Many of the boys in the press tent at the Philadelphia Inquirer Invitational at Llanerch Country Club had already written their leads, something to the effect of "Hometown boy makes good." The boy in this case was 36-year-old Harold (Jug) McSpaden, the transplanted Kansan who has a home in nearby Merion, and it looked as if he had just won the tournament. They had written that Byron Nelson's winning streak, which had grown to six in a row, had finally been broken and, what's more, by a close friend. In fact Byron and Louise Nelson had stayed at Jug and Eva McSpaden's home throughout the week. But on the back nine...well, we'll get to that in a moment.
But first a few words about the most popular player at Llanerch last week, the man who drew the biggest crowds, even though he shot a first-round 83 and then withdrew. You've seen him in movies and heard him on radio, and if you follow golf, you know that before the war he hosted a pro-am tournament in San Diego that everyone hopes will soon resume. We're talking about Bing Crosby, Der Bingle.
Crosby was in the area as part of his continuing effort to entertain American troops. On Wednesday he put on a show for patients at the Army's Valley Forge General Hospital, then played a rain-shortened two-hole practice round at Llanerch with Nelson, Sam Snead and Lieut. Ben Hogan, who was unable to take part in the Invitational itself. Before teeing off, Crosby mixed songs with jokes, singing Accentuate the Positive and Sentimental Journey and telling the gallery of 3,000 he hoped this " California weather would go away."
The next morning he was at Philadelphia Naval Hospital, then arrived at Llanerch around noon. When he spotted a soldier in the crowd who had lost a leg in battle, Crosby offered him a bite of his sandwich, saying, "That's my buddy!" He then invited his caddie, 15-year-old Joe Hirst, a sophomore at St. Joseph's High School, to join him in a rendition of Swingin' on a Star. After his very creditable 83, the apparently inexhaustible Crosby hurried off to Salt Lake City to entertain more troops.
The final round in Philadelphia began with McSpaden and Johnny Bulla tied for the lead at 205. Nelson was one stroke back. Snead had been forced to withdraw after an opening-round 70. It turns out that he had injured his wrist playing in a softball game the previous week. On Thursday evening he went to see Dr. EC. Hutton, who took X-rays that revealed a broken bone in the golfer's right forearm. There was no immediate prediction when Snead would be able to rejoin the tour.
On Sunday, Bulla shot a 71 to take himself out of the running. McSpaden's tee time was about an hour and a half behind Nelson's. When Nelson reached the 13th tee, Leo Diegel, a former PGA champion and a club pro in the Philadelphia area, approached him.
"How you doing, kid?" Diegel asked. Nelson told him he could par in for a 68. "That's not good enough," said Diegel. "McSpaden just eagled the 7th and can par in for 66."
Nelson did some quick math and figured he would need to birdie almost all of the remaining six holes to have a chance. Remarkably, he almost did. His 4 on the 14th was a par for the pros, but normally the hole plays as a par-5 for members. Nelson birdied the other five holes, finishing with a back-nine 30 and a 63 for the day, which held up to beat his host for the week by two strokes.
"If anybody asks what won for me," Nelson said later, "it was my sand wedge. I played four short approaches with it that nearly holed out. The total distance from the pins would hardly add up to six inches."
McSpaden took his disappointment gracefully, although this was the fourth time this year he had finished second to Nelson. At the award ceremonies he told his houseguest, "You not only beat my brains out, but you eat all my food, too."