Dick FitzSimmons is a patrician-looking fellow, a former Boeing
engineer who worked in the Nixon Administration. He exudes
"Pretty neat, huh?" said FitzSimmons giddily last Thursday while
clutching a visor Sam Snead had just autographed. Snead, who
will turn 85 in May, was playing in the pro-am at the Liberty
Mutual Legends of Golf, held at the Arnold Palmer Private Course
at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. It was 99[degrees], and Snead
was cranky, having just chili-dipped a shot from the rough on
the 8th hole, which led to a bogey.
"I don't care how you play, Sam," said FitzSimmons from the
gallery. "You've still got the sweetest swing I've ever seen.
You're still my hero."
"Well, thank you, sir," said Snead, who finished with a 79.
March 31, 1997
"No, thank you."
This was the prevailing sentiment at the Legends, where Snead
and partner Harvie Ward tied for fifth in the tournament's
70-and-over Demaret division: Who cares how Sam plays--isn't it
great that he's out here? "When I'm 84," said one of the duffers
in his Thursday foursome, "I just hope I'm on the right side of
Don't try telling Snead it doesn't matter how he scores. He
might take a swing at you. Seriously. Coming off the final hole
last Thursday, his caddie-business manager, Joe Bachman--on whom
Snead had been taking out his frustrations all afternoon--said,
within earshot of his boss, "You want to know why all this guy's
friends are dead? He wore 'em out. I'll tell you why he's still
alive: God doesn't want him, and the devil doesn't either."
The Legends, a best-ball tournament with two-man teams, won last
week by John Bland and Graham Marsh, is credited with sparking
the creation of the Senior tour. Snead has won it twice,
including the inaugural, in 1978. "One year they put me with Lee
Elder. He missed two putts about this long," says Snead, holding
his hands a yard apart. "We lost by a stroke. I could have won
it a third time." Not that he's counting or anything.
On the first hole of the pro-am, the man with 81 PGA Tour
victories turned to his starstruck partners and said, "Well,
fellows, I'm not much, but I'm all you got." He parred the next
two holes by draining successive 12-footers, using his peculiar,
sidesaddle putting style.
The follow-through of Snead's celebrated swing is a bit
truncated these days, due to a left shoulder injury suffered in
a 1992 car accident, and to the fact that he is approaching the
midpoint of his ninth decade on earth. Still, Slammin' Sammy
drives the ball 220 to 230 yards and hits a five-iron 150. In
the pro-am he was hitting fewer fairways than usual. "Never hit
more cockeyed damn shots in my life!" he muttered on the par-3
3rd hole after depositing his tee shot in a bunker. His mood
lightened on the par-5 6th, where he hit a driver off the
fairway 220 yards to within chipping distance.
Snead's eyesight is fading. Before each shot, Bachman must point
him in the right direction. After he swings, Snead asks Bachman
where the ball went. If the news is not good, Snead often takes
it out on Bachman, who is no more inclined than his boss to hold
his tongue. Last Thursday their saltier exchanges were often as
entertaining as the golf itself. Overall, though, Snead has held
up amazingly well. "Feel this," he says, pointing to his upper
abdomen. It is boilerplate. At home in Hot Springs, Va., he has
a 60-pound curl bar, with which he does 40 repetitions a day.
"I've had a good life," he says over a cola after his round.
"How many people have hit a hole-in-one with every club in their
bag? How many people have won tournaments in six different
decades?" Looking up from his drink, Bachman interjects: "The
only decade we haven't won in is the '90s, and it's not looking
"I'm not playing very well right now," Snead admits. "Of course,
I don't play much anymore. There's nobody left to play with."
He misses, in particular, the late Bruce Forbes--"Malcolm's
older brother"--with whom he played many $800 matches at The
Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Snead gave Forbes 13
shots and still took untold sums from him. "He used to call me
and ask, 'Do we have a starting time?' And I'd say, 'A standing
One day Forbes hit three consecutive shots that failed to get
airborne. A minister who walked the course for his daily
constitutional had witnessed them and tendered some unsolicited
advice. "You may be standing with your feet too close together,"
Says Snead, "Bruce looked at him, looked at me and says, 'So now
you got the reverend coaching me!' He went tearing off in his
"I said, 'Reverend, you just cost me 800 bucks.'
"It's a shame," Snead says after a moment of silence. "All the
pigeons are dead."