In the sometimes grim world of high-pressure tournament golf, Doug Sanders, who won $57,428.47 on the 1961 tour and finished third on the list of money winners behind Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, is the most refreshing and amusing "new" professional in a good long time. Both on and off the golf course, Sanders has a personality as bounding and carefree as a porpoise. He has a wisecrack on his lips under conditions that send his fellow pros into their meanest sulks. When he misses an important putt he often goes into a comic pantomime that brings a cheerful guffaw from the gallery. He chats endlessly with the spectators and keeps them entertained with a stockroom full of ready-made gags. Not since the late Porky Oliver was touring the country has there been a tournament golfer who is as full of fun as Sanders.
But even if he were not, it is more than likely that Sanders would attract large crowds, for if ever there was a winning golfer who reminded spectators of themselves he is the man. When he swings, Sanders looks exactly like a hacker who is trying hard to knock the ball into the next county. He addresses the ball with a wide, stiff-legged stance, and after an inordinate amount of wiggling and jiggling he takes an extremely short backswing before whaling at the ball with all the strength in his slight, 163-pound frame.
It should not be gathered, however, that there is anything frivolous about Doug Sanders' tournament play. He is an avaricious competitor, and in the last few years he has risen rapidly to the top of the tour. In 1958 he finished 23rd and earned $13,740. By the next year he was 14th in winnings, taking $20,794 away from the tour. He was 10th in 1960, winning $26,471. While he has never won the Open or the PGA, he has come close. Last year he was leading the Open at Oakland Hills with only nine holes to play, but an erratic putting streak on his part and a string of birdies by Gene Littler, the eventual winner, cost Sanders the lead. He finished runner-up to Littler, by a stroke. In the last three PGA championships, he twice was third and in 1959 finished second. Opening the 1962 season in Los Angeles a fortnight ago, Sanders finished with a 284—well ahead of Player. Unlike a number of the younger pros who make spectacular showings along the circuit but never in the big tournaments, Sanders has already shown that he is capable of playing excellent golf on the most difficult tournament courses.
Along with everything else, Sanders has the looks to fit the frolicsome Prince Hal role he plays in golf (see cover). His figure is trim and athletic on its 5-foot 10-inch frame, although his tightly tailored slacks are beginning to betray the slightest suggestion of a bulge around the waist, a tribute to the kind of good living a big winner can afford. Usually hatless and with a wooden tee tucked behind his right ear, Sanders strides briskly down the fairways looking very much like the kind of young man that girls would take a shine to, as they quite often do.
January 22, 1962
His good looks are more than amply complemented by those of his wife, the former Joan Faye of Winter Haven, Fla., who was a successful model and water skier in Miami and Cypress Gardens before the Sanderses were married in the spring of 1960. In fact, with all the good things he has going for him—appearance, wit, ability, money, a pretty wife, a lively 4-year-old son by a former marriage and Joanie's pretty 4-year-old daughter, also by a former marriage—Sanders seems to contradict the popular notion that it takes adversity to breed success.
George Douglas Sanders, as he was christened 28 years ago (the Douglas was a sop to an uncle who wanted to call him Douglas Fairbanks Junior Sanders after his favorite actor), was born in Cedartown, Ga. some 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. His father and mother were people of quite modest means with five children to raise—three boys and two girls. Doug was the second youngest. Ernest was seven years older than he, Sara six, James three. His sister Stella was six years younger. His father farmed on a small scale and also drove a truck between Cedartown and Boston for one of the New England textile mills that had migrated to Georgia. Later the elder Sanders and James, who lost a hand while fighting as a marine in the Korean conflict, operated taxicabs in Cedartown.
Doug grew up in a small house bordering the nine-hole golf course in Cedartown and, as he now likes to recall, "from the time I was seven years old I always had enough spending money." His first income was acquired by retrieving stray golf balls in the rough bordering the golf course. "Did you see a golf ball come in here, son?" a player would ask little Doug, and he would look up with his innocent blue eyes and say, "No, sir." It didn't take Sanders long to capture a bucket full of balls that he could sell to his older brother for 50¢, and James would resell them to the golf pro for $3. Sanders still carries with him two important lessons learned from this experience—the value of mannerly responses and a deep respect for money.
