Happy Birthday Slammin’ Sam Snead
By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, May 27, 1912, Samuel Jackson Snead was born in Hot Springs, Virginia. He was raised on the family farm near the small town of Ashwood. His mother Laura was 47 years old when she had Sam and she had to be in her fifties when Sam saw her deftly handle sacks of flour weighing nearly 200 pounds.
He got his start in golf as a 7-year-old caddie at the Homestead Resort where his father Harry worked. Harry was an “engineer,” as Sam liked to put it. He worked in the hotel powerhouse as an all-around handyman. By nature, Sam was a fun-loving and highly sociable man, who cared about people as much as he cared about his game. When asked why he had such a strong sense of saving money, he said his father couldn’t afford to buy anything that he wanted. So he had to save money and buy it himself. From the time he was nine years old, Sam made money caddying, trapping, hunting, and sometimes, he would take downtown a banjo to play for change on the street. He also played trumpet, and sang a nice second tenor.