Memories of Slammin Sammy


I had known Sam Snead for about 20 years before he passed away, and while I was not particularly close to the legend, I felt a big loss when I heard the news. I was four when he won his last PGA Tour event, so the man I knew was well past his competitive prime, but not past his ability to enjoy life.
The Sam Snead I remember was a man who loved to laugh, and loved to make people laugh. He was a world traveler from the back woods of Virginia. He was a living testimony to the truism, you can take the boy out of the country, but you cant take the country out of the boy. He always had a story to tell, or a toast to make, but few of them can be repeated in mixed company. He delighted in the scarlet faces of his listeners as they tried not to laugh at some of his more risqu anecdotes. Sam always wanted to have the edge.
He said he only feared three things, lightening, a side hill lie and Hogan. Sam Snead got the best of Hogan in a 1954 playoff at the Masters, and got the best of the entire field in a record 81 PGA Tour events over his career, but you can look in the record books for all of his achievements.
His simplistic approach to the swing included swing thoughts popular today. His only swing key was to keep his hands as far from his body as possible at all times. This concept is echoed as Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon emphasize width in the golf swing. Keeping a wide arc created perhaps the best swing the game has ever seen. It was certainly the longest lasting. At the age of 62 he finished third in the PGA Championship. In 1979 at 67 years old he became the youngest player on the PGA Tour ever to shoot his age. Two days later, in the final round of the event, he went one better and shot 66. Four years after that he shot a 12-under-par 60 at the astonishing age of 71. Sam had some serious longevity.
Snead helped launch the Senior Tour with his win at the Legends in 1978. That victory focused attention on the event, and when the following years edition went to a playoff, the stage was set for Arnold Palmer to join the tour in 1980. Snead won the Legends again in 1982, won the PGA Seniors six times, as well as countless other official and unofficial events through his 80s.
One of those unofficial events was the Grand Tradition. When I was the Executive Director of The Tradition we had a team event during tournament week that paired Major Championship winners. Sneads victory was a crowd pleaser as he worked the people after the awards ceremony and soaked up every bit of the moment. The man was 84. The following year he played in an event memorializing my father and again showed that he hadnt lost a step. A top-six finish was accompanied by countless stories, autographs and jokes, and Sam Snead was again the life of the party.
When Ben Hogan died my father said of the mythical, mysterious man, Today we lost our Unicorn. Well on May 23rd we lost our Huckleberry Finn. The smiling, mischievous country boy who had everyone around him in a titter, and who always found a way to whip you when he needed to.