Keep close count of your nickels and dimes, stay away from whiskey, and never concede a putt.
SAMUEL JACKSON SNEAD, The Education of a Golfer, 1962.
This is an article from the March 31, 1975 issue
A club member in a red pinstriped blazer and gray-on-black patent-leather shoes was coming out the door of the Pine Tree Golf Club of Delray Beach, Fla., which is characterized by the membership as "selective" rather than "exclusive," when the Cadillac with the West Virginia license plates pulled up. Sam Snead, the 62-year-old mountain of youth, the same Sam Snead once described by Lee Trevino as "the most outstanding athlete the world has ever seen," popped the trunk from a button in the glove compartment, got out on the driver's side and came around.
"Hey, Sambo," said the member. "What's this, no more Continentals?"
"Like the feller says, 'If the price is right,'" said Snead, and opened the trunk. From the hodgepodge of golf and fishing equipment he grubbed fresh balls and began stuffing the pockets of his golf bag. Then he unsheathed a new set of irons. "When I leave the air conditioning off, I get 14 miles to the gallon."
The man hefted one of the irons, giving it a 15-handicap half-swing. "Feels heavy, Sam," he said helpfully.
"Hell, they're for a man," said Sam Snead. "They're not for a damn child." He grinned, the right side of his mouth rising above the left.
An attendant took the bag, and the parking valet took the 14-miles-per-gallon Cadillac, and Snead went inside past the receptionist, who waved cheerfully, and into an elevator to the locker room, where he sat down before a stall marked SNEAD/TUTWILER and began changing to his golf shoes.
"They let me play in the club championship here three years ago," he said, lowering his voice. "I'd never played in one, and they let me in and, boy, you never heard such carrying on. I told Chuck Kelly, 'Listen, I'm playing, but if I win, I'm not taking anything.' I won by 10 strokes, but I couldn't get anybody to bet a damn nickel. Everybody was dying, but they weren't saying anything, and I wasn't, and finally at the banquet I got up and I said, I ain't your champion, Ed Tutwiler is. This is his trophy. I'm just grateful you let me play.' "
The right side of his mouth went up and his voice tightened with pleasure.
"Boy, I never had so many instant admirers."
Dressed in a yellow polo shirt that had a small tear at the seam near the waist, and blue pants and black shoes that needed polish, and wearing the familiar coconut-straw hat, Snead went down the hall and stood outside the pro shop where a burly black man had already attached his clubs to an electric cart. The man asked how he had done that weekend at the Quarter Century tournament at Disney World.
"Won by six," Snead said. "The feller says, 'It was worth the drive.' "
"How much you win?"
He got into the cart and whirred around the north side of the white stucco building, down a paved path to where a small group of early-in-the-weekers were slapping at balls on the practice tee. A pale man in aqua Bermuda shorts stopped and leaned closer to his wife, who had been chopping grounders. They stared at Snead with their heads together.
"Hey, hustler," said a tall man who was hitting practice shots. "Playing today?"
"One o'clock. I'm expecting you."
"I dunno, I may be stupid, but I...."
"We're going at one. Be ready. You can go." The man hit an iron shot high and far and Snead whistled admiringly. "Oh, looky there," he said. "You're swinging go-ood. Bring your purse."
"Wednesday," said the tall man. "I'll play Wednesday."
"Gotta go to the dentist Wednesday," said Snead.
"Good. Tell him to add four strokes to your game."
A second cart pulled up, driven by a stockily built man, fiftyish, with a square, tough-Irish face and graying hair.
"Chuckie baby!" Snead crooned.
"He can see my money through my pockets," said Chuck Kelly, winking at Snead's companion. Kelly is a coal-sales executive who winters in Florida. He has been playing golf for money with Sam Snead since they were both, as Kelly says, "much younger." With the help of a four handicap, Kelly holds his own. "Tut flashed a roll of bills in the lounge the other day, and Sam almost had a fit. 'Oh, my, look at that pretty color,' " Kelly said, mimicking Snead. " 'Oh, that's my favorite color.' Tell you what, Sam, you go ahead and see if you can improve some, and I'll get a bite to eat and meet you on the tee."
"Don't get too far. I like to be near my money."
