In any tournament, it is common to hear that one is engaged in a “battle,” either of attrition, with the field, a particular hole or within. In a time of war and ever-mounting losses of those that stand face-to-face with an enemy that would rob us of our freedoms, that metaphor, as it relates to sport, seems inappropriate. One man who knew both the sting of battle and the rigors of competitive golf was the forgotten man of the game, as he was called by the late Jim Murray.
Born in Trenton, Texas in 1914, Lloyd Mangrum turned pro at 15. When he was called away to war at age 28, he had won five times on the PGA Tour. In preparation for the D-Day invasion, he was offered the cushy assignment of golf professional at the Fort Meade Golf Course, but he declined. Wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, where 19,000 would lose their lives, he helped thwart the German offensive and, in the process, was awarded two purple hearts.
He came home at the end of 1945, and in 1946 he won the U.S. Open. Imagine what would happen today and the hysteria that would ensue from the actions of a man, returning as a war hero and winning his national championship.
How could this man be forgotten, in his country, let alone the sport in which he excelled? Perhaps he was overshadowed on the national front by a jingoistic pride that would put the commander of the troops in the White House. On the golf course his fellow Texans – Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demaret – got most of the press. Still, Mangrum would go on to win 36 times on Tour, which is 13th most in Tour history, just behind Phil Mickelson, who just captured No. 39. Perhaps if Mangrum had won The Masters, as did Hogan, Nelson and Demaret we might know his story a little better. But even in the list of those with close calls at Augusta National, the 1946 U.S. Open winner is forgotten.
We know Tom Weiskopf as a man denied the green jacket when he finished runner-up in the year’s first major four times. Similarly snake-bit victims who seemed to always have one hand on the green jacket but forever denied are: Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, Ken Venturi and Tom Kite, just to name a few. Seldom, has Lloyd Mangrum ever been mentioned as one of those, who above all others, deserved a green jacket. In the 14 times the Masters was played from 1940 to 1956 (having been interrupted by World War ll from 43-45) the war hero Mangrum finished ninth or better 12 times, finishing as high as second in '40 and '49. In an era where Snead, Hogan, Nelson and Demaret dominated the Masters, much the way Woods and Mickelson do today, Mangrum’s story was not told near enough.
Every April has us all in a tizzy over who could win the Masters and remembering those who did. But as I’m walking the grounds at Augusta National this week, I will be thinking of a man who never won there – a hero, who seemed to always be lost in the parade.
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