Putting is a family affair

Uncle Sam Snead stuck to his old ways in the Greensboro Open, had a hot streak and demonstrated a thing or two to his talented nephew
April 12, 1971

It all seemed so unreal. Here was Carlyle Snead, a golfing no-name a couple of months ago, telling Uncle Sam Snead, who has won 131 tournaments during his career, that he should putt with locked wrists instead of loose wrists. It was almost like Volkswagen telling General Motors how to make Cadillacs.

Carlyle was Sam's putting-coach-in-residence last week during the Greater Greensboro Open, a tournament a lot of people call the Sam Snead Festival because Uncle Sam has won it eight times. One of Sam's friends always gives him a bungalow to use during Greensboro week, and this year Sam invited his nephew to move in with him.

"Sam's hoping some of J.C.'s luck will rub off," the golf pros joked.

J.C.? Carlyle was known as J.C. Snead until he won at Tucson and Doral earlier this season. "Officially I'm Jesse Carlyle Snead," Carlyle said, "but I prefer to be called just Carlyle. I'd been waiting for the right time to drop the J.C. and go with Carlyle, and after winning two tournaments in three weeks I figured I could manage to switch over without too much of a hassle. Now I may change back to J.C. again. Heck, J.C. Snead won two tournaments this year—Carlyle Snead hasn't won any."

Most nights Sam took his putter back to the bungalow with him. "Sam's got the shakes now," said Jesse James Snead, who is Sam's brother and Carlyle's father. "His left hand shakes like crazy when he tries to putt. He's getting old, you know."

Right after dinner Sam would drop some golf balls onto the carpet and putt at a leg of the table in the corner. First he would take the conventional putting stance—using his normal wristy stroke. Miss. Miss. Miss. Then he would try his croquetlike side straddle. Miss. Miss. Miss.

"Carlyle would just watch as Sam missed that table leg all the time," Jesse James Snead said. "Then he'd mention to Sam something about locking his wrists. That's how Carlyle putts, with locked wrists, and he's a great putter. So Sam would try it himself. Bang. Bang. Bang. He'd hit that leg dead-center nine times out of 10."

Carlyle laughed. "That's right," he said. "But you know Sam. He's so stubborn that out there on the course he won't even try to putt with his wrists locked. He just doesn't think it's right—or something. But I think he would solve all his troubles if he locked his wrists. His left hand couldn't shake so much, and that's really his whole problem. Maybe he'll try it someday."

Sam reached almost every green in regulation at Greensboro but putted badly for three days. "If I had a hot putter," he said after his two-under-par 69 on Saturday, "I'd be leading by 10 or 11 shots. I missed seven or eight putts—all for birdies—inside six feet."

Carlyle listened.

"The man is so stubborn," he said, shaking his head.

Sam stuck to his own way of doing things and on the last day putted beautifully—for the first six holes. He had two pars, three birdies and an eagle, but then three-putted the next two. Still, he shot a 68 to finish the 72 holes two strokes ahead of Carlyle, although seven strokes behind Bud Allin, the tournament winner. On Sunday night the old champion of the Snead family headed south for Augusta and the Masters, while his nephew drove north to Hot Springs, Va. and home.

"The Masters has its rules, I know," Carlyle said, "and according to the rules I'm not eligible to play there. But it doesn't seem right to me that someone can win two tournaments on the tour and not be invited to play at Augusta." He shrugged. "Ahhh, I can use the rest."

Unlike his uncle, Carlyle did not grow up with a golf club in his hand and a tee stuck behind his ear. "Sam gave me my first club—a cutoff driver—when I was 5 or 6," Carlyle said, "but I never played the game seriously until I was about 22—about seven years ago." Carlyle was a swimmer, a baseball player, a basketball player and a deer hunter. "My dad is the chief engineer at The Homestead in Hot Springs," Carlyle said, "and I always worked there in the summer. I was a lifeguard, a caddie and, later on, a member of the labor gangs that built the ski run and the convention grounds. I didn't have the time to play a lot of golf."

Carlyle was an outstanding baseball prospect and in 1961 signed a contract with the Washington Senators' organization. "I played at Middlesboro, Ky., Statesville, N.C. and Geneva, N.Y. the next three years, and then when they wanted to send me to Quincy, Ill., I decided to quit," Carlyle said. "I always hit for a pretty good average"—he batted .318 one year—"but I didn't have very much power."

When he quit baseball Carlyle took a job working in the back room at the Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. "I wanted to see what I could do in golf," he said. "I hacked around a little during my baseball career, and I remember shooting a 62 one day at The Homestead. I thought that was pretty good, considering that I didn't know anything about the game." After one year cleaning clubs, storing bags and doing general repair work at Century, Carlyle was named an assistant pro. Three years later a couple of club members, Bob Shapiro and Benet Polikoff, formed a syndicate and sent Carlyle out onto the tour.

"They gave me $12,000 for each of my first two years," Carlyle said, "and then they upped it to $15,000 my third year because I was married then. It costs more when you're married, right?" Carlyle, in turn, gave them half his winnings those three years. The syndicate lost $13,500. "Without those people I don't know where I'd be," he said.

On the tour Carlyle asked everyone for help with his game. He has a round swing, a leftover from baseball, and he tends to get his hands and his right elbow too high on his backswing. "I keep telling Carlyle to quit listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry—and Sam, too," Jesse James Snead said, "but he won't pay attention to me. One time we went out to a 10-acre field and Carlyle hit 66 balls, and at least 16 of them whoofed. Heck, Sam had him hitting off his left heel, and when he turned he was cutting across the ball. Sam's got his points, I know, but Sam's points aren't Carlyle's points."

Carlyle was a member of the tour's rabbit fraternity, and he spent most Mondays trying to qualify for a place in the tournaments that started on the Thursdays following. "Think you don't learn how to gut it out when you have to play all those Mondays?" he said. Before he won at Tucson in February, his best finish was a tie for second at the Michigan Golf Classic in 1969. "If you remember," Carlyle said, "that was the tournament that ran out of money. I had to wait for three or four months to get my check. Naw, I never worried. Sam told me I'd get it someday."

When he won at Doral last month Carlyle figured he would be swamped with offers for his endorsement. "I'm not under contract to anyone," he said. "Most people think I'm with Sam's companies, but I'm not." The phone never rang. "I thought that when I won a tournament I'd really make a lot of money on the side; the only thing so far has come from a guy I went to school with. He wants me to do a carpet ad for his company in Elizabethton, Tenn."

Do it, Carlyle and get some smooth carpet, too. Then give it to Uncle Sam and tell him to putt on it with locked wrists. Right?

PHOTOSAM THE PUPIL AND TEACHER CARLYLE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)