungle of bungalows, eateries and movie studios that covers the western end of Los Angeles you will come upon rolling green leas and meadows which the municipality cultivates for its clubless golfers. Overhead, the jets from the neighborhood aircraft factories draw their contrail designs, the etchings of the supersonic age, across the blue midwinter sky. It is here early each January that the nomads of professional golf gather at the city-owned Rancho golf course to compete in the Los Angeles Open golf championship as they start on their annual winter tour across the southern states.
At the practice tee several days before last week's LA Open, early arrivals were casually trying out last year's swing to see if it produced the same shots it did in 1959. A latecomer, followed by caddie with golf bag and practice balls, sauntered up to the firing line and began the greetings: "Hiya, Bo; Hi, Souch; Hi, Vic. What say, Bessy, long time no see. Happy New Year, Frank. Souch, what you doin' with that new grip? Say, man, you been practicing."
It was here on the practice tee and around the Rancho course (by now closed to all but the 150 or so competing pros going through their warm-up rounds) that the student of golfing fads and mores was able to acquire a preview of the upcoming fashions. Last week, for instance, he would have learned that the black shoe—preferably with flaps over the lacings—is the thing for 1960, with the plain brown and alligator-skin a poor second and third. The garish haberdashery of the Jimmy Demaret era had vanished in favor of somber blacks and whites, grays, beiges and pastels. The loose-sleeved alpaca sweater was the uniform of the day. The white tennis visor, like the whooping crane, was in a last-ditch struggle for survival.
At Rancho there was no Demaret in person—or Hogan or Snead or Middlecoff. Nowadays these Olympian figures are mustered only for the classic events like the Open and the Masters. Their places in the forefront of the winter tour have been taken by Art Wall Jr. (see cover), Mike Souchak, Bill Casper Jr., Doug Ford, Arnold Palmer, Ken Venturi, Dow Finsterwald, Bob Rosburg, Gene Littler, Jay Hebert. There is an occasional reminder of the past, like the pencil-line mustache and leathery face of Lloyd Mangrum or the weary slouch of big Dutch Harrison. But most of the faces on the winter tour are young, and unfamiliar to all but the most avid followers of golf.
It's as easy to pick the Democratic nominee for President as it is to forecast which of these younger golfers will break into the top 10 money winners this year. Yet certain of the newcomers keep impressing the older players with intimations of class.
One such is Dave Ragan, who last year wound up with earnings of $14,785—a modest 29th among the touring pros. Dave is a towheaded, crew-cut 24 and, like most pros his age, he came up through collegiate golf. He turned pro in 1956 after his graduation from the University of Florida and joined the tour a year later. He weathered the first lean years with the backing of admirers from Daytona Beach (including his father), but last year with his victory in the Eastern Open and some good golf elsewhere he was able to make his own way. Dave is strong and owns the sound, compact kind of swing that stays together under duress. Above all, he is willing to gamble for victory. He isn't exactly free of care, however; besides a pretty blonde wife, he has a set of 18-month-old twins, and the whole family traipses along with him from motel to motel.
On the basis of 1959 performances, Bob Goalby might well be rated the young pro most likely to succeed in 1960. Bob's winnings of $26,315 were 12th biggest on last year's tour, with only the established veterans ahead of him. As the work-horse of the tour, Bob played in 44 of the major events last year, and although he won none of them he shot enough really fine rounds to give him three seconds and two thirds. At high school in Belleville, Ill. and later at the University of Illinois, Bob was an excellent athlete. He won letters in football and baseball and even attracted interest from a few professional baseball clubs before turning to golf. Bob is big—6 feet and 195 pounds—and he can hit a golf ball a mile, but he seems subject to agonizing slumps. Although he hasn't won a major event since the Greensboro Open in 1958—his freshman year as a pro—he is certainly among the logical choices for big things in the future.
