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Mangrum Was Known as Mr. Icicle, but He Won One Open and Could Have Won Another

June 18, 1998|SHAV GLICK | 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:

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