x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hats off to the late Slammin' Sam

Allow me to dwell this anniversary upon the legend of Slammin' Sam Snead (May 27 1912-May 23 2002), who, as golf commentator Peter Alliss says: "...Would be one of my selections for 'Athlete of the 21st Century'.

Allow me to dwell this anniversary upon the legend of Slammin' Sam Snead (May 27 1912-May 23 2002), who, as golf commentator Peter Alliss says: "...Would be one of my selections for 'Athlete of the 21st Century'. "Who else has won a tournament - albeit on the Seniors' Tour - at the age of 68? I collect 'walks', and the only person to walk into a room with the same presence as Sam is Sir Sean Connery. Then there were the straw hats that he wore; funny thing is, when Sam took off his hat it changed his entire personality, he became a different person, bald head with little tufts of hair on the side.

"He always kept a couple of US$100 (Dh367) bills in his hat-band. "That's ma 'git me home' money," he'd explain in that Virginian drawl." Snead, who died four days before turning 90, won a record 82 events on the US Tour plus over 70 others worldwide, including three Masters, three US PGA Championships and the British Open. The only "major" to elude him being the US Open in which he finished runner-up on four occasions.

Before Tiger Woods' emergence, Golf Digest magazine named him the third greatest golfer of all time behind Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan. Raised in the rural town of Hot Springs, Snead delighted in his "hillbilly" image, insisting that he was 15 years younger than his birth certificate suggested because: "...in Virginia we don't count the years you go barefoot." A simple man - "At the start Sam couldn't tell the time on a factory clock..." opined Hogan - whose lazily elegant swing was both simple yet a thing of beauty and remained so throughout the passing years. To see Snead pull a club from his bag was like watching Vincent Van Gogh reach for a brush.

In 1965 he became the oldest player to record a victory in a PGA Tour event when he won the Greater Greensboro Open two months before his 53rd birthday and even at the age of 62 remained a genuine threat to the new generation by shooting a one-under-par 279 to finish third - three strokes behind the winner Lee Trevino - in the 1974 US PGA Championship at Tanglewood, North Carolina. Although golf represented a life-long passion - and he would happily play for a few "nickels and dimes" against old cronies such as Hogan and Byron Nelson - Snead freely admitted that his chosen sport was also his business.

When toying with the notion of skipping the 1946 British Open at St Andrews (where he would subsequently triumph), he explained his reasoning thus: "People talk about the prestige of winning the British Open. "What do I want with prestige? They pay the winner six hundred bucks. "Heck, a fella' would have to be 200 years old to retire from golf at that rate." Snead also supplemented his earnings by trying to teach others less talented and became renowned for his barbed comments: "Lay off for three weeks then quit for good," he told one pupil, while another was informed: "You have just one problem. You stand too close to the ball - after you've hit it."

Like so many true greats of the game, it was the deterioration of Snead's putting that brought an end to his reign; "I've gotten rid of the yips four times but that damned thing just hangs on in there. You see those two-foot putts with a downhill break? People tell me just to put the putter down and putt. But that's like telling a guy to go stand still beside a rattlesnake - it's one of those things that are easier said than done."

Doff your hat (if you wear one) in Sam's memory this morning. @Email:rphilip@thenational.ae