Then there is Doug Sanders, a dark, handsome 26-year-old from Cedartown, Ga., whose earnings last year ($24,461) were second to Goalby's among the younger pros. He wound up the season in December with a fine victory in the Coral Gables Open. He is the kind of man who offers great comfort to the weekend golfer; he hits the ball in a most unstylish way. He stands up to it with his feet wide apart and his legs stiff, and following a short, fast back-swing, he simply overpowers it. While defying all the theories of style, Doug manages to get some marvelous results, and must be rated a very fine golfer indeed. The big question is whether such an unorthodox swinger can continue over the years to produce the best golf—particularly when he is not feeling up to snuff or when his concentration wavers. It is tough to argue with results, but there are wise golfing men who feel that Sanders' technique works against his chances of remaining among the first flight of pro golfers.
Somewhat farther down the earnings list there is Don Whitt, a golfer who might—at a distance—be mistaken for Ken Venturi. He has the same build as Ken, and there are similarities in their stride and general appearance on the golf course, although Don's swing lacks the easy, fluid grace of Ken's. Last year—his fourth on the tour—Don suddenly startled everyone with his back-to-back victories in the Memphis and Kentucky Derby opens. He was in the top money four other times, but he doesn't seem to be playing that kind of golf right now. A Californian like his good friend Bill Casper, Whitt lacks Casper's easygoing manner; he is a plugger. He is a golfer who should get better with time, and on occasion he can beat anybody. The question about Don is: How often can he get his game up to its highest pitch?
Of course, these four youngsters—Ragan, Goalby, Sanders and Whitt—own no lien on tomorrow's headlines. Anyone who follows the tour even casually can name a half dozen almost equally solid prospects. Who, for instance, could sensibly fail to consider Tommy Jacobs, whose victory in the 1958 Denver Open put him into the winner's circle just over a year after he first joined the tour? Or Mason Rudolph, the Walker Cupper who joined the tour in mid-May and by September had won the $40,000 Golden Gate Open after placing in the money in his first 11 starts? Or Joe Campbell, a former national intercollegiate champion from Purdue, who was named "freshman of the year" on last year's tour? Or Jim Ferree or J. C. Goosie or John McMullin—excellent golfers all.
RECORD PURSES IN '60
The 1960 tour is going to put more money into more golfers' pockets than ever before. The LA Open, which only a few years ago seemed to have gone berserk by offering $10,000 in prize money, this year distributed $39,500—$5,500 of it going to the winner. The Crosby will add another $50,000. On February 3-7 the Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic will put up $100,000 for the boys to shoot at in the course of a five-day, 90-hole event—one round more than the pros have ever before had to negotiate during a regular medal-play tournament. Thus, in the first five weeks of the winter tour, the migrant golfers will split up some $260,000—more than a whole year's prize money back in the heyday of Byron Nelson.
Television is one factor behind the inflated size of the purses. Although TV has not yet overcome all the technical problems of covering golf, it has become a fixture at the Crosby and the Masters on the winter circuit. In some of the lesser tournaments along the way local telecasts will be tried this year for the first time, and Palm Springs will be on the air coast to coast. All or part of the fees earned from TV are added by the sponsors or the PGA to the pros' winnings.
With so much loose change floating around, it is no wonder that the man on this week's cover was able to accumulate more prize money on the 1959 winter tour than any other golfer ever had in the past. Over the entire year Art Wall Jr. raked in $63,210 as compared to the $42,556 Ben Hogan won in his best year (1946) when he won 11 tournaments and finished in the money 21 other times. While gathering this loot, Art won the Crosby, the Azalea Open and the Masters, and took seconds at Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson. Then in the spring and summer he had three more seconds, and a victory in the $50,000 Buick Open, winding up some $16,000 ahead of Mike Souchak, his closest rival in the department of finance.
For several years now—probably dating back to the 1955 Open at San Francisco when Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in the playoff—one of the more popular diversions around golf courses has been to speculate over Hogan's successor. At one time or another it seemed as if it might be Littler or Venturi or Ford, but none of them could maintain a consistent superiority over his rivals.
