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'The Slammer' Sam Snead

Friday, 24 May, 2002, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Sam's relaxed attitude made him a crowd favourite

In a golfing career lasting more than 50 years, Sam Snead won every title except the one he wanted most, that of US Open Champion.

He was a regular 275-yard driver back in the days when woods were woods. And later, he became the first player to score a round less than his age.

On course for a golfing career: young Sam Snead

The son of a poor backwoods farmer, Snead enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the Virginia mountains, hunting, fishing and occasionally caddying at the local hotel to supplement his family's income.

When Snead's elder brother Homer introduced young Sam to the technicalities of the game, the future champion found them surprisingly easy to master.

And after a back injury had put paid to his first dream of football stardom, Snead was set for a life on the golf course.

He turned professional in 1934 and the crowds had their first taste of Snead's magical play at Hershey two years later. Struck by nerves, he hit his first two balls out of bounds, and the game seemed lost.

Summoning his awesome power, Snead then put the ball on the green 345 yards away and finished fifth in the competition. He won his first national tournament later that year.

Sam Snead swung his way to a record 81 PGA titles

In 1937, Snead launched his first attempt on the US Open. He came second, but established himself as a crowd favourite and national hero. His lengthy drives and inverted rainbow swing brought him the accolade of "Slammin Sam".

His timing on the fairway was invariably spot on, but when asked to share the secret of his success, all Snead could explain was that he "tried to feel oily".

Some critics believed that Snead was too relaxed about his sport, and played below his potential. Certainly, he finished second in the US open a disappointing four times, without ever lifting the trophy.

His chagrin was tempered by winning every other major title, a record 81 PGA Tour events from 1936 to 1965, including a win at St Andrews in 1946.

Snead found playing the green more difficult than getting on it

He interrupted his prodigious career only to perform wartime service in the US Navy. He was named PGA Player of the Year in 1949 and was still playing professionally 30 years later.

In 1974, Snead finished third in the US PGA championship behind Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. He was 62. By the time of his retirement, Snead led the all-time PGA victories table with a staggering 81 wins.

Although actively involved in the creation of the Seniors' Tour, on the green itself Snead suffered problems with his putting in later years.

He tried to correct this by adopting a croquet stance and putting from between his legs, until golf authorities ruled this to be illegal. Snead took to facing the hole with his feet together and putting from the side.

A lifetime in golf: Snead back at St Andrews

Fortunately, he never had such problems with putting the ball on the green in the first place. In a justifiably prodigious career, Sam Snead's natural swing was the source of wonder, envy and inspiration for the big hitters of today.

But he could never deconstruct his own style. In contrast to modern high-tech training methods, Snead's formula was a simple one. He said, "When I swing at a golf ball right, my mind is blank and my body is loose as a goose."

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