Cool Customer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Lloyd Mangrum were playing golf today, he would be politically incorrect--a lighted cigarette dangling from his mouth when he putted, hating to shake hands, sign autographs or be interviewed.

With a pencil-thin mustache and his dark hair parted in the middle, the slender Mangrum looked the part of a riverboat gambler. Which is what he might have been had he not been a golfer.

He would undoubtedly have been a winner, though.

Although his name is rarely mentioned among the legends of the game, such as Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, et al., Mangrum's record is worthy of being remembered. When the greatest 100 professionals were ranked in the "History of the PGA Tour," Mangrum was No. 7, ahead of Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, among others.

Before Mangrum won the U.S. Open in 1946 and four Los Angeles Opens, in 1949, 1951, 1953 and 1956, he had received two Purple Hearts during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He won 36 tour events, twice won the Vardon Trophy as tour player with the lowest scoring average, was leading money winner in 1951, and won six of eight Ryder Cup matches, twice serving as captain.

Yet the casual fan of today might have never heard of him.

The defining moment of Mangrum's career probably came in a U.S. Open, but not the one he won. In a playoff against Hogan and George Fazio in 1950, Mangrum lifted his ball from the 17th green to brush away a bug. The U.S. Golf Assn. docked him two strokes, and Hogan went on to win the tournament.

Under PGA rules, which Mangrum played all year, picking up the ball was permissible, but under USGA rules, it was not, and the USGA runs the Open.

Mangrum's response was to ask for the rule to be read him. When he heard it, he said, "Fair enough, we'll eat tomorrow no matter what happens."

When reporters pressed him for more, he acknowledged he had never read the USGA rule book, then closed the issue by commenting, "I don't know the traffic regulations of every city I get to either, but I manage to drive through without being arrested."

Rarely smiling and quiet almost to the point of arrogance, Mangrum was somewhat of a mystery, even to his peers on tour. He showed little emotion whether he was winning or losing, his trademark being the cigarette that rarely left his lips.

He was known as Mr. Icicle, as much for his personality as his golfing nerve.

News reports usually referred to Mangrum as a Texan, grouping him with Hogan, Byron Nelson, Ralph Guldahl and Jimmy Demaret, but although he was born there, in 1914, most of his life was spent in and around Los Angeles.

He attended James A. Foshay Junior High in L.A. and when he was 15 he was a professional caddie, working at the Sunset Fields course, where the Crenshaw shopping center is now. During his teen years, he also scraped out a living parking cars, driving a taxi and singing at country clubs where he also worked as a bouncer.

It was his older brother Ray, a professional golfer good enough to finish fourth in the 1935 U.S. Open, who guided Lloyd toward golf.

Like many other golfers of that era who started as caddies, Mangrum never played amateur golf, never took lessons and didn't make it in his first venture on tour.

"When I was packing bags, I decided the way to learn was to study the best players. I figured Horton Smith was the best putter, so when I carried for Horton, I studied every movement he made on the green, every flicker of his muscles.

"Johnny Revolta had the best short game, I figured, so I did the same with him. After I'd watch him, I'd go practice for hours on end and try to do the same things he did.

"When I first saw Sam Snead, I knew he had the sweetest swing I'd ever seen, so I started copying him down to the way he turned his head and cocked his eyes. Golf is a mimicking proposition, anyway, I think. Maybe you don't look like you're copying someone, but in your mind you do, and that's what's important."

With Smith-Revolta-Snead as his inspiration, Mangrum made his tournament debut in the 1936 Southern California Open and finished sixth behind winner Willie Hunter, head professional at Riviera at the time. He won only $50, but he gained the confidence to take on the world.

He also had a family to support, having married a widow with three children two years earlier, at age 20. His wife, Elita, whom he always called "Maw," was his constant companion until he died of heart failure Nov. 17, 1973, at their home in Apple Valley. He was 59.

In 1937, he headed East with little money but high hopes. When the St. Paul Open was over, his money was gone.

"What does a guy do when he's flat broke and 2,000 miles from home?" he asked Scotty Chisholm, a legendary figure who announced tournaments while wearing kilts.

"You go back and get together another few bucks, laddie," Chisholm advised him. Years later, Chisholm recalled that day:

"He was flat busted, and I had a few dollars and the loan of a car. To save buying food, we drove back to L.A. almost nonstop. We rolled up to Lloyd's modest little joint in Monterey Park with $1.70 in the kick, dead tired, dirty and hungry."

The family's only source of income was a beauty parlor Elita owned and operated.

