The amazing thing is that nobody thought of calling it the Laurel and Hardy-Los Angeles Open years ago, back in the 1930s, back when Bing Crosby invented golf. I would have been perfect. The first event of the tour each January, out in the Golden West. Why should all of the other tournaments have names like the Crosby, the Hope, the Andy Williams, the Danny Thomas and-once-the Sinatra, but never the one that starts it all off? Thoughtless is what it was. The L.A. Open deserved better, and happily it finally got it last week as another golf circuit got under way, with all sorts of celebrities and Bobby Greenwoods flowing by the rivers and movin' on the back roads of Glen Campbell's mind.
Actually the Glen Campbell-L.A. Open, as it was renamed just in time for 1971, offers pro golf a number of other creative possibilities. Celebrities of all kinds are probably tired of having nothing but their pet diseases to promote. Diseases are sometimes cured, but the golf tour never ends. In fact, it seemed like only about 45 minutes ago that the 1970 tour closed in the Bahamas, and suddenly here was a new year, another $7 million in prize money up for crooning or joke-telling, and everybody looking forward to the string of events named after comedians and singers. Hereafter, if they get them renamed in time, you can come to the Dick Cavett-PGA Championship, the Robert Redford-Masters, the John Lennon-British Open and the Open Championship of the U.S. Golf Association in cooperation with Phyllis Diller.
Well, it might be easy to poke fun at, but it is also good business. The L.A. Open out there at Rancho Park hadn't created so much excitement since the Colonel Sanders fried-chicken place moved in across Pico Boulevard. Waves of folks came out on Wednesday to see as glittering a pro-am as there ever was and then stayed on through the week for the tournament proper.
A couple of fellows who had never won big managed to have the heaviest influence on the tournament for the opening three days. First there was Bob E. Smith of Sacramento, who shot a 66 and tied Billy Casper and Tommy Shaw for the first-round lead. And then he shot a 69 to take the halfway lead all by himself. Smith led everyone to believe he knew a dark secret about the game, "I don't want to talk about it," he said. "It's something I found out last week, something about mental attitude."
January 18, 1971
That was on Friday. On Saturday he found out about something else he didn't want to talk about: a four-putt green and some double bogeys. That gave him a 75 and put him out of the whole thing, back where one normally finds a name like Bob E. Smith.
This paved the way for Bobby Greenwood, who comes from Cookeville, Tenn., reads the Bible and looks like a tall Dave Marr. He walked into the press room that afternoon and, having never been near one, couldn't think of anything to say except, "Hey! There's my wife over there!" Greenwood was asked what he would do in the final round, taking his three-stroke lead up against the Trevinos, Caspers, Lunns and Walls—the familiar contenders who were grouped closely behind him.
"Worry a lot," he said.
If he did, it didn't seem to bother him until the last few holes on Sunday. Then Casper and Bob Lunn charged past and into a sudden-death playoff that Lunn captured on the fourth extra hole, thus denying Casper an encore to his first-place finish of 1970.
But if the Smiths and Greenwoods were worrying a lot and the Caspers finally faltering, Glen Campbell was having a ball. He'd invited a bunch of celebrities to come out and pay golf in the pro-am either at Rancho Park or Brentwood. He must have asked nice. Somebody figured there were exactly 104 celebrities on hand, with golf clubs to swing and ballpoint pens for signing autographs.
The more cynical may have felt that a few of them weren't exactly celebrated, since nobody could recognize them. But there were plenty everybody knew. Bob Hope, for one. Hope played with Arnold Palmer, who was getting off to what has become a typical Palmer year. After he finished his pro-am round with Hope on Wednesday, a helicopter arrived to whisk the twosome down to San Clemente for dinner with the President. Then, in the first official round Thursday Palmer picked up a beer can beside his ball and got himself a two-stroke penalty.
"Everybody used to say to me. 'Glad you won the tournament,' " Palmer remarked, "and now they say, 'How's the President?' and 'Glad you made the cut.' "
The mere fact that Hope showed up had the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, Glen's co-sponsor for the tournament, ecstatic. As Tournament Chairman Bob Wileman put it, "The biggest things that have happened to me were finding out that Glen wanted to cosponsor the tournament, getting it on national television and seeing Bob Hope in our pro-am."
For the autograph seekers Wednesday was overwhelming. Hope. Dean Martin. Buddy Hackett. Glen himself. Andy Williams, and so forth. And sports guys. Jerry Quarry. Jan Stenerud. John McKay. Claude Osteen. Pat Studstill. Wow. Jack Kramer. Tom Harmon. Robert Goulet. Efrem Zimbalist. Wow. Frankie Avalon, Ray Bolger. Police Chief Ed Davis. You're busted. Buck Owens. Pat Boone. Buddy Greco. Fred MacMurray. Vic Damone. Dick Martin. Robert Stack. Shav Glick. Who? You know, the writer fella. Bob Newhart. Don Newcombe. Morey Amsterdam. You're kidding. Clint Eastwood. Richard Arlen. Oh, stop it.
It was gala. And it would probably cost Glen only about $25,000 for "loose ends." Nothing. Write it off. "It's partly promotion," a man in the agentry business said, sitting in the candy-striped tent that passed for a clubhouse at Rancho Park and watching the Fred MacMurrays amble by. "They all need it. You don't stop needing it. Glen has a show, right? On CBS, right? He likes golf, right? The L.A. Open can use a boost, right? It was a natural."
It was so natural that it could have been the Glen Campbell-Phoenix Open. Joe Curl, a CBS vice-president in charge of West Coast sales and a golf nut, tried to sell the tie-up to Phoenix—you know, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Glen Campbell and like that—but Phoenix said no. "We got a nice little tournament here," they told Curl, "and we don't want it to get out of hand."
Bob Wileman, in L.A., had the same idea as Curl at about the same time. He talked to Curl, who went to Glen Campbell's manager, a fellow named Nick Sevano, who knew show biz but didn't know golf. Curl outlined the idea.
"How much?" asked Nick Sevano.
"Huh?" asked Curl.
"How much do we get paid?"
Curl said, "You'd better speak to Glen about it because I'm going to, and he'll love it."
Glen Campbell loved it. He loved it so much that he would like to see the L.A. Open, now the oldest regular tour event (1926) in existence outside of the Western Open and the major championships, moved back up in class. Which means moving it perhaps to Riviera, the best course in town. Maybe Glen himself might pay Riviera whatever the club wants to be the host, and then maybe Glen Campbell can step up with a good course, like Bing with Pebble Beach and Cypress Point and Andy with Torrey Pines and Hope with La Quinta and Tamarisk and so forth.
Said Campbell, "It really is sort of an honor for anybody to want to name a golf tournament after you. I'm a rhythm picker, man, who spent 10 years tryin' to be an overnight success. Now here I am with Arnie and the folks."
Campbell could take some pride in the fact that so many of his show-biz friends came to play golf and then hung around to watch the action of the tournament. It was, in fact, a tribute to his personal charm.
Joe Dey, the commissioner of professional golf, was on hand, and he acknowledged that Glen Campbell's name alone had pumped a lot of life into the start of another tour. "We wouldn't have allowed them to name it after just anybody," Joe said, indicating that the Boris Karloff-L.A. Open might have been going over the green and into a bunker.
"There's a place for corporate identity, civic identity, charity identity and celebrity identity on the tour," he said. "This was the place for Glen Campbell."
And, Joe might have added, for Bob Lunn, too.