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Sam Snead Centenary

The inspiring legend of Golf remembered fondly

Posted Nov 06, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

sam snead

As we edge closer to the end of Sam Snead’s centenary year, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the great man’s remarkable gift of timing, which extended to areas way beyond his legendary golf swing.  For instance, Snead made his Ryder Cup debut in 1937, the silver jubilee of his birth, and played his last World Cup for the US in 1962, his golden jubilee.  In fact that winning appearance in partnership with Arnold Palmer, occurred exactly 50 years ago on Sunday, November 11th, at the famous Jockey Club in Buenos Aires.


It was Snead’s seventh successive appearance in the now, sadly defunct tournament and his eighth in nine years, during which time he also had Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret and Cary Middlecoff as partners.  And he was part of the winning duo in 1956, with Hogan, in 1960 and ’62 with Palmer and with Demaret in ‘61 when he also captured the individual title at the ripe old golfing age of 49.


And there was still more to come. In 1965, he captured the Greater Greensboro Open for a remarkable eighth time, 27 years after winning the inaugural staging in 1938.  At 52 years, 10 months and eight days, it made him the oldest winner on the PGA Tour where he amassed a record 82 wins, which has remained unchallenged for 47 years.  Indeed it seems likely to last for at least a few more, before being surpassed eventually, as seems likely, by Tiger Woods.


Independent record-keepers have calculated Snead’s world-wide tournament tally at 136, including the Open Championship of 1946 at St Andrews.  Eleven of those came in 1950 and as a 67-year-old in 1979, he became the youngest US tour player to shoot his age in the second round of the Quad Cities Open in which he went on to better it by one stroke in the final round.


Snead made a significant impact on countless golfers world-wide, among them Padraig Harrington.  As it happened, when Harrington qualified to make his US Masters debut in 2000, the first person he met on arriving at the clubhouse area of Augusta National on the Monday of tournament week was the irrepressible Slammer.  And on being just in time to catch some fascinating reminiscences from one of the game’s greatest characters, the Dubliner noted that his arrival in the holy of holies, “couldn’t get better than this”.    


The old maestro brightened many other lives, among them a former colleague of mine on the “Daily Mail”.  In a delightful column written about 40 years ago, Ian Wooldridge recalled a memorable meeting with Snead on the occasion of the 1959 Ryder Cup at Eldorado Country Club, Palm Springs, California, where he captained the home team.  It so happened that Snead agreed to a locker-room interview by Wooldridge and British colleague Ron Heager from the “Daily Express” and according to the Mail’s man, he was courtesy itself, even if he kept his famous hat on indoors.


As Wooldridge put it: "He removed his chewing gum, refrained from spitting and asked about the health of a number of mutual acquaintances. Unfortunately, this unexpected exhibition of charm was sorely tested by an uninvited fourth party, a wealthy, middle-aged businessman who was stoned out of his senses by what could hardly have been less than a hogshead of dry Martini."


It seems that every time Snead made a point, the eavesdropping businessman cried: "Shrite, Sam. You tell 'em boy."  All of which was accompanied by a resounding belch.  Eventually, Snead could stand it no longer, so he excused himself from the company of the two British scribes and addressed the businessman. "Youse a Texan, aincha?" said the proud Virginian.  "Shrite, Sam, boy.  Ah'm a Texan," came the reply. "Then," said Snead, "you'd better watch this."    


With that, Snead crossed the locker-room, removed his hat, stooped down and placed it carefully on top of a pair of shoes resting on the floor. He then returned to the businessman, jerked his head in the direction of the hat and the shoes and said: "Do you know what that is?"


The bemused and befuddled intruder confessed that he didn't.  "That," said Snead, "is a Texan with all the bullshit kicked out of him.  Now, will ya just get ya big fat ass outa here?"  Whereupon peace and order were restored to the locker-room for what proved to be a fascinating interview.


- Dermot Gilleece

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