When full-sized caddies were scarce during World War II, Doug Sanders packed golf bags around the Cedartown course at a slightly exorbitant rate, although he was little more than 10 years old and scarcely bigger than a golf bag. He and his brother figured out ways to practice and play on the course without paying the customary fees. He attributes his abbreviated golf swing to those early days of bootleg practice. "The fairways were only so wide," Sanders says, "and we had to keep the ball in the middle where we could find it and run in case somebody spotted us on the course." The training was so effective that Sanders has hit only five or six balls (he is not sure which) out of bounds during the full five years he has been playing on the pro circuit.
Future pro's pro
The golf pro at Cedartown was a young man named Maurice Hudson, who now teaches at the Northwood Club in Dallas. He took a liking to Sanders and helped polish some of the rough edges off Sanders' game and off Sanders himself. "I probably learned more from Hudson than from anyone else," Sanders says. "If he found me doing something wrong or behaving badly he would take the time to tell me what he had learned from his own mistakes. The things I learned from Maurice Hudson go way beyond just playing golf."
Under Hudson's coaching, Sanders was breaking 70 regularly by the time he was 17. The corsair in him was still coming to the surface, and Sanders managed to pick up some useful spending money through the judicious wagers he was learning to make around the Cedartown course. By the time he had finished high school, his golfing reputation had spread and he was given an athletic scholarship to the University of Florida, where he played on the same team with Dave Ragan Jr.
At college Sanders was a nervous, restless youth who spent most of his time at the local driving range or playing with his teammates. Even now he half jokingly refers to his days in Gainesville by saying, "When I was in college majoring in golf...." And when he wasn't at the golf course he was betting somebody on something—pool, billiards, pitching pennies, playing cards. As Ragan recalls, "Doug was always just good enough to win, and he was always just a step or two in front of us in almost anything. Doug always hated to lose; he was like Sam Snead that way. He liked to play you for a $2 Nassau when we were practicing, and if you shot a 65 or something and beat him he was a good loser about it, but you knew he was going to come back at you."
Sanders swung at a golf ball during his college days pretty much as he does today—with a short backswing and a follow-through that would have done Babe Ruth proud. Then as now his clubs were of only average weight (his present irons have a D-3 swing weight and his woods a D-5 with Regular shafts), but he generated his great power by building up strength in his forearms. "Feel this," he will tell you, exhibiting a lower arm that would compare favorably with Popeye's. "And I never took an exercise in my life," he says. "You just develop it."
Paul Hahn, the professional trick-shot golfer, was living near Gainesville when Sanders was in college, and it was through Hahn that Sanders first learned his wide assortment of gag shots. At the practice tee before he starts a round of tournament golf these days, Sanders sometimes astonishes the spectators with a shot in which he pops the ball straight up in the air and catches it in his hip pocket.
After three years in college, Sanders realized that his future was not in scholarship and that he had better start earning a living. He began selling insurance in Miami, where a rich Canadian businessman who had taken a shine to him gave Sanders a membership in the La Gorce Country Club and helped him make some profitable investments that freed him from any serious worries about the cost of living. La Gorce being a club where there is always plenty of action, Sanders soon found he could do as well or better there than he could at the office. He also played in some of the bigger tournaments around the country, and in 1956 became the first amateur ever to win the Canadian Open. This victory convinced Sanders that he could now play well enough to earn a living as a golf professional. He made application for a Professional Golfers' Association apprentice card, joined the tour in June 1957 at the Carling Open and tied with Ken Venturi, Gardner Dickinson Jr. and Palmer for fourth in that tournament, winning $1,425 and confirming Sanders' belief that he had chosen the right career.
A sad discovery
What Sanders did not know then, however, was that he was accident-prone, and there was a time when it looked as if he would be spending more time in the hospital than on the golf course. An infected hand put him out of action a month after he joined the tour. The following February, during the 1958 Colombian Open, he was hospitalized for several weeks with torn ligaments in an ankle after hitting a tricky shot out from behind a tree. He had been leading the tournament at the time but was unable to continue. In the summer of 1958 Sanders won the Western Open, his first victory as a pro, but a hip injury shortly thereafter again put him in the gallery.
