Golf’s Toughest Competitor: Lloyd Mangrum

By admin December 30, 2014 01:00

Golf’s Toughest Competitor (More So Than Tiger): Lloyd Mangrum 

by Ried Holien

People say Tiger Woods is golf’s fiercest competitor, but such talk would just make Lloyd Mangrum laugh. You see, Mangrum was, is, and likely always will be golf’s toughest tough guy. Tiger stares down 3-foot putts; Mangrum stared down death.

Contemporaries called Mangrum “Mr. Icicle” for his cool confidence under pressure, and for his frosty personality. So quiet as to appear condescending, Mangrum showed little emotion. Other golfers respected his ability and feared his temper.

Sam Snead remembered sitting with Mangrum at a restaurant once when Lloyd accidentally tripped a passerby. The irate man rose and started yelling at Mangrum. The golfer listened for a minute, silent and stone-faced. Then, in a flash, Mangrum picked up the sugar bowl and slammed it into the man’s face. Crunch, crash, splattering blood.
Years later, after Mangrum died—which meant he was safe saying it—Snead revealed: “Some of us weren’t sure he was quite right mentally because of what he went through in the war.”

Decorated Soldier in Patton’s Army

Lloyd Mangrum earned four Battle Stars and received two Purple Hearts fighting in World War II. Serving in a forward reconnaissance group of the 9th Division of General Patton’s Third Army, Mangrum landed on Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion, helped win the Battle of the Bulge, and fought to the war’s final days in Czechoslovakia. Of his original platoon, only Mangrum and one other man survived the war.

Enduring such hardships, Mangrum returned home to find that, “Golf is a cinch compared to what I went through in the war.” He went on to win 36 tournaments, ranking him in the top 15 of all time. He twice earned the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, tallied an incredible record on four Ryder Cup teams (once serving as playing captain), and, in 1998, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Yet despite all these accomplishments very few golf fans today know anything about Lloyd Mangrum. Sportswriter Jim Murray dubbed Mangrum “the forgotten man of golf.” Certainly, his reputation suffered because of when he played. Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson all collected more victories, and even Hogan (nicknamed “the Iceman”) possessed a warmer personality.

Mangrum detested giving interviews, hated signing autographs, and often refused to shake a person’s hand. At the 1996 Masters, Byron Nelson moved about the practice facilities and asked “young pros if they ever heard of Lloyd Mangrum, and they never had.” Nelson felt that a cruel slight. Nelson lamented, “Lloyd’s the best player who’s been forgotten since I’ve been playing golf.” And it’s true to this very day.

Texas Born, Southern California Grown

Lloyd Mangrum was born on August 1, 1914, in Trenton, Texas. In truth, though, he was a southern California boy, attending James A. Foshay Junior High in Los Angeles, and spending most of his adult life in the area. He turned professional when only 15-years-old, working for his brother Ray (himself good enough to get 4th place at the 1935 U.S. Open) who was then the pro at Cliff-Dale Country Club in Dallas. Returning to California in 1934, 20-year-old Lloyd married a widowed mother of three young children. Her name was Elita, but Lloyd called her “Maw.” They proved inseparable.

While practicing to become a touring professional, Lloyd scraped together money working odd jobs during the Depression. Along with his pro duties, he parked cars, drove a taxi, sang in clubs, worked as a bouncer, and caddied. This last vocation taught him invaluable skills.
Although he never took one official lesson, Mangrum copied great golfers. “I decided the way to learn was to study the best players,” he explained. “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.”
After some time copying these greats, Mangrum tested his own skill on tour starting with the 1936 Southern California Open. He finished sixth, collecting a $50 check. That humble beginning inspired him to try a full tournament schedule in 1937. He struggled, finishing the season at the St. Paul Open with no money in his pocket.

Flat Broke 2,000 Miles From Home

Desperate, he asked Scotty Chisholm, the tour’s radio announcer, “What does a guy do when he’s flat broke and 2,000 miles from home?” Chisholm advised, “You go back and get together another few bucks, laddie.” Himself nearly broke, Chisholm offered Mangrum a ride back to L.A. in his car. “To save buying food, we drove back to L.A. almost nonstop,” Chisholm remembered later. “We rolled up to Lloyd’s modest little joint in Monterey Park with $1.90 in the kick, dead tired, dirty and hungry.”

Undeterred, Mangrum hustled money in matches with well-heeled locals. Betting suited his personality. “I’m better under pressure than most,” he explained. “I’m also a gambler at heart, and I’ll take a chance rather than play it safe. It’s always better to be a winner.”