Mangrum refused to be discouraged, however. Taking Chisholm's advice, he gathered a few bucks together, mainly by hustling bets on local courses, and set out again.

His breakthrough, if it could be called that, was winning the Thomasville Open in Georgia in 1940. With war clouds building, he won four other events and gained a measure of fame by shooting a first-round 64 in the 1940 Masters, eventually finishing second to Demaret. Not long after that, he joined the Army.

He was sure his golfing career was over the day he was on reconnaissance with the 90th Infantry, near Fontainbleau, his jeep flipped and his arm was broken in two places.

"You'll be OK if you can raise your arm when the cast is taken off," the doctor told him. Eventually, he managed to raise it.

"Not even the thrill I got from winning the Open equaled the one I got that day I found I could lift my arm," he recalled. "Imagine a golfer who couldn't do anything but swing like a hockey player."

Shortly after recovering, he was hit in the knee by a sniper's bullet while picking up a wounded buddy.

Typically, he laughed it off.

"One of our little buddies clipped me in the leg from about 300 yards while we were on reconnaissance," he said. "He must have been a lousy shot. Imagine only nicking a guy from that distance. I could have done better with a driver and a rabbit ball."

That brought his first Purple Heart.

The second came when some shrapnel took a chunk out of his chin during action in Czechoslovakia.

Mangrum was barely getting used to civilian life again when he entered the 1946 Open at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland. Shocking the golf world, he found himself in a playoff with Nelson and Vic Ghezzi, but it had taken a miracle putt on the ninth green of the final round of regulation play.

After hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the par-five No. 9, Mangrum seemed to fall apart. He was short with his approach in four and topped a chip that left him about 80 feet from the hole--three-putt distance. He was looking at an eight on the hole, which would have left him five strokes behind Nelson and four behind Ghezzi with only nine to play.

According to witnesses, he casually looked over the situation, quickly addressed the ball with his Blue Goose putter and boldly struck it toward the hole.

"The ball caromed off one little hillock, then came back into line with the hole off another slope," wrote one reporter. "As the voice of the crowd rose to a shrill scream, the ball sped into the cup, hopped straight up like a trout on its last leap, and holed out."

Instead of an eight, Mangrum had a bogey six and settled down to squeeze out a share of the lead after 72 holes at 284.

Coming back the next day for an 18-hole playoff, the three tied a second time with par 72s. It took another 18 holes in the afternoon to decide the championship.

Mangrum was three strokes behind Ghezzi and two behind Nelson with six holes remaining when rain, thunder and lightning swept the course. Unlike today, when lightning suspends play, the trio played on.

Oscar Fraley, writing for United Press, said it seemed to inspire Mangrum when the thunder began to resemble cannon fire.

"The former corporal was just another G.I. again for a minute," Fraley wrote. "His cream-colored sports shirt seemed to turn to khaki and to him it no longer was a golf course. That rumble was too familiar and it meant trouble. And that's when Mangrum looked up at the flashes, laughed and really started to play."

Mangrum birdied three of the final six holes and won with a seven-foot putt on the final green for par. It gave him a 72 to 73s for Ghezzi, who bogeyed the final hole, and Nelson.

"It was the greatest demonstration of courage I ever saw on a golf course," amateur champion Bud Ward said. "Mangrum wasn't given a chance in the playoff. He needed a tricky seven-foot putt on a drenched green to win. He didn't even hesitate. Just stepped up like nothing was at stake and banged it in."

His four L.A. Open wins--three at Riviera and one at Rancho Park--came against the greats of the day, Hogan, Snead and his close friend, Cary Middlecoff. Only one other player, MacDonald Smith in the '20s and '30s, won four L.A. Opens.

In 1951, Mangrum chipped in from off the green on the 72nd hole to beat Henry Ransom by a stroke.

After his third win at Riviera in 1953, Times writer Charles Curtis suggested, "Who said Riviera is Hogan's Alley? Let's rename it Mangrum's Meadows."

During one five-year stretch, Mangrum won three L.A. Opens, finished second to Hogan in another and missed the fifth because of a broken shoulder that was said to have been caused by a bar fight.

It should be pointed out that there were no TV reports, no scoreboards on the course nor walkie-talkies to keep fans or players informed. In 1949, Mangrum kept track on the opposition by listening to Bob Kelly's report on a portable radio. He wore pajamas under his golf outfit on Saturday when snow fell on Riviera.

For the last 18 years of his life, Mangrum lived across the road from the 18th tee of the Apple Valley Country Club. He is remembered there with a Lloyd Mangrum Room, complete with a set of clubs he used and many pictures taken during his career.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°