Before the start of last week's Greater Greensboro ( N.C.) Open, Freddie Corcoran, the PGA tour's all-purpose manager, rules official, public relations man, travel agent and four-star storyteller, was holding forth on the porch of the Starmount Forest Country Club, drink in hand, trying to convince the press that the tour is more than just Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and everyone else. This in spite of the fact that Nelson and Snead have won eight of nine events so far this year.
" Snead has won six tournaments, it's true," Corcoran was saying, apparently tacking on two from last December, which constitutes the beginning of the winter tour. "But in 1940 Jimmy Demaret won six starting in January, while Hogan won three, all of them right here in North Carolina, and nobody made any claim about a monopoly." Then, dismissing Nelson's record-setting money earnings of $37,967.69 in war bonds last year, Corcoran said, "Of course, Byron ran up his money total from seconds."
Well, Freddie, don't look now, but Mr. Nelson is beginning to earn a lot of money from firsts, too. Through 36 holes at Greensboro there was the appearance of a close tournament, with Nelson shooting a second-round 67 to lead Johnny Revolta by one stroke. But when Nelson finished that round, Harold (Jug) McSpaden predicted it was all over. "Byron will win by five," McSpaden said.
Wrong, Jug. He won by eight. Nelson shot a 68 on Sunday morning and a 66 in the afternoon, and he made it no contest. Snead, the betting favorite going in and the winner of the first Greensboro Open, in 1938, finished 16 strokes back. Perhaps his psyche still hadn't recovered from his double-playoff loss to Nelson in Charlotte the week before. At Greensboro he confessed to being tired. "Seems like every time I wake up in the morning I'm playing in a golf tournament," Snead said.
In spite of the statistics to the contrary, one can't blame Corcoran for trying to make the current tour sound more competitive than it is at the moment. That's his job, and no one can say he hasn't been successful. Galleries have grown by 50% since he took over, total prize money for the pros has risen from $115,000 to $300,000 per year, and he has added at least 20 new events to the tour.
Corcoran, whom Nelson calls a "walking encyclopedia," was so inventive as the official scorer for the United States Golf Association that, in 1929, the USGA paid his way to its Amateur championship at Pebble Beach. Corcoran kept score with red, black and blue pencils, and listed so many highlights that reporters could write their stories without setting foot on the course.
He is a born promoter. When Gene Sarazen, disappointed at being left off the 1939 Ryder Cup team, said he could pick 10 other players and whip the Cup team, Corcoran jumped at the idea, arranging a series of challenge matches to benefit the Red Cross. It was Walter Hagen's Ryder Cuppers versus Gene Sarazen's All-Stars, and the competition was close, with the Cuppers winning seven of 12.
In another promotion in 1940, to try to prove that silence is not necessary while playing golf, Corcoran arranged a contest in Connecticut involving Sarazen, Demaret, Babe Ruth and Gene Tunney, during which Fred Waring's orchestra played at every hole. At one point the boys in the band became so engrossed in the Babe's antics, they forgot to play. Ruth shouted, "Hey, strike up the band or I can't shoot." The band launched into Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the Babe sank his putt.
As the tournament at Greensboro was winding down and Nelson was making 12-foot putts look like gimmes, it was announced that Starmount's assistant pro, Hope Seignious, had accepted a job as head pro at North Shore Country Club in Milwaukee. Some of the players were appalled that a woman should become a head pro anywhere, but Sam Byrd, for one, insisted he was all for it. "Women have a definite place in golf," he said.
Snead took the middle ground, saying, "I don't have anything to say against it." And when Nelson was asked, he replied with a laugh, "I can't imagine a man wanting a woman to teach him much of anything." The way Nelson has been playing lately, there's nothing anyone, man or woman, can teach him, at least about golf.