Along with the gambler’s mentality, Mangrum possessed the good looks of a movie star. A perfectly groomed pencil-thin mustache seemed drawn above his upper lip. He dressed in fashionable clothes that hung brilliantly upon his thin, muscular frame. His coal-black hair—greased down and center-parted—never had a single strand out of place. Indeed, by the 1940s,

Mangrum supplemented his income by endorsing hair-care products like Vitalis. Had he chosen a different path, Mangrum could have doubled for Clark Gable, if not taken the role of Rhett Butler for himself.

Yet even more than his looks or personality, Mangrum became known for the cigarette always locked between his lips. A chain smoker, he seldom stopped even when swinging a club. Once, a female spectator scolded Mangrum, saying, “Athletes shouldn’t smoke.” Mangrum replied with a cold stare and deadpanned voice: “I’m no athlete, lady. I’m a golfer.”

And, by 1940, he proved himself a pretty good golfer. That year, he shot a 64 in the opening round of the Masters, which stood as low score at Augusta until Nick Price bettered it by one stroke 46 years later. (Augusta fit Mangrum’s game. He finished in the top-8 at the Masters every year from 1947 through 1956. Yet, there was no talk of Lloyd-proofing the course.) He finished tied for first at the U.S. Open, but lost in the 18-hole playoff to Lawson Little. Later that year, he notched his first professional victory at the Thomasville Open in Georgia.

Mangrum Refuses The Easy Way Out

Mangrum appeared ready for great things until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army. He served his country for the next four years. His golfing record would undoubtedly appear far more impressive had he not lost these years to war. While Lloyd was in combat fighting for his life out of bunkers, many golf professionals were in bunkers fighting to break 70 on their scorecard.

You see, as serious as war was, high-ranking personnel felt the need to occasionally relax, which they did at the officers-only golf courses that sprang up at almost all of America’s big training bases. Every course needs a pro, right? So, the army easily identified qualified candidates by an occupational code on their enlistment form that classified anyone as a “professional golfer.” Almost every tour pro escaped combat by accepting cushy stateside positions. For instance, when Mangrum was fighting the Germans at Bastogne, Ben Hogan was fighting his hook at the driving range.

Mangrum could have gone the safe route, but refused. When training at Fort Meade, Mangrum was offered the pro’s position at their course. When approached, a disgusted Mangrum let them know he enlisted to fight, not to golf.

History next spots Mangrum in France soon after the D-Day landings where a terrible accident nearly ended his golfing career. Racing along in a jeep on recon duty, his jeep flipped. Mangrum’s arm broke in two places, nearly shattering his shoulder. A doctor set his arm and told him: “You’ll be OK if you can raise your arm when the cast is taken off.” Eventually, after some rehab, he lifted his arm slightly. Mangrum recalled, “Not even the thrill I got from winning the Open equaled the one I got that day I found I could lift my arm. Imagine a golfer who couldn’t do anything but swing like a hockey player.”

Back in battle soon thereafter, Mangrum braved the line of fire to rescue a wounded comrade. A sniper’s bullet hit his knee. Again healing fast, Mangrum refused to be cowered. “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.” Mangrum received his first Purple Heart for that incident. His second came near the war’s end when some shrapnel tore into his chin.
Perhaps needing to laugh at the danger, Mangrum turned both injuries into jokes. After the war, he said of his Purple Hearts: “Actually, I got them tripping over a whiskey bottle while running out of a whorehouse in Paris.”

Golf Compared to War Is A Piece of Cake

Having experienced real pressure in battle, Mangrum returned home to find golf not all that stressful. “I don’t suppose that any of the pro and amateur golfers who were combat soldiers, Marines or sailors will soon be able to think of a three-putt green as one of the really bad troubles in life,” he said.

Armed with this attitude, Mangrum went on to win the 1946 U.S. Open at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland. No Open comes easy, however, and this one had its own fireworks…literally. After 72 holes, Mangrum stood tied with Vic Ghezzi and Byron Nelson. The three went into an 18-hole playoff the next day. All three men shot par 72s, which meant they teed it up again that afternoon for another 18-hole playoff.

With six holes remaining, Mangrum’s chances looked bleak. He trailed Ghezzi by three strokes, and Nelson by two. Then a storm hit. Rain poured down. Thunder boomed. Lightning flashed. Unlike today when such weather suspends play, golfers then were forced to continue. The danger unnerved Ghezzi and Nelson, but it appeared to calm Mangrum. Writing for the United Press, Oscar Fraley observed: “The former corporal was just another G.I. again for a minute.