Snead scooped the new balls from his bag, speckling the grass around him, got out a nine-iron and began hitting rainbows to the left of the practice range. Along the tee line action stopped as the textbook came to life. The exquisite swing—time-locked, sealed in gelatin, smooth as a butternut—lifted the balls and rolled back the years. Slammin' Sammy. One after another the shots arched and landed, forming a cluster no more than five yards in diameter. Snead switched to another iron ("They're a little stiff," he complained), then another. Down the side of the range little floral arrangements of glistening white dots began to appear, each one deeper than the one before until, with a wood, Snead began hitting balls past the cut area into a plot of newly planted palms.
"Where'd you get that hook, Sam?" The tall man had come to watch.
"Hook? Hell, that's no hook. An Indian can't walk any straighter 'n that."
"Well, it looked a little low."
Snead swung again, and the ball got up and shrunk until it seemed to be suspended in the air. When it finally landed, it was deeper still in the young palms.
"High enough?" said Snead.
"Think you're ready for Johnny Miller?"
"I'd like to have that boy's nerves in this tired old body," Snead said. "But somebody's going to have to go get him, might as well be me." He winked, mounted his cart and headed upstream into the practice area.
"My accountant got to figuring one year," he said, bouncing along. "He figured I'd hit 1,640,000 balls, practice and tune-aments. For 13 years I never missed playing more 'n two or three weeks at a time. A reporter in England was interviewing me during that Benson-Hedges thing last year. He said, 'You a millionaire?' I said, 'Well, what do you call being a millionaire? One million? Two million? Four million?' He said, 'Gol-lee, what the hell are you doing out here, then?' I said, 'Cause I like to play.' "
He stopped at the first cluster, bending from the cart to reclaim his property, twirling the handle and manipulating the machine like a vacuum cleaner and contorting his body. One ball was farther to the left than he would have liked, and he leaned way out to get it.
"I don't have the control I used to have," he said. "No nerves in my hands and wrists. I lock everything in now. Used to be I could control every shot with my wrists, just flip it up there wherever I wanted. Can't do that anymore. When I was having trouble with my wrist last year they took X rays, and the doctor said it looked like a damn rat had been in there, eating the metacarpal muscles. Just wear and tear."
He continued the harvest down range, cleaning up the little patches of white, not missing a ball until he got into the palms, where he made a note out loud on which brand had gotten the best distance.
"I suppose I've lost 25 or 30 yards off the tee," he said as he turned back. "Every now and then, when I'm feeling really good, really oiled up, I put one out there, but most of the time you get to thinking about it, and you just tighten up and nothing happens. You gotta be loose to play this game. That's why Palmer and some of those boys have trouble. Especially the ones with short back swings. No elasticity. You gotta be loose. Looka here."
He guided the cart with his knee and with the forefinger and thumb of his left hand clasped the thumb of his right—a scarred, crullerlike appendage, thick as a cucumber—and bent it back so that the nail nearly touched his right wrist.
"Loose," he said.
He stopped at the bunker by the practice tee and deposited another bouquet of balls.
"I used to be the best sand player on the tour," he said matter-of-factly, moving into the trap. "Put it where I wanted, whichever side I wanted." His wedge flashed, and a ball popped through the cloud of sand and hit to the left of the flag; another hit right. The third skidded too far past. "At least I thought so," he said. "Here, I'll open the blade a little. See?" Another soft explosion, and the ball popped out, hit, ran gingerly and rimmed the cup.
"I've always had keys for myself like that. I don't understand it when I read, 'Nicklaus says he has to go see Jack Grout to check his game.' Shoot, I never took a lesson in my life except for shagging balls for my brother Homer. When I was a young pro at The Homestead I asked Fred Gleim to help me a couple times. He said, 'Hell, you're a pro.' "
You gotta understand what Sam came from. Nothing. A barefoot hillbilly with a couple shirts and a pair of wool pants, and it was a new world. The first exhibition I got for him he said, "Be sure to say I'm from The Greenbrier. They pay me $45 a month." Well, he learned early. The Greenbrier docked him $11.25 for being nine days late after he almost won the Masters that year. The thing about Sam is that he wants to win at everything he does. Golf, cards, pitching pennies. My eight-year-old daughter was in her room one time, and Sam went upstairs to visit her and play some gin rummy. My daughter said, "Uncle Sam cheats." I said,' 'Sam, did you fool around with that deck?" He said, "Sure. I was just having fun." I asked him once when he was at the top of his game if he'd play my brother John for $5 even. He said, "Well, how good can he play?"
FRED CORCORAN, VICE-PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL GOLF, SNEAD'S EX-MANAGER.
