Friday, June 1, 2012

Sam Snead

By Dennis Sherrard
(Sam Snead - 1912-2002)
Mr. Longevity.  Sam Snead played professional golf longer than probably anyone in history.  He played his first event in 1934 and his final PGA event as part of the Seniors Tour in 1987 at the age of 75.

Sam Snead was born in Ashwood, Virginia.  He started caddying at the age of 7 and wound up an assistant pro by the age of 19.   Snead was a self taught golfer who had one of the "Sweetest Swings" ever according to his peers.

"Slammin Sammy", as he was nicknamed was a graceful and athletic long hitter that was still belting golf balls over 275 yards off the tee well into his 70's.  Snead started winning early and often, with over 82 professional victories over the course of his career.  Playing in the time of Hogan and Nelson, Snead was often considered one of the great triumvirate of golfers who brought professional golf into the forefront of professional sports.  Prior to these three, professional golf's big names were Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, both veterans from the 20's and 30's whose stellar careers were beginning to fade.  Luckily , television was just starting to air sports events in the early 1950's so we do have historical tape from some Snead's greatest victories. 

1950 was perhaps the best year of his career, Sam Snead won 11 tournaments. Only two other players in PGA history have equaled or exceed that feat. Their names?  Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.  Very few people have won that many professional tournaments in their career let alone in one season.  He would follow up the next year with only 2 victories, but one of them was the 1951 PGA championship.  He won the Masters the following year and then again in 1954 in a playoff with Ben Hogan.

Sam Snead's greatest disappointment in his career was to never with the US Open.  He came close, very close, coming in 2nd four times, with one of those losses coming off missing a 2.5 foot putt in a playoff with Lew Worsham in 1947.

Like the Colonial for Ben Hogan, The Greater Greensboro Open in North Carolina became Sam's golf home.  It is a tournament he maintained ties to for his entire life, winning the championship an astounding 8 times.  Hist last PGA tour victory came at teh Greater Greensboro Open in 1965 when he was 52 years old.

Not just content to play with the guys, Sam Snead actually won an LPGA event.  In 1962, Sam played in the Royal Poinciana Invitational, in Palm Beach, Florida against a field of 14 LPGA golfers and was played over 72 holes.  Snead beat the field which included LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright. This made him the only man to have one an officially sanctioned LPGA event. 

Sam was one of the early members of the Senior PGA circuit winning 14 times including 6 PGA Seniors Championships.  Sam's unique side-saddle putting style separated him from many of his fellow players during the latter part of his career.  His vision had gotten weaker over time and this 'down-the-shaft' method of holding the putter helped him see the hole better and gave fans a a picture of all the varying putting styles that would emerge on the professional circuit

Mr. Snead holds many records due to his longevity as a player. A few of them include being the oldest player to win on the PGA tour at age 52 years, 10 months and 8 days.  He was also the oldest player to make the cut at a major championship at age 67, the first PGA player to shoot his age at 67, and the only player to post a top ten finish in at least one major championship in five different decades.

Sam Snead died of a stroke in 2002 at the age of 90.  He will always be remembered for his affable nature, prodigious length off the tee and one of the "sweetest swings" in golf.  Mr. Snead's numbers are:  82 PGA Tour Victories; 7 Major Championships, 19 Top 5 finishes and 17 Top 10 finishes.

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