As the 1960 tour begins and one thinks back on the past year's performances, Art Wall would seem to be the heir presumptive. Certainly there is much in Wall's makeup that fits him for a long tenure at the head of the professional ranks.
First, there is Art's earnest dedication to his job of golfing. A teetotaler who even shuns coffee and tea, Wall keeps himself in absolutely top condition from one end of the year to the other. He knows there is not much of a living in pro golf that is not quite first-class. He had seven pretty lean years on the circuit before 1957—and by then he and his wife had four young children sitting at home in Honesdale, Pa. Wall obviously feels little frivolity is permissible to a man of 36 who hopes to dominate a game like golf for more than a brief span.
In this respect Wall is made of much of the same stern material as Hogan. He knows himself—and no horsing around. He has figured out how to "play himself into shape," as he puts it, without leaving his best shots on the practice tee. He does it largely by playing his practice rounds with enough of his own money riding on himself to make him care how he places his approaches and schools his putts. He knows when, after six or seven or eight weeks under the stern disciplines of the tour, it is time to knock off for a week or two and get back to his wife Jean and the children. He understands the art of getting along with people, particularly the press and the public. Not long ago someone asked Art what he thought was the most important quality a great golfer needed. He said, "Patience." And then he amended it: "Patience and memory."
The first and second money winners of the 1959 pro tour, Wall and Souchak, are about as different as two athletes can be (though both were Pennsylvania boys and both went to Duke University). Souchak, at 32, is the essence of the smiling, gregarious athlete who seems to do everything for fun. Unlike the thoughtful Wall, who plays every shot as if it were part of a well-arranged plan for the entire round, Mike gives the appearance of hitting the ball with reckless abandon. A former end on the Duke football team, he is a big and beefy man who can put on weight as fast as you can say, "More, please."
This December, for instance, Mike had to take care of his two children at his home in Durham, N.C. while his wife Nancy gave birth to their third child. As he explains it, "Every time the kids got hungry I had to go into the kitchen to get them something to eat, and every time they had to eat something I ate it with them." The result is that Souchak starts the tour this year eight or 10 pounds over his best playing weight of 195 pounds. Last year it was not until Mike had slimmed down to 195—from 220—that he started to play winning golf. He may be off to another slow start this year.
Some of the labels attached to the best-publicized golfers are well-worn. Wall is the fellow who uses the "baseball grip." Souchak is the biggest hitter on the circuit next to George Bayer. Doug Ford can get down from anywhere on the green in two putts. Casper can sink anything within eight feet of the hole. Finsterwald is the percentage golfer whose infallible consistency keeps him always within reach of the money but never quite at the top of the heap. And so it goes.
Certainly these labels weren't manufactured out of whole cloth, but as the 1960 season gets under way it would be well to remember one thing: any of 1959's first 10 money winners—Wall, Souchak, Littler, Palmer, Finsterwald, Casper, Rosburg, Ford, Venturi and Jay Hebert, in that order—is capable of winning any of the tournaments along the route. The one who wins is almost always the one with the hot putter. But the one who wins the most frequently is the one who takes the gambles that give his putter a chance to operate within range of the birdies and eagles. Last year it was Wall and Souchak who played that kind of golf more often than the others.
This year, if some of the younger members of the troupe are going to climb into the first 10 or higher, they will have to be able to put together four good rounds on a number of occasions. At least a dozen of these younger golfers are capable of hitting just as good a shot as their more distinguished elders, but it takes something beyond that to land in the upper brackets these days. As Mike Souchak described it, "There are some fellows who can hit .300 in baseball every year, but you would never trade one of them for Mantle, who might hit the ball out of the park any time he comes up. It's the same in golf. The consistent guys will make a good living, but they're not going to play the great rounds that make you remember them."
There will be only a few genuine home run hitters on the tour this year. Perhaps one or two of them will be supplied by the talented younger generation.