Spang in the middle of the stucco jungle of bungalows, eateries and movie studios that covers the western end of Los Angeles you will come upon rolling green leas and meadows which the municipality cultivates for its clubless golfers. Overhead, the jets from the neighborhood aircraft factories draw their contrail designs, the etchings of the supersonic age, across the blue midwinter sky. It is here early each January that the nomads of professional golf gather at the city-owned Rancho golf course to compete in the Los Angeles Open golf championship as they start on their annual winter tour across the southern states.
At the practice tee several days before last week's LA Open, early arrivals were casually trying out last year's swing to see if it produced the same shots it did in 1959. A latecomer, followed by caddie with golf bag and practice balls, sauntered up to the firing line and began the greetings: "Hiya, Bo; Hi, Souch; Hi, Vic. What say, Bessy, long time no see. Happy New Year, Frank. Souch, what you doin' with that new grip? Say, man, you been practicing."
It was here on the practice tee and around the Rancho course (by now closed to all but the 150 or so competing pros going through their warm-up rounds) that the student of golfing fads and mores was able to acquire a preview of the upcoming fashions. Last week, for instance, he would have learned that the black shoe—preferably with flaps over the lacings—is the thing for 1960, with the plain brown and alligator-skin a poor second and third. The garish haberdashery of the Jimmy Demaret era had vanished in favor of somber blacks and whites, grays, beiges and pastels. The loose-sleeved alpaca sweater was the uniform of the day. The white tennis visor, like the whooping crane, was in a last-ditch struggle for survival.
At Rancho there was no Demaret in person—or Hogan or Snead or Middlecoff. Nowadays these Olympian figures are mustered only for the classic events like the Open and the Masters. Their places in the forefront of the winter tour have been taken by Art Wall Jr. (see cover), Mike Souchak, Bill Casper Jr., Doug Ford, Arnold Palmer, Ken Venturi, Dow Finsterwald, Bob Rosburg, Gene Littler, Jay Hebert. There is an occasional reminder of the past, like the pencil-line mustache and leathery face of Lloyd Mangrum or the weary slouch of big Dutch Harrison. But most of the faces on the winter tour are young, and unfamiliar to all but the most avid followers of golf.
It's as easy to pick the Democratic nominee for President as it is to forecast which of these younger golfers will break into the top 10 money winners this year. Yet certain of the newcomers keep impressing the older players with intimations of class.
One such is Dave Ragan, who last year wound up with earnings of $14,785—a modest 29th among the touring pros. Dave is a towheaded, crew-cut 24 and, like most pros his age, he came up through collegiate golf. He turned pro in 1956 after his graduation from the University of Florida and joined the tour a year later. He weathered the first lean years with the backing of admirers from Daytona Beach (including his father), but last year with his victory in the Eastern Open and some good golf elsewhere he was able to make his own way. Dave is strong and owns the sound, compact kind of swing that stays together under duress. Above all, he is willing to gamble for victory. He isn't exactly free of care, however; besides a pretty blonde wife, he has a set of 18-month-old twins, and the whole family traipses along with him from motel to motel.
On the basis of 1959 performances, Bob Goalby might well be rated the young pro most likely to succeed in 1960. Bob's winnings of $26,315 were 12th biggest on last year's tour, with only the established veterans ahead of him. As the work-horse of the tour, Bob played in 44 of the major events last year, and although he won none of them he shot enough really fine rounds to give him three seconds and two thirds. At high school in Belleville, Ill. and later at the University of Illinois, Bob was an excellent athlete. He won letters in football and baseball and even attracted interest from a few professional baseball clubs before turning to golf. Bob is big—6 feet and 195 pounds—and he can hit a golf ball a mile, but he seems subject to agonizing slumps. Although he hasn't won a major event since the Greensboro Open in 1958—his freshman year as a pro—he is certainly among the logical choices for big things in the future.
Then there is Doug Sanders, a dark, handsome 26-year-old from Cedartown, Ga., whose earnings last year ($24,461) were second to Goalby's among the younger pros. He wound up the season in December with a fine victory in the Coral Gables Open. He is the kind of man who offers great comfort to the weekend golfer; he hits the ball in a most unstylish way. He stands up to it with his feet wide apart and his legs stiff, and following a short, fast back-swing, he simply overpowers it. While defying all the theories of style, Doug manages to get some marvelous results, and must be rated a very fine golfer indeed. The big question is whether such an unorthodox swinger can continue over the years to produce the best golf—particularly when he is not feeling up to snuff or when his concentration wavers. It is tough to argue with results, but there are wise golfing men who feel that Sanders' technique works against his chances of remaining among the first flight of pro golfers.
Somewhat farther down the earnings list there is Don Whitt, a golfer who might—at a distance—be mistaken for Ken Venturi. He has the same build as Ken, and there are similarities in their stride and general appearance on the golf course, although Don's swing lacks the easy, fluid grace of Ken's. Last year—his fourth on the tour—Don suddenly startled everyone with his back-to-back victories in the Memphis and Kentucky Derby opens. He was in the top money four other times, but he doesn't seem to be playing that kind of golf right now. A Californian like his good friend Bill Casper, Whitt lacks Casper's easygoing manner; he is a plugger. He is a golfer who should get better with time, and on occasion he can beat anybody. The question about Don is: How often can he get his game up to its highest pitch?