On his way to the first tee Snead stopped long enough at the Pine Tree snack bar to purchase a hot dog and a diet cola. His companion ordered a chicken sandwich.
"Half or whole?" the waitress asked.
"Only place in the world you can buy half a sandwich," said Snead. He stuffed the hot dog in his mouth and put his foot down hard on the throttle.
Chuck Kelly was already on the first tee, waiting with a florid-faced man named Jim Raymond, who draws the comic strip Blondie, and the tall golfer from the practice tee. His name was Chuck MacCallum, a Florida real-estate man. He had been Pine Tree's club champion twice. At age 15, in Midland, Mich., "when I was young and full of myself," MacCallum said, he got promoted into a driving contest with Snead. He said he hit three balls, the last one "about as far as anybody could hit it. Sam got up and hit his first one past me on the fly. With a four-wood." Snead said he did not remember the episode.
"How many shots you giving me?" MacCallum asked.
"The same," said Snead. "Four and three."
"The same? You beat me every damn time."
The smile lifted the right side of Snead's face.
"Well, you gonna have to improve."
The haggling went on until a full quota of bets were made, team (Snead pairing with Raymond) and individual. MacCallum improved his bet to four-and-four. Satisfied, Snead got up to hit, assuming the honor. "I'm gonna throw a little 32 at you today, Chuckie baby," he said. "A little old 32." And he hit his drive 20 yards farther than the others would.
"I shot a 63 here once," he said as he got in the cart, "and it'd been a 61 if I hadn't three-putted the last green. Ted Kroll wouldn't stop talking on my backswing."
He missed a 10-footer for a birdie, and three-putted the second to fall behind. "I never play good after a tune-ament," he said, twisting the handle of the cart and stomping the accelerator. His passenger's head jerked back. "I always have a little letdown after a tune-ament."
He rolled in a 20-footer for a birdie on the third. Driving again, he said he always preferred this kind of golf, man-to-man, "where you can look a feller in the eye." He said Dutch Harrison "used to make his expenses on the tour playing $2 Nassaus with the younger players. He'd say to one of 'em, 'Oh, my, you're playing so good,' then he'd beat 'em 2-2-and-2."
He said you had to have guidelines, though. "Never gamble with a stranger," he said, "and if you do and he stops arguing the handicap too soon, you know you got a hawk in the chicken yard. When I was at Boca there were three guys I didn't know asked me to play one day. I said, 'Well, you know my fee for a playing lesson is $100.' That didn't seem to shock 'em. And I said, 'And we'll play a $10 Nassau. What's your handicap?' It's a mistake not to know those things, especially since they sure as hell knew mine. They said, 'Five,' and I said, 'Fine, I'll give you six.' So we kinda played along without making a dent, and on the 4th or 5th hole I said, 'Listen, I'll dispense with the fee and play your best ball and cut you for $1,000.' They all said O.K., and we wound up playing four courses over the next five days. I won $10,000."
He grinned and got out of the cart. They were on the 5th tee at Pine Tree.
"Hey," he said to the others, "I'll play your best ball from here in."
Jim Raymond said, "Well, I dunno, I'm not...."
"C'mon, Pidge, you're gonna get hot. You know you can play better."
"You're crazy if you do it," Chuck Kelly said. "I'll go along, but you're crazy if you do it."
"Hell, you boys are shooting par, and look at me? I ain't done nothing."
The mumbling continued until the bet was made. "Don't you like the way he did that?" Jim Raymond said. " 'You three big bad guys against poor little me.' So why am I smiling?"
"What does he mean 'Pidge?' "
"Short for pigeon. He knows I hate it."
Snead plugged along, only moderately sensational, unable to stem the tide of his opponents' best-ball birdies and handicaps. But his putting began to come around on the back nine, and he gained ground; the irony was inescapable. On the tee his swing is the prettiest in golf; on the green his stroke is a curiosity. Sam faced the hole, crouching beside the ball as if he were about to slalom with a single ski. His right hand held the club down the shaft and his left, at the top, acted as a fulcrum. The pendulum action all but eliminated wrist movement, the root of most putting failures. Snead has called this invention the "sidesaddle."
He said he had started putting that way—except then he hit the ball between his legs, croquet style—"about nine years ago in the middle of the PGA when I got the yips so bad it was that or quit." When crossing the putting line was outlawed in 1968, he simply slid his right leg over to meet the left, enhancing the looks of the stroke, though not enough to satisfy the purists. ("Hogan would never have done it.")