No sooner had the tour begun in 1959 than a doctor in La Jolla diagnosed a slight heart murmur and told Sanders he would have to slow down. Sanders did some quick looking around instead and found a medicine for his heart condition. Shortly after, he was back on the tour. That summer he finished second in his first crack at the PGA Championship.
In 1960 Sanders had no major victories, but several seconds and thirds put his overall earnings above the $27,000 mark by Labor Day. Not long after that his daughter slammed a motel door on his hand, and once again he had to skip some tournaments. Then, soon after returning to action, he suffered a painful neck injury in an automobile collision while driving home from the office of the doctor who was treating his hand. The neck trouble continued to bother Sanders throughout most of last year, and it finally got so serious in September that he went into a hospital in Dallas for traction treatment. "I couldn't even turn my head a fraction of an inch in either direction," Sanders says. He finally found a doctor in Los Angeles who was able to give him some helpful injections, and this year, for a change, he begins the winter golfing tour with no apparent ailments.
Despite his disabilities, Sanders won five tournaments on the 1961 tour and started to live in a manner he considers appropriate. Rather than drive in one of the free Pontiacs that are provided for the leading pros on the circuit, Sanders operates his own air-conditioned Cadillac, equipped with a shortwave radiotelephone which he uses almost constantly. In the course of half an hour's trip to the golf course when he is on one of his rare visits home to Miami, he will talk to his lawyer about a prospective advertising endorsement, check on the whereabouts of a new shipment of golf shoes, call Joanie to find out what the children are going to do that day and arrange to meet a friend for a drink in the late afternoon.
Sanders' business interests have multiplied. He likes to dabble in the stock market and is perpetually on the lookout for ways to invest his money in enterprises that will be paying off when his competitive talent has gone. Last year he made about $25,000 above his tournament winnings from the fringe benefits that accrue to a successful touring pro. As a representative of the Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club, a bucolic golfing resort in southern California, he drew $5,500. He made another $7,500 on All-Star Golf, the Saturday afternoon television show.
But Sanders' major fringe benefit from golf just now is his association with First Flight Co., one of the fastest-growing manufacturers of golfing equipment. Along with Jimmy Demaret and Gary Player, Sanders has been a leading member of First Flight's staff of playing pros, and as such he collected $10,000 from the company in salary and bonuses during 1961. Jack Harkins, the voluble and energetic Irishman who runs First Flight, is extremely fond of Sanders and has helped him buy blocks of the company stock from time to time when the price seemed right. This year First Flight is putting out a line of popular-priced clubs with Sanders' signature on them, and if they sell well the royalties will provide Sanders with another and perhaps his richest source of revenue.
To maintain the kind of success that Sanders achieved in 1961 can be a long and tedious chore year after year. Sometimes the next tournament seems almost too much to face. Sanders reached one of these low points in December, when the tour was coming to a close at the Coral Gables Open. "I haven't got enough strength to bust a grape," he said wearily before the start of a round. "It doesn't do me any good to practice, because I start doing something different each time I hit the ball."
As the 1962 tour gets under way, the big question is whether Sanders can sustain the strength and enthusiasm that a touring pro needs to stay among the leaders, for there is no doubt about his ability to play all the shots. In the last couple of years he has mastered the kind of low, crisp, wind-cheating irons that are largely responsible for putting him among the most consistent players. One advantage for Sanders will be his sense of humor. Even at Coral Gables he still found things to laugh about. "If I only had enough stock in the phone company and Cutty Sark," he said as he pulled himself up to a bar for a little late-afternoon resuscitation, "I could live off the money I spend."
The voice of dissent
Sanders' colleagues on the tour are not always as enamored of his seemingly lighthearted approach to the game as he is, and Sanders knows it but doesn't care. "I see them stop and laugh sometimes when I tell a joke or gag it up a little," he said the other day, "but a lot of the guys resent it. 'What d'you think we are, a bunch of clowns?' one of them asked me one time just because I told a newspaperman we ought to try to entertain the gallery a little more.
"Well, I figure the gallery gets as nervous as we do sometimes, and we ought to try to help them enjoy themselves after they pay good money to come out and watch us. Some guys just don't have it in them to get laughs. It isn't their fault. They're just built that way. But they shouldn't resent the rest of us putting on a good show. That's what we're out there for, isn't it?"