Flamboyant Doug Sanders doesn't want to fade away
This is an article from the April 6, 1998 issue
Doug Sanders used to have followers. Men admired Sanders, the
golfer who dressed like a rainbow and often played like a dream,
for winning 20 Tour titles between 1956 and 1972. Women admired
him too and followed golf's leading hedonist on and off the
course from Scotland to Augusta to Las Vegas, where the man
called Peacock partied with his drinking buddies Frank Sinatra
and Dean Martin. "It was what every man dreams of: fun, beer and
pretty women," he says.
Today Sanders, 64, lives alone and waits for the phone to ring.
"I want to play," he says. "I've been asking for sponsors'
exemptions, but everyone turns me down." A player of Sanders's
stature, with 154 top 10 finishes and 20 wins, might expect to
be welcomed back, yet his colorful past keeps shadowing him.
Before he wore ruby spikes, he ran barefoot in Polk County, Ga.,
whose prime exports included whiskey and fire-breathing
religion. Sanders reached the PGA Tour in 1957 and lived what he
now calls a "sinful" life as he flirted with golf greatness. At
the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews he had a two-foot putt on
the final hole to beat Jack Nicklaus. He missed it, then lost in
a playoff. Some say Sanders never recovered from that defeat,
but as rumors of drunken binges as well as sexual and financial
excesses dogged his heels, he kept playing life fast and loose.
After joining the Senior tour in 1983, he became host of the
Doug Sanders Celebrity Classic, but the event collapsed four
years ago amid charges that he had looted tournament coffers for
his personal use--charges he denies.
"There's no halo over my head," Sanders admits, "but I have
turned my life around. I haven't drunk a drop since Aug. 28,
1993." He says he became a born-again Christian in 1995, a time
when he was bedeviled by a painful twitch that nearly drove him
crazy. His head and hands would spontaneously jerk sideways. On
the course he bit down on his collar to keep his head steady
when he swung. He hoped for a miracle but got a diagnosis
instead: He had torticollis, a rare muscle disorder.
"I didn't party anymore, couldn't play golf, couldn't get away
from the pain. I'll admit it, I thought about suicide," he says.
Finally he flew to Montreal to endure a risky seven-hour
operation. "My heart stopped when I was on the operating table,"
he says. Doctors resuscitated him--his miracle, as Sanders sees
it--and after two days in a coma he woke. The twitch was gone.
During his recovery, Sanders shrank to 135 pounds. Now up to
177, he recently returned to the 18th green at St. Andrews to
make peace with the putt he blew three decades ago. Last month
he took 15 sweaters and 23 pairs of shoes to the three-day
Legends of Golf, where he teamed with Tommy Armour to win $12,000.
In seeking sponsors' exemptions to Senior events, Sanders is
asking for pro golf's version of charity. "I deserve it. I
helped found this tour," he says. "God gave me another chance to
live. Now I hope somebody gives me a chance to play golf."
In the Loop
CADDIES HOWL, GROWL, PROWL
Two weeks ago at Bay Hill, caddies seethed when the Tour
proposed a caddie dress code. "It's another example of the
Tour's f--- the caddies mentality," said one looper. Open revolt
was averted when the Tour withdrew the idea, and last week at
the Players Championship, for the first time, a PGA Tour
commissioner addressed a caddies' meeting. Tim Finchem assured
Fluff Cowan & Co. that while caddies have no pension or medical
benefits, no access to players' locker rooms and may have to use
public Port-o-Lets on the job, "we consider you an important
part of the Tour." The matter of the caddies' lunch wagon, which
the Tour no longer wants to fund at $130,000 per year, was tabled.
Caddying is a growth industry. Several bagmen earn six figures
per year; Cowan makes TV commercials and instructional videos.
But not every caddie is smiling. Last week Wayne Grady's looper,
Patrick Fitzgerald, was jailed for soliciting sex from an
undercover cop, and Dennis Turning, John Cook's caddie, was
arrested for cocaine possession and "misdemeanor prowling."
THE SHAG BAG
Giving Tiger Pause: Gary Player relishes the thought of a Tiger
Woods-Ernie Els rivalry that could last for decades. "Tiger's
full swing is more impressive, but Ernie is far better from 100
yards in. His wedges, bunker shots, putting and chipping are all
better" says Player, whose nine major titles are six more than
Woods and Els's combined total. "And perhaps there's another
difference: Tiger will live under enormous pressure as a
celebrity in America. Ernie's life might be easier."