"They used to laugh when I started putting like that," Snead said as he went for a cup of water on the 13th. "I'd see 'em snickering, and I'd always get those comments from the gallery. At the Masters one year Bobby Jones said, 'That's a helluva way to putt.' Well, I don't care what way it is, the object of the game is to get the ball in the hole and pick up the check. Putting is an entirely different game, anyway. You start out hitting the ball into the air, with a full swing, and you end up jabbing at it and rolling it. Hell, no, I wasn't embarrassed. Why should I be? I wanted to play.
"Funny thing is I go to these tune: aments now, and I see guys practicing the sidesaddle. Two years ago at the PGA Seniors I was 20 under, and all those old geezers were out there trying it. Palmer tried it on a practice green once or twice. Freddie Corcoran says they're even teaching it in England."
He hit his next shot, then walked ahead to a bunker, checking the card and pacing off the distance. He had done this on almost every hole, though it mostly went unnoticed because he walks so fast and does not hold up play. Chuck Kelly watched him.
"We were playing in a pro-am one year at The Homestead in Hot Springs, and one of the guys had a flask of brandy he was sipping," Kelly said. "He just wasn't taking the game seriously enough, and Sam got sore. He said, 'Listen, I don't give a damn if it's a pro-am or the U.S. Open, I play as good as I can every time I play, and I don't want to play with somebody who doesn't do the same.' He laid it on him good. Sam's that way. He'll work as hard here in five days trying to win $65 as he would at an exhibition for $5,000. He turned one down at Hilton Head not long ago. He said, 'How much?' They said, '$5,000.' He said, 'I'll stay home and play.' "
The match and most of the bets were even at the 17th, a straight-on 430-yard par-4. Snead chose a seven-iron from a point near a trap at the left for his second shot. "Little baby," he said to the ball, "I'm gonna have to put a hit on you...just cut this little seven in there...just cut it...." Whap. "Oh, that'll play." The shot bedded down four feet from the pin, and his birdie closed out MacCallum and the best-ball portion of the bet.
"You'll have a tough time getting a match the rest of the winter," Jim Raymond said.
"Especially from me," said MacCallum.
"Well, how close do you want it?" said Snead. "You went to the 17th."
"I want to win one," said MacCallum. "Last time I won was when we played in that sixsome. And you were my partner."
Snead grinned. "Well, the feller says, 'You gotta give it a shot.'" They left the green and he launched into a story about "a feller who accepted a million-to-one bet that he couldn't jump across a lake. He ran and leaped and made a helluva splash, and the other feller says, 'Why'd you take such a stupid bet? There's no way you can jump across this lake.' And the feller says, 'For a million-to-one I had to try.' "
MacCallum laughed with the others.
On the 18th Chuck Kelly put a long midiron inside Snead's ball, which was already on the green, eight feet from the pin. Snead, standing on the fringe, threw his putter into the air. "Gee whiz" he shouted. "There's one in every crowd." The putter came down and stuck handle-first in the green.
Then Snead got down into his slalom and punched in the eight-footer, and Kelly missed the shorter putt and the match was over. Snead was delighted. "That was a $25 putt," he chortled, scribbling on the scorecard at his cart. "A $25 putt, Chuckie baby." He twirled the cart handle toward the clubhouse, where the attendant intercepted him outside the pro shop and began unleashing his clubs.
"You playing in the Seniors at Disney World next week, Mr. Snead?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Snead. "I'm going up there to play with those old geezers. They're giving the winner another Continental this year, you know."
All I got from the first golf job I ever held was a free lunch and a spare-time chance to hustle a few guests into taking lessons.
SAM SNEAD, The Education of a Golfer.
I spend as much time now on Snead's activities as I do on Johnny Miller's. That's how popular he is. He could make money all the time if he wanted to.
ED BARNER, PRESIDENT, UNI-MANAGERS INTERNATIONAL.
"I'd rather play with friends like that than play in a tune-ament any time," said Snead, turning the Cadillac out the long drive from Pine Tree and accelerating south toward Boca Raton. The windows were down, the air conditioning off.
Then why go to tournaments at all?
