I only met Snead twice. The first time was a golf date, and I have to tell you, I was excited about it. This was seven or eight years ago, when he was already a man in his 80s. And I have to say that I was not bowled over by his pleasantries. I dont even think he said hi on the first tee. Somebody introduced the foursome, Snead grunted, and play began.
Not many things stand out about the day, but I do remember one thing in particular. Snead asked me if I had played the course before. Yes, I said, Ive played it several times. Well, came the surprising question, how far is to clear that bunker?
Now, this was a second shot into a green, not a tee shot. Even at his advanced age, Snead drove it 30 yards past me. I was dealing with a yardage I hadnt seen before. I have to say, in 30 years of playing golf, not one person has ever asked me how far it is to clear a bunker. But I made an estimate ' about 160, I guessed.
Snead swung and hit the ball ' and it plopped right into the middle of the bunker, sand billowing upwards as the ball struck. Obviously it was 165 or 170, if he had hit it right. Im not a pro, dont normally consider yardages to carry bunkers, and so I didnt think a lot of it. Until ' he directed his full wrath at me.
One-sixty my (posterior)! he roared. I thought you said youve played this course! That ball was a full 10 yards short!
I made a mental note to give no more yardages to Mr. Snead.
He settled down a hole or two later and began telling a long list of risqu jokes. Most were so old that I winced, but still snickered out of politeness. Along went the afternoon, until we were on about the 15th green.
Sam had a three-foot putt. He carefully lined up it, stroked it ' and missed.
He turned around. He leaped into the air. He twisted once or twice, then began a self-directed tirade: You no-good, no-hustle, no-putting (expletive deleted, expletive deleted, expletive deleted.) He was turning the air various shades of red, blue and green with his language. And then it hit me.
Sam was very serious about his golf. This was a charity match, it meant absolutely nothing, Sams fee had already been paid by ' whomever. He had done thousands upon thousands of these exercises. But he was STILL a grinder, still trying, still adamant when he missed. And here was a man in his 80s. Suddenly, his outburst that was directed towards me earlier in the round made so much sense.
The second time we met, Sam was considerably more pleasant. I had gone to his house in Fort Pierce, Fla., to do a story for the Golf Channel. Sam was extremely cheerful. Golf wasnt involved, of course, and he was free to just ramble.
And ramble. And ramble. I had a tape recorder with me, and it was running the whole two hours. The conversation was liberally sprinkled with curse words and off-color jokes. The jokes were old, many of them were repeats of the jokes Id heard playing golf with Sam a couple of years before, jokes that Id heard many times before that.
Afterwards, I mentioned to an aide of Sneads that I had taped the conversation, that there was no need for concern that some of the quotes might be wrong. The aide shrunk back in horror, blanching at the prospect of hearing ol Sam totally unplugged.
No, no, he stammered. Dont use that tape! Dont use those curse words!
I carefully reassured the gentleman that the tape was not going to be used verbatim. After all, I didnt work for an x-rated channel, and even though it was on cable, we still have some standards.
Sam, incidentally, didnt mind what he said, or what we used. But one thing he said really struck me. I asked him about Hogan, about Sarazen, about Nelson, information about each of them to be used for future obituaries. None had yet died ' Nelson, God bless him, may never go.
Anyway, Snead gave a little speech about each one. I know a lot of the chatter was bogus, but who cares? It was good theater.
Then he leaned back and said, You know, there is a time for all of us to go home.
No cussing, no jokes, no off-color stories this time ' just an elderly gentleman talking for the moment about something extremely personal. Now the time has finally come. Sam Snead has gone home.