Sam Snead was in a rage. Sitting in the men's locker room at the
Myers Park Country Club shortly before he and Byron Nelson were to
begin a second 18-hole playoff to decide the Charlotte (N.C.)
Open, he had read a column in the Charlotte Observer hinting that
he had purposely bogeyed the 72nd hole of the tournament. The
reason? He and Nelson would pick up extra money in a playoff
because the accepted practice on the PGA tour is for the
competitors to share half the playoff receipts. Snead crumpled the
paper into a ball and at first refused to play anymore, either
that day or in Charlotte ever again. At last Nelson and club
officials persuaded him to change his mind, but the ugly rumor
persisted, detracting from what was the most exciting tournament
of the year.
Since the beginning of this year's tour, golf fans around the
country have been arguing over who is the game's best player --
Nelson, last year's leading money winner and the AP's Athlete of
the Year, or Snead, recently out of the Navy and quickly reaching
the form that has won him the 1942 PGA Championship as well as 37
other events. Coming into Charlotte, each had won four times in
1945, Snead the last three individual events in a row. So when
the Charlotte tournament began Friday, there were technically 100
players in the field at Myers Park, but in reality only two
mattered. Snead broke fast with a 65, and by the time he reached
the 71st hole Monday, he had easily outdistanced everyone but
Nelson, who after opening with a 70, a round in which he said he
``putted atrociously,'' had steadily closed ground. Now Nelson,
one stroke back and his round over, stood by the scoreboard at 18,
awaiting the outcome.
On the par-3 18th, Snead wasn't so lucky. His tee shot stopped 20
yards short of the green, and after some thought he decided to
putt the ball.
``I'd never use that club,'' Nelson was heard to whisper. Snead's
putt through some fluffy grass off the green left him 12 feet
short, and when he missed his try for par, he and Nelson were
tied. They were still tied 24 hours later, having each shot 69 in
an 18-hole playoff. The players had the option of another 18 the
next day or settling matters immediately. Snead wanted to keep
playing, but Nelson demurred. ``None of those sudden-death
finishes for me,'' he said.
March 20, 1995
It was the next morning that Jake Wade's column appeared in the
Observer. Wade wrote that ``there was widespread gossip all over
town that a dive had been arranged to produce a playoff.'' Wade,
recounting the rumor, said that Snead had intentionally flubbed 18
because he would make more money missing the putt than making it.
Having done the damage, Wade then sanctimoniously stated that he
personally didn't believe the rumor, that it was simply his sad
duty to report what was being whispered all over the course, where
unfortunately a lot of ``sugar'' was being waged on the outcome.
Snead refused to respond to Wade's column, but Nelson did, saying
he was shocked. ``Winning means much more money to us than the
little extra we get from the playoff,'' Nelson said before the
round. ``Sam would have given big money to have won outright
because it would have put him right at the top, where we all want
He then added this intriguing information: ``We've about decided
that if we tie again today, we'll just be coholders of the title.
We both agreed not to play a 19th hole.''
There is no question that Wade's column had an effect on Snead's
game in the second playoff. As usual, the gate receipts from the
second playoff round went to charity to prevent any suggestion of
the kind of hanky-panky Snead was being accused of. Snead was over
par for the first time in six rounds, shooting 73 to Nelson's
steady 69. Charlotte was Nelson's second straight victory and
added $2,000 in war bonds, worth $1,312 in cash on the spot, to
his money-leading total of $10,763.33.
Nelson and Snead left the course in a rush. Both were due to tee
off the next day in the Greensboro (N.C.) Open, 90 miles to the
north. The Greensboro tournament is played in Snead's backyard. It
will be interesting to see if he can bounce back there after what
was clearly a traumatic week in Charlotte.