Six decades, seven majors, 82 PGA tour wins and one of golf’s all-time smoothest swings – there’s a reason why Sam Snead will be forever venerated.
An incredible career that began in 1931 was halted in its prime by World War II but only grew in success and status until Slammin Sammy eventually called time in 1987.
Winner of The Open Championship in 1946, the ebullient Virginian came agonisingly close to reaching that famous Career Grand Slam but time and again found himself thwarted by the US Open.
The man who has won more times on the PGA Tour than anyone else – and even has an LPGA title to his name – led a golfing life like no other, his legend enshrined by a memorable July weekend at St Andrews in 1946.
“I've just watched a kid who doesn't know anything about playing golf, and I don't want to be around when he learns how. ” Gene Sarazen
A rough diamond
Born in Depression-era Virginia, Snead first picked up a club after watching his brother Homer driving balls around the family farm, inspired to fashion his own makeshift shafts out of tree branches.
From then-on, he had the bug, playing barefooted as his precocious natural talents quickly came to the fore.
A life in golf began when he got started to caddy at the local Homestead Hotel Golf Course before becoming the assistant pro when he was just 19.
It is said that the legendary Gene Sarazen, upon first laying eyes on the youthful Snead, quipped, “I’ve just watched a kid who doesn't know anything about playing golf, and I don’t want to be around when he learns how.”
It was only a matter of time before he joined the PGA Tour, doing so in 1936 and just a year later had his first dalliance with the US Open, finishing two shots behind Ralph Guldahl in second.
But, just as his stock was on the rise, Japanese bombs rained down upon Pearl Harbour and Franklin D. Roosevelt led America into war.
Snead duly joined the US Navy, serving from 1942 to 1944 when he was discharged with a back injury that kept him out of the PGA Championship for two years running and threatened to disrupt his famously fluid swing.
The Home of Golf
Snead’s relationship with golf’s oldest championship had, surprisingly, been a fractious one when he arrived for the first iteration of The Open since it resumed play after World War II.
Stepping onto the Old Course at St Andrews for the first time after having made his Open debut in 1937 at Carnoustie, Snead ruffled feathers from the off, remarkably saying that the course "looks like an old abandoned kinda place.”
But he quickly found his stride, carding a -2 first-round 71 to sit two off the great Bobby Locke in the lead.
Going one better the following day, Snead was just a shot off top spot at the halfway point, home favourite Henry Cotton occupying the summit on -6 with two rounds to complete the tournament on the Friday.
The morning saw him hit the front, albeit alongside compatriot Johnny Bulla and Welshman Dai Rees, dropping a shot in tricky conditions to sit -4 with a challenging afternoon awaiting.
Despite high Scottish winds and a front nine that saw him drop four shots, Snead fought back while his rivals fell to one side, his 35 on the back nine a masterful re-balancing act, his eventual four-shot triumph by no means betraying of the adversity he was made to overcome.
After adding a second major to his collection at St Andrews, Snead’s success continued apace as he went on to make history, setting a milestone that still stands to this day.
Three Green Jackets and another couple of PGA Championships, Snead lacks only the honour of the Career Grand Slam, finishing second on a further three occasions, each time more painful than the last.
His longevity, however, was never in doubt and his length off the tee remained as he became the oldest winner on the PGA Tour in 1965 with victory at the Greater Greensboro Open, his 82nd and final triumph, three years after winning the short-lived unisex Royal Poinciana Plaza Invitational, unofficially taking his tally to one on the LPGA.
He returned to St Andrews in 2000 as the oldest living Open Champion, with age, nostalgia and perspective somewhat altering his opinions of the course.
And while many things have changed over the years since Snead hung up his clubs and eventually passed away at the age of 89 in 2002, two have remained the same: his PGA Tour record, and the relevance of his famed aphorisms.
“In golf, as in life, you get out of it what you put into it,” he said – and Snead got out more than most.