"The competition. Quit competing, and you dry up like a peach seed. But a lot of times I get out there, and I wish I was someplace else. Fishing or hunting. Then I say, 'What the hell, I'm here now, I might as well play.' "
He turned the car east on Spanish River Road, heading for the ocean and picking up speed. He passed cars, slipping in and out of the lane. He said his "touring pro" relationship with The Greenbrier had been severed after 38 years. He indicated that the parting had not been amicable, much the same as his split with the Boca Raton club six years before. He had been the pro at Boca, his winter base, 14 years. In both cases, he said, a new management had decided to cut corners. Snead was the biggest corner. First they took over his carts, a major part of his revenue, then the pro shop.
"The new manager at The Greenbrier offered me a straight salary. I said, 'How much?' He told me, and I said, The hell with it.'"
Shortly after that, he said, Tom Lennon, an old friend and the president of The Homestead in Hot Springs, called and offered him that job. The Homestead is 45 miles from The Greenbrier across the West Virginia line and is the course Snead grew up on as a caddie, where he turned pro in 1933. "We made a cash deal, and if I want to give lessons I can charge whatever I want." He grinned. "Feller says, 'If you want some lessons, I'll come get you.' "
He passed another car, getting back inside the middle line just ahead of a fuel truck.
"I can't complain," he said. "The Wilson clubs I endorse are still the biggest sellers they got, and I get about a penny apiece. That's $100,000 to $160,000 a year, for the last 10 years. That's not so bad, is it?" He said he has the house near Boca Raton and one in Hot Springs and a farm he works outside Hot Springs, and a 600-acre cattle ranch nearby and a couple little beer joints in Florida. Three years ago, he said, he had turned his finances over to Ed Barner's group in California. He now gets $7,500 for a one-day exhibition appearance and a minimum $15,000 for a four-day tournament overseas. In that time he has been to Japan four times, to Hong Kong, Brazil, Morocco and numerous European countries. He gets checks as "spokesman" for a chain of banks and a manufacturer of component parts, and for endorsing Niko whiskey and a line of clothing in Japan. He has a new instruction book coming out in December. Barner estimates his outside income is four times what he makes playing in tournaments.
"I played in 14 last year, which is a couple more than I'll average," Snead said, "and made more money [$55,562] than I ever did. If we'd been playing in 1949 and '50 for what they're playing for now at the same tune-aments I'da won $400,000 both years. [Miller earned a record $353,021 last year.] You can figure it up. Hell, a guy can be a millionaire in five years playing the tour today. Resent it? Why should I resent that? What other field can you do that in?"
At Route A1A, Ocean Boulevard, he turned the Cadillac north and, shortly after passing a sign marked Highland Beach, turned toward the sea, up a private drive lined with lush tropical plants and trees and curving past a garage over which were guests' quarters, to the front of a two-story white-brick house. He said the house was now worth $300,000, three times what he had paid for it in 1965.
"Just painted the doors on that garage," he said. "My hands were so stiff the next day I couldn't grip a club."
He took his companion around back to see the ocean. A stand of sea grape with leaves like giant olive-green pancakes bunched along the property down a slope to the beach. "I cut 'em back myself," he said, "but I see nobody else does, so the hell with it." He said the gardener had doubled his prices, so he was taking care of those things himself. He had been making repairs—painting, fixing sprinklers—anticipating the annual move north in the spring.
"The house next door burned down three or four years ago," he said, "and the rats were running around and the damn hippies were camping in the ruins. I finally had to go down to city hall to get 'em to clean it out." He said his house had been broken into four times in the 10 years since it was built, usually when he was away, but he now had a direct hookup with the police. He passed a rusting air conditioner. "Third one we've had," he said. "The salt air does it."
He said he had sold his boat, but from his bedroom window he could watch the fishermen hauling in kingfish and dolphin. In a huge recreation room downstairs he indicated the evidence of his prowess as an outdoorsman—a onetime world record 15-pound bonefish, mounts of other game fish and heads of animals he had shot in Africa. The two elephant tusks, he said, "are too skinny to be worth much—only 40 or 50 pounds." In one corner of the room was a set of drums his son Jack used to play; across the way was a bar with eight stools covered in simulated leopard skin. He said he never saw a private bar as big as his own. Above the bar his wife Audrey had Scotch-taped a series of black-and-white pictures showing the definitive Sam Snead swing in a 40-sequence. "Audrey is a good housekeeper," he said.
"I made reservations at the Riverview for 7:30," said Audrey Snead, a blonde, buxom woman dressed smartly in a white pants suit. "Their seafood is delicious. But if we eat any later Sam's liable to go to sleep. He never stops going all day, and then he goes to bed with the chickens, you know."
"Well, I'm 62, I need my rest," said Sam. "Audrey's two years older'n me."
