Snead dead at 89

won tourneys in 6 decades

Obituary: `Slammin' Sammy' built his legend by winning seven major tournaments and 81 PGA Tour events over 30 years, including 17 after the age of 40.

Sam Snead: 1912-2002

May 24, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen finally filled out their foursome yesterday.

Sam Snead, who won more golf tournaments than any other player in the history of the PGA Tour and cracked more one-liners than most Las Vegas comedians, died at his home in Hot Springs, Va., four days shy of his 90th birthday.

Snead died of complications from a series of strokes that started after he made his last public appearance at this year's Masters, where he was the tournament's official starter.

Nicknamed "Slammin' Sammy" for his prodigious tee shots - he was the John Daly of his time - Snead won 81 tournaments over 30 years and holds a record that likely will never be broken as the oldest player in tour history to win.

Snead was two months shy of his 53rd birthday when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open for the eighth time, which is also a record. Snead won a remarkable 17 times after the age of 40.

"Sam Snead was probably the greatest athlete that golf has ever had," said Gary Player, a nine-time winner of major championships. "Maybe in time, Tiger [Woods] will prove to be the athlete of this century in golf, but in the last, Sam Snead was the best."

Woods tied Snead with his seventh major championship at last month's Masters, a tournament Snead won three times in a stretch of six years starting in 1949. Snead also won three PGA Championships and a British Open. Only four other players won more majors.

Perhaps the only blemish on Snead's record was that he never won the U.S. Open.

In 1939, Snead lost after needing only a par on the final hole. Thinking he was one shot behind instead of one ahead, Snead played too aggressively and bogeyed, losing to Byron Nelson in Philadelphia.

"That night I was ready to go out with a gun and pay somebody to shoot me," Snead said years later. "It weighed on my mind so much that I dropped 10 pounds, lost some more hair and began to choke even in the practice rounds."

That loss might have had an impact on Snead's later disappointments in the U.S. Open.

Eight years later in St. Louis, Snead missed a 30-inch putt and lost on the final hole of an 18-hole playoff to Lew Worsham. In 1949, Snead three-putted the next-to-last hole and lost by a stroke to Cary Middlecoff outside Chicago.

But Snead more than made up for it by dominating Augusta National between 1949 and 1954, winning the last of his three green jackets by beating Hogan in a memorable playoff.

"In those days we used to think long hitters couldn't play well," Nelson said. "Well, he stopped that myth."

In his debut at the 1936 Hershey Open, Snead hit his first two tee balls out of bounds and then drove onto the green with his third - 350 yards away.

The essence of Snead's game were his strong hands and a smooth swing that he learned growing up in Hot Springs.

"It was a gift," two-time Open champion and fellow Virginian Curtis Strange said of Snead's swing. "His hands looked like they were born to have a golf club in them."

Snead didn't endear himself to golf fans on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for one of his most infamous comments. On his first visit to the Old Course at St. Andrews, Snead looked out the train window and asked a fellow passenger, "What abandoned course is this?"

The winner of the 1946 British Open at Muirfield - his winnings in Scotland that year didn't even cover his expenses - Snead returned to the Old Course many times, the last coming in 2000 for a five-hole exhibition of its former champs.

"Once I got on the golf course, I respected it more each time I played," he said.

Though Snead would be bothered by what golfers call "the yips" throughout his career, he was the most accomplished player for his age.

At age 62, Snead finished third in the 1974 PGA Championship. Five years later, Snead became the youngest player to shoot his age when, at 67, he fired rounds of 67 and 66 in the 1979 Quad Cities Open.

After helping found the Senior PGA Tour in 1980, Snead won the 1982 Legends of Golf to become the only player in history to have won tournaments in six decades.

"Today, the game of golf lost one of its great champions and most charismatic players," Jack Nicklaus said in a statement during the Memorial Tournament he plays host to in Dublin, Ohio. "I grew up watching Sam Snead, and he brought so much to the game with the great swing and the most fluid motion ever to grace a golf course."

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

81

PGA Tour record for victories

17

Most wins by a player after the age of 40

11

Victories in a calendar year (1950), third all time

8

PGA record for victories in a single event (Greensboro Open)

7

Majors won, tied for sixth all time

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