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The L.A. Open : Their Lives ARE AN Open Book : Between Them, Bob William and Stan Kertes Have Seen Every L.A. Open Since It Began in 1926

February 22, 1993|FRED ROBLEDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob William will take his customary place, in the tent at the first tee, when the 67th Nissan Los Angeles Open begins at Riviera Country Club.

Stan Kertes will be roaming his favorite area, the driving range, during the tournament.

It will be the 52nd consecutive L.A. Open for William, 79, who has played in every pro-am since 1961.

Kertes goes back a little further.

He was a caddie on the day Riviera opened in 1927.

He played as a pro in every L.A. Open on nine different courses through 1966.

"I came close to winning it once," said Kertes, 82.

His memory is foggy about the year, (it was 1944 at Wilshire Country Club, won by Jug McSpaden), but he remembers the circumstances.

"I was only three strokes out of the lead after the third round," Kertes said. "On the last day I was paired with Ellsworth Vines and some guy who showed up drunk on the first tee. He was a sight, dressed in total white, and he kept stopping for beer every chance he had. It just ruined my concentration. Not that I would have won, but it made it more difficult to play."

Kertes said drinking wasn't that unusual for players in the early days of the sport.

"For some, there wasn't much to do at a hotel the week of a tournament. I can remember the time Walter Hagen stayed up all night drinking, then showed up at 8 in the morning for his tee time. He could do it; others couldn't."

Kertes and William agree that the modern player would never get away with such a lifestyle. The stakes are too high, and the competition is too stiff.

And, although both also agree there are more outstanding players on the PGA Tour now, they won't go along with the theory that today's top players are any better than past stars.

"Better than (Ben) Hogan?" William gasped. "Don't forget, the equipment they used was far inferior to what they have today. My gosh, hickory shafts and balls that didn't fly nearly as far as they go today and he still broke 280 on this course."

Kertes contends that, besides Hogan and Sam Snead, such players as Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, MacDonald Smith, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demaret would have held their own in any era.

"There were others who could play, too," Kertes said. "Take Lloyd Mangrum. Best trash player of all time."

The flip side to that was that Mangrum had to spend too much time in the rough learning to play those trash shots.

"Jimmy Thompson was the longest player I ever saw," Kertes said. "He was the only player that ever reached four par-fours at Hillcrest with his drives. All of them were in the 380- to 410-yard range, too."

Kertes calls Jack Nicklaus the greatest mid-iron player ever.

But, as William said, the best player he ever saw at the L.A. Open was Hogan.

Kertes tells the story about a Hollywood producer who wanted to pay Hogan $4,000 to play a shot from about 100 yards at the 18th hole at Tamarisk. He wanted Hogan to hit the shot over the hole and back it into the cup.

"Ben had this old sand wedge that I worked on with a hammer and chisel. I lifted the face and put some holes in it and made it so rough it would scuff the ball every time. Well, we drove out there 120 miles and Ben makes it back into the hole on his fourth shot."

Kertes said he hasn't witnessed anybody with that kind of skill today, but he still marvels at the consistency of the modern player and how many of them play at such a high level.

"They're much more upright now," Kertes says. "Their swings are on line longer, and they hit it higher and straighter."

But much more than the swing has changed.

Fans entering the course now are exposed to a tent city operated by corporate sponsors along the first fairway. Sponsors entertain clients in tents in the middle of the course and in tents overlooking the 18th green. Electronic scoreboards flash not only scores, but information about each player as well as an endless string of commercials.

Food and drinks are everywhere.

So are souvenir stands.

"That's all fine," William says, "because it means more money for the game, but it still takes away some of the intimacy we used to have.

"Also, fans aren't as well-behaved or as well dressed as they used to be. Golf has always been a gentleman's game, and the fans have always been polite. But in recent years, with so many people getting in as guests of sponsors, they aren't necessarily golf fans, and some of them can become a little rude when they've had too much to drink."

William misses the days when fans were allowed to follow the groups on the fairways and players often didn't know where they stood in the tournament until they finished the round.

"There were always rumors floating around about who was doing what, but you never knew for sure until the round was over," William said.

As the crowds grew, it became necessary for marshals to follow the popular groups with ropes to restrain the fans. Eventually the fairways were roped off completely.

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