"That's not true," said Audrey, taking the hook. "Sam was two years ahead of me in school, but he was so full of mischief, I mean just full of mischief, always running off chasing racoons and things, that I wound up two years ahead of him. My daddy wouldn't let me date him. We were teen-agers, but he thought I was too young."
Did Sam's obsession for golf have anything to do with her father's reticence?
"Oh, no. Sam was a wonder-ful teacher, everybody knew that from the start. I mean, he could teach any-body. He can get me out there now and tell me one little thing, and it just straightens me right out."
"I wouldn't be a teaching pro," Sam said.
"Well, why not?" said Audrey. "Nothing wrong with it."
"Too much aggravation. Too many experts screwing people up. You listen to all that talk about this muscle overpowering that muscle and this pressure and that pressure, and a feller doesn't even know how to hold the damn club. He's liable to wrap it around his neck and kill himself before he learns anything."
"Everybody has to learn from somebody," said Audrey. "Who would you go to?"
"Nobody. Nobody knows more'n me about golf. I go to somebody about my insurance and about my teeth. But I don't go to anybody about golf."
They got ready to leave. Audrey said the big house had gotten a little lonely for her, but that their miniature pinscher Jo Jo was good company. "We got a Doberman at the farm," Sam said. "He wouldn't harm a fly."
"Yes he would," said Audrey. "He'd bite."
"No, he wouldn't, Audrey. He's a cream puff."
Their son Jack had lived there until he was married, commuting to Miami to finish college, Audrey said. She still kept his room the way it was, with his yearbooks and pictures. There was a photograph of Jack with Sam in Africa. The picture showed a handsome young man with slightly crossed eyes. Audrey Snead said both boys, Jack, now 30, and Terry, 22, were born cross-eyed, and they couldn't understand it because neither she nor Sam had eye trouble or even wore glasses.
Jack was married and had two kids now, she said, and worked for his daddy in Hot Springs.
What about Terry?
"Terry's retarded," Snead said without hesitation. He said there had been a high fever at an early age. Terry had been in a home since he was five.
"He's a strong, fine-looking kid," said Snead. "You look at him, and you'd think he was perfectly normal. He recognizes me when he sees me, but that's about all."
"He loves his daddy," said Audrey.
"Yeah," said Snead. His eyes were red around the edges. "But I'll tell you, if they keep hiking those fees, I'm bringing him home. All they do is give him room and board, anyway. C'mon, let's go eat."
I've always said Sam Snead could balance the U.S. budget, as smart as he is about money. I always said, "He made a million and saved three." One year I hand carried six dozen golf balls to Australia for the World Cup. A boy wanted Sam to autograph one, and I gave it to him, and when Sam got it he said, "Where'd you get this?" The boy said Corcoran gave it to him. Sam said, "I don't autograph new ones. Get an old one. It's the same autograph." But if you asked him for $50,000 to make a business deal, and he trusted you, he'd sign right now. He did that with Ted Williams on that tackle business they had. Ted used to rib him all the time about baseball being the harder sport to play, having to hit a moving target and all. Sam said, "Yeah, but you don't have to play your foul balls."
"Trouble with living here," said Snead as he turned the Cadillac south on Ocean Boulevard, "is it's too far to the golf course. Twenty-five minutes to Pine Tree. And there're so many women there taking up times. What I'd like is a club where there's nothing but men."
"What about me?" said Audrey. "I play, too, you know."
"Well, you could join a club where there's nothing but women."
"There isn't any such thing, and you know it."
"Yeah, but it's a good idea," Sam said. He turned the air conditioner on and pushed buttons to raise the windows. His dinner guest asked if he ever thought of quitting tournament golf.
"Never," said Audrey. "They'll have to carry him off. He plays too much now. He needs more rest. But he'll never quit."
"Not as long as I enjoy it," said Sam. "I'd like to win one more tune-ament [he has won 150, more than anyone]. You know, it's an amazing thing. I've won at least one every year since 1936."
"You didn't win one last year," said Audrey.
"Yeah, I did. I won that par 3 before the Masters. No big deal, but all the good players were in it."
"I don't remember that."
"Well, I won it, Audrey. Just let me tell it, please. If I'd averaged 30 putts a round, I'da won five tune-aments. Up to the Kemper I'd broken par in every one. I woulda won the Masters if I'd averaged 30 putts. Johnny Miller averaged maybe 25 or 27."