Golf Outing: The game still isn't an Olympic sport, but it will
be part of the Gay Games in 2002.
When Harry Met Reality: Harry Toscano's $9 million antitrust
suit against the Senior tour hit a speed bump last week.
Toscano, who claims there is a conspiracy to keep little-known
players like him off the tour, wants bigger fields and a 36-hole
cut at Senior events, but a federal judge in Ponte Vedra Beach,
Fla., denied his request for an injunction, allowing the tour to
keep Arnold Palmer and Chi Chi Rodriguez playing on Sunday even
if they're nowhere near the lead. Chalk one up for the
nostalgia-first theory of Senior golf.
No-Go Golf: According to Frank Nobilo (left), slow play at the
Players was due to the pros' skill: "Nobody wants to see scores
of 62 and 63, so they make courses tougher and tougher. The
by-product--a round takes time. You can't go quicker or you'll
How It Hangs: Take 2 1/2 yards of a green 55%-45% blend of
polyester and wool. Add a rayon lining, brass buttons emblazoned
ANGC and a golfer's name hand-stitched inside. What you get is a
single-breasted blazer made by Hamilton Tailoring of Cincinnati.
Every Masters winner takes such a jacket home but must return it
to Augusta National a year later. There the jackets are stored
in cedar closets with those of club members. Each Masters Sunday
a gofer grabs one of the members' jackets for the ceremony at
Butler Cabin. Often it doesn't fit--the sleeves of Jack
Nicklaus's ceremonial jacket in 1963 covered his hands--but soon
the new champ's measurements are morphed into a permanent
addition to the Augusta collection.
One for the Ages: At last month's Legends of Golf, Paul Runyan,
89, lamented his game. "I'm a proud man. I like to think I'm the
best 89-year-old golfer in the world," said Runyan, who won two
PGA Championships. "I didn't play like it here. I just got in
people's way." Runyan frets that he can no longer play quickly
enough to keep up with Senior players who are 20 or 25 years
younger, "but it's hard to quit when the game is in your blood.
I never got past eighth grade, but I've seen the world. I've met
kings, paupers, gamblers and Capone mobsters. I've lived well,
and golf was the reason."
Where Magnolia Lane Meets Memory Lane
Ladies and gentlemen, start your televisions. If you admire
classic pars, take a spin through historic Augusta this week as
the Classic Sports Network and the Golf Channel take you on an
Amen Corner-hugging tour of Masters highlights. At 1 p.m. on
Sunday, Classic Sports will air more than nine hours of
highlights, from Arnold Palmer's 1960 triumph to Tiger Woods's
'97 coronation. The Golf Channel revs up a night earlier by
showing classic masters victories, starting at 8 p.m. with Ben
Crenshaw's '95 win. At 10:30 p.m. it's retro-Ben, as the Golf
Channel revisits Crenshaw's win in '84. The cable channel's
Augustafest will roll on to celebrate champs from A to Z. Want
more? On Monday at 8 p.m. the Golf Channel presents a special on
Woods, and on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. there's something unexpected
on the menu, Profiles of a Pro with Fuzzy Zoeller.
Salute to a Fast-Rising Major
Ten years ago Scottsdale, Ariz., developer Lyle Anderson founded
a Senior tour event out of thin desert air. Calling his
tournament The Tradition at Desert Mountain, Anderson made his
plans clear from the get-go. "I doubt we'll achieve what the
Masters has," he said, "but there is no reason we can't evolve
into a major championship on the Senior tour." Only four years
later, then commissioner Deane Beman announced that The
Tradition, along with the PGA Seniors Championship, the Senior
Players Championship and the U.S. Senior Open, was indeed one of
Senior golf's four majors. The 6,972-yard Cochise
Course--"magnificent," Lee Trevino calls it--had already
achieved Grand Slam status, and the tournament's $1.4 million
purse is one of the Senior tour's richest. Anderson's baby grew
up in a hurry.
What do these players have in common?
--Davis Love III
They are the only PGA Tour players to win more than $1 million
in three consecutive years.