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.”

Lloyd Mangrum stormed to victory by birdying half of the final six holes, capped off by a clutch 7-foot par putt on 18. He carded a par 72, beating his competitors by a stroke each. “It was the greatest demonstration of courage I ever saw on a golf course,” commented two-time Amateur champion Bud Ward. “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.”

Putting always proved one of Mangrum’s strengths. Bing Crosby (himself no slouch on the links), writing in the forward for Mangrum’s first instructional book, Golf: A New Approach, noted that Lloyd had, “an ideal golfing temperament, great competitive spirit and what most folks consider the finest putting tough in the game today.” Byron Nelson agreed, saying, “He was a tough competitor and an excellent putter. Any time you beat him, you could know you were playing well.”

Putting Tips From A Putting Great

Proving the point, Mangrum’s advice on putting still rings true today. He stressed “good balance as the first consideration in good putting,” and advocated having your eyes directly over the ball. At a time when almost all pros putted by flicking their hands back and forth,

Mangrum wrote, “The cardinal principle of good putting is to keep the wrists from getting into the act.” Proving yet again he was far ahead of his time, he also preached that, “The tempo of the stroke should remain the same throughout.” Today, nearly all pros putt like Mangrum did.

With that silky smooth putting stroke, Mangrum started a serious trophy collection. He won seven times in 1948. He collected four victories in each year— 1949, 1951, and 1953—with five more coming in 1950.

He even won the 1951 St. Paul Open under the pressure of a death threat. Police guessed it came from gamblers who, the night before the final round, called Sam Snead to say, “We have lots of money bet. Now you get in there and start playing. We don’t want Mangrum to win.” The gamblers obviously knew little about Mangrum, as the threat just amused him.

At a time when even the tour’s leading money winner took outside jobs to make ends meet, Mangrum earned a fine living just by playing golf. As with putting, he proved to be ahead of his time with his pro career. For starters, he never gave lessons. He couldn’t stand teaching golf. “I charge $50 an hour so even my friends will leave me alone,” he said.

He played only tournaments and exhibitions, traveling over 80,000 miles a year. He won international tournaments (not counted on his official PGA total) in Australia, Argentina and the Philippines. A Time magazine article from January of 1953 entitled “Money Player,” reveals that, “Mangrum has long played in the shadows of the Hogans, Sneads and Nelsons [but still] manages to play in more tournaments and win more money than any other touring pro.” The article estimated Mangrum earned over $300,000 playing golf in the preceding five years, representing a lot of money over 60 years ago.


Won 4 LA Opens

The article also told that despite Mangrum’s notoriously loner personality he did depend upon one person. It said: “Mangrum’s wife, his constant traveling companion, acts as business manager and secretary.” Mangrum is then quoted saying that, “I need her. This is big business.”

Besides the Masters, where he always played well but never won, Mangrum enjoyed the most success in his home area. He won four Los Angeles Opens. After his 1953 victory, L.A. Times writer Charles Curtis quipped: “Who said Riviera is Hogan’s Alley? Let’s rename it Mangrum’s Meadows.”

Yet through this success, danger never seemed far away from Mangrum. For instance, he lost a chance to improve his record at Riviera once because he broke his shoulder in a bar fight when someone twice his size threw him down a flight of stairs. That forced him off tour for six months.

Yet Mangrum’s legacy rests as much on his reaction to adversity as upon his reputation for danger, as revealed during the 1950 U.S. Open. Hailed as the glorious Open Hogan won after coming back from a near-fatal automobile accident, Hogan prevailed only after Mangrum (and George Fazio) forced an 18-hole playoff. There, on the 17th green, Mangrum lifted his ball to brush away a bug. Under PGA rules, which he’d been playing all year, cleaning the ball was permissible. USGA rules govern the Open, however, and they did not allow for such actions. Mangrum was penalized two strokes, ending his chances of winning. Instead of complaining (or killing some pencil-necked rules official), Mangrum simply shrugged and said, “Fair enough. We’ll eat tomorrow no matter what happens.”

A few years later, still playing well, Mangrum was forced into early retirement due to a weak heart. He retired to a home across from the 18th tee at the Apple Valley Country Club in California. Mangrum fought his heart problems with the same tenacity he showed against barroom bullies and Nazi snipers. He survived 11 heart attacks. On November 17, 1973, at only 59-years-old, a 12th finally got him. It seemed a poetic end to golf’s ultimate fighter.

By admin December 30, 2014 01:00