"Oh, I like Miller, he's a darling boy," said Audrey.
"Yeah, he's a good one," said Sam.
"What was it you said to him at the L.A. Open last year?"
"Nothing, really. He got upset because he was playing poorly, and he started backhanding his putts, flipping the ball around, and I got him aside and I said, 'Johnny, you're the U.S. Open champion. That's a great honor. It's one I never had. You should play as good as you can, whenever you play.' Later on he thanked me."
What about the Open, he was asked. Does it still bother him that he never won it?
"I coulda won it last year at Winged Foot. It was possible. I don't say it was probable, but it was possible. I had practice rounds of 70-71-70, and was even 36 after nine holes. Then I had to withdraw. I could hardly breathe. When they X-rayed, they found two broken ribs."
"Probably broke 'em when you had to jump off that tractor at the farm," Audrey said. "He'da killed himself if he hadn't jumped."
"Maybe. I heard something snap. But a 287 won the Open, and Winged Foot was my kind of course."
What about the other years? The other Opens?
Snead's eyes got round.
"I have to think there were people who didn't want me to win. One year they outlawed my caddie. Another time they paired me in the final threesome of the day, though I was still in contention. I can't blame anybody but me for blowing two or three, but I have to think there were some people who were just as glad to see it happen.
"The best golf I ever played, though, was right after the war when I came out of the service. I won five out of six tune-aments and lost the sixth in a double playoff with Mangrum. Nobody coulda beat me then. Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer. Nobody. But '49 and '50 were the best years for winning. I retired after that."
"You never retired."
"Audrey, I retired. I'd won more money than anybody that year, I'd won the Vardon Trophy for best average. I'd won more tune-aments. But Hogan got Player of the Year because he won the Open. I said. 'Well, shoot, if I do all that and they make somebody else Player of the Year, what's the use?' So I quit."
"You didn't quit long."
The Riverview was crowded, but the waitress hailed them warmly and escorted the Sneads to a preferred table. Sam ordered the broiled snapper and Audrey the yellowtail. They were finished before nine. When the check came Sam grabbed it out of the hands of his guest.
I don't get excited about athletes. We manage Miller, Heard, Casper and Hill and Don Sutton of the Dodgers, and I have them in my house, but I don't get excited about it. But Sam, he's different. When Fm with that old man I feel like Pm with a piece of history.
Sam Snead crushed the box of cornflakes in his hands, opened it and spilled the crumbled contents into the bowl, then layered the top with bananas.
"I don't eat much lunch," he said. "I like to keep my weight about 190. I'm about 195 now." His thick fingers worked the spoon into the cereal. He was in the dining room of the golf club at Disney World, an hour from tee off in the PGA Seniors tournament, which he had won six times. He complained that he had had to pay the greens fee for the practice rounds he had taken the two previous days.
Tommy Bolt, heavier and grayer than remembered, came by and the two men exchanged greetings.
"I talked him out of this thing one year," Snead said, grinning. "He stuck his head over my locker and said, 'Hey, Nudie, what the hell you doing?' I said, 'Hey, what's the matter with you, Thunder?' He said, 'Whaddaya mean?' I said, 'You look awful. You look green around the gills. I never saw you look so bad.' 'Well, hell, I don't feel good, Sam.' 'Gee whiz, Thunder, you don't look good.' He went right out and withdrew, and he was the only guy in the tune-ament who could beat me."
The tour, he said, had changed a lot since the days he and Bolt were big numbers. "Motels made a difference," Snead said. "Everybody used to stay in the same place, sat around, got to know one another. I traveled with Johnny Bulla for about 4 years, splitting expenses. Now you never see the same guy twice in one year unless you play with him. And the young guys are more conscientious. Used to be they'd shoot a 65 and blow up. Now they do it four days in a row. They're more fit. They're in their rooms doing push-ups and eating Wheaties. Trouble is, you get so that's all you think about, and somebody asks you your name, and you can't tell 'em.
"I was always a loner. I liked to get away from it, to fish or hunt or watch a shoot-'em-up. I didn't hang around with anybody much, except Bulla. Hogan? You'd play a round with Hogan, and the only thing he'd say was, 'You're away.' But if you'd walk alongside him, you would hear him grunt, 'Unh, unh,' like he was talking to himself. I offered him a drink of water once at the Masters and he looked at me like I was crazy."
His companion noted that Snead had always seemed able to reduce golf to the most elemental level, to turn what was essentially a game of detachment (man against the beguiling irregularities of nature as produced by golf-course architects) into an emotional contest of individuals. At one time Snead won 13 consecutive man-to-man match-play events on television and, with one exception, had always beaten Hogan in match-play events and playoffs.
"There are some guys, you know, you just figure if you go out there and look 'em in the eye, you're gonna beat 'em," said Snead. "Valerie [Hogan] told me one time, 'We never relax until you're in the clubhouse.' Hogan never said anything like that, of course. But that's why I like to play with the guy I have to beat. Then I can watch him. See what he's doing. You watch a guy long enough, you pick up a pattern. Does he play fast? Does he talk a lot? Does he waggle his club before he hits? Then if he changes—a little hesitation, a little extra waggle—you know you got him. Hogan did that over a putt when we were in a playoff at the Masters one year. Hesitated over a putt on the 16th. I knew I had him then.
"C'mon," Snead said, "let's go see if I can put something together."
He went out into the Florida sun. He was wearing red-check pants, yellow shirt, blue sweater and black shoes. From the back he looked remarkably trim—his hips still slim, his torso broad and tapering with the familiar sloping shoulders and Alley Oop forearms. Only the paunch up front would give him away, and it was only a minor revelation. There are younger, rounder stomachs on the tour.
Another one of the seniors hailed him. Sam said he was in his late 50s. "That old so-and-so. He hasn't changed in 20 years. The feller says, 'He uses well.'" The man looked 10 years Snead's senior.
Hell, yes, he could still win one. If he's on he still plays as good as 99% of them on the tour. The thing is, he's always stayed with it. And he has the desire. At our age there's also the matter of confidence. It's a little like sex, one bad performance and you begin to wonder. The thing about Sam is he's always correcting and experimenting, and he thinks he can do it. In the Seniors a couple of years ago he had a 268, and after every round he'd complain, "If I coulda putted, I'da had a 59." Hell, so could I.
JULIUS BOROS, AGE 55, GOLF PRO
In the first round at Disney World, playing in a foursome with Ted Kroll, Chandler Harper and Doug Ford, Snead shot a 74. He would finish sixth. It was, he said, the first time in three weeks he was over par. He took nine putts on the first four holes and had two three-putt greens. He complained that the greens were rough. After the 6th hole, where he rolled in a 20-footer for a birdie, he said, "I'm hitting 'em dead center, but they're rolling up and bouncing away."
He strode down the fairway as fast as some people trot, pacing off his shots, checking distances. When others putted he stood off to the side, his legs crossed, his ball in his hand, examining it as if he had never seen one. It was, of course, vintage Snead.
As the round became irretrievable, he began talking to his shots. "That's enough, that's enough," he said as his drive faded on the 11th. The ball hit on the fairway and bounded into the rough. "Thank you, Lord," he said. On one hole he flipped a club; on another he kicked one into the air. In his book, Snead said, "Show me the feller who walks along calmly after missing a kick-in putt, showing the world he's under perfect control, yet burning inside, and I'll show you a feller who's going to lose."
Late in the day Snead and a friend went upstairs into the clubhouse lounge to have a beer. The lounge was packed, but Snead was recognized and quickly surrounded. Two beers were delivered to him simultaneously. He told a story about a mounted policeman and a parking ticket, and then one of his friends, an Italian with a blonde girl friend in short shorts, joined the group and bought him another beer.
Snead asked the Italian if he'd heard the story about the guy "who wanted to be a Polack."
The Italian grinned, and Snead continued.
"This old boy tells his doctor he's tired of all the Polack jokes, that he has sympathy for 'em, and he wants to be one. The doc says, 'It's all right, but we'll have to cut out half your brain to do it.' The feller says, 'O.K., go ahead.' But when he comes out of the anesthetic, the doctor is standing over him looking real worried. The doc says, 'I got something awful to tell you. Instead of half your brain, we took out three-fourths.' And the feller slaps himself on the forehead and says, 'Mama, mia!'"
The Italian's laughter mixed with the others, and Snead raised the side of his mouth with a grin and made his exit, depositing an empty beer glass on a table near the door.
"A damn 74," he said as he walked through the restaurant side of the lounge. "Well, tomorrow I'll just have to shoot a 66."
With that he swung his leg into the air in a perfect battement and kicked a metal sign that was hanging by chains from the ceiling at the entrance to the restaurant. The sign said TROPHY ROOM, PLAYER'S GALLERY. It was seven feet off the floor.