It’s not a debate you hear very often.
Unlike its near-neighbour – “who is the greatest golfer never to have won a major championship” – wondering aloud the identity of the best player who won only once at either the Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship or the USPGA is not something that normally energises the minds of many.
Well, never fear. That long-time omission is about to be definitively rectified. Ever fearless and informative, this column is here to plug the gap. But where to start?
Relatively modern times actually throw up a series of candidates, all worthy of mention in the conversation. Adam Scott (2013 Masters). Jim Furyk (2003 US Open). David Duval (2001 Open). Ian Woosnam (1991 Masters). Fred Couples (1992 Masters). But no, not Shaun Micheel (2003 USPGA), despite that wonderful approach shot he hit stiff on the final hole at Oak Hill.
The best of those relative youngsters – in the peerless opinion of this column – is Woosnam. A wonderful driver of the ball with the “old” equipment – persimmon woods and balata balls – the wee Welshman owned a classic swing and dogged determination. None of his direct contemporaries hit more solid shots. But the advent of metal woods and low-spinning balls took away much of his advantage. Suddenly, much less-talented individuals were clunking their drives as far and as straight as ‘Woosie’, a fact that does the game no credit. But that is a subject for another column.
Two men stick out in this esoteric discussion: the 1946 US Open champion Lloyd Mangrum and Kel Nagle, who famously won the Centenary Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1960.
Go back a little further in time and Tom Weiskopf comes to mind. The “towering inferno,” Open champion at Troon in 1973, was a supreme ball-striker and umpteen times a runner-up in the Masters, but as his nickname suggests there were a few temperament issues clogging his too-active brain.
Another decade or so beyond Weiskopf, two other notables rate consideration. “Champagne” Tony Lema won the 1964 Open at St. Andrews in glorious style, but was then tragically killed in a light aircraft crash only two years later. So, sadly, we can only imagine how many Grand Slam titles the charismatic San Franciscan would have picked up.
Then there is Roberto de Vicenzo. Winner of literally hundreds of events in his native South America, the amiable Argentine was, like Weiskopf, a magnificent ball-striker and an Open champion – in 1967 at Hoylake. He should have played-off for the 1968 Masters too, but (in)famously failed to spot playing partner Tommy Aaron’s accounting error on his scorecard and so was ridiculously relegated to golf’s most famous second-place.
But no. All of the above names come up short in this column’s estimation. Two men stick out in this esoteric discussion: the 1946 US Open champion Lloyd Mangrum (pictured above) and Kel Nagle, who famously won the Centenary Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1960.
Separating the pair is no easy task, however. We are, in fact, comparing the proverbial apples and oranges, even if there was certainly much to admire in both men.
Mangrum – after turning down a club job that would have exempted him from military service – was awarded two Purple Hearts during the Second World War, having fought at the Normandy Landings and the Battle of the Bulge. And Nagle was universally admired as one of the nicest people ever to participate at golf’s elite level. No one ever had a bad word to say about the tee-total Aussie … his only ‘vice’ was a liking for the odd flutter on the gee-gees.
Their records too, are beyond excellent, albeit very different. Mangrum played the vast majority of his golf in the United States and won 36 times on the fledgling PGA Tour between 1940 and 1956. Twelve times he was in the top-10 at Augusta National; eight times in the US Open. In other words, for an extended period of time, Mangrum – competing against the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson – was one of America’s premier players.
Nagle (pictured above), who was still winning tournaments well into his 50s, also has much to commend him. On the Australasian Tour, the Sydney-native won 61 times, including the 1959 Australian Open. He finished first twice on the PGA Tour and lost a play-off for the 1965 US Open to Gary Player. And, alongside his great friend and compatriot, Peter Thomson, Nagle twice won the Canada (World) Cup for Australia. Between 1960 and ’69, he was seven times ninth or better in the Open Championship. Clearly, he had something of a propensity for links play, the type of golf this column most admires and enjoys.
So what’s to be done? How do we come to a decision between two such diverse “opponents?” There is only one thing to say. It’s a tie. A glorious score draw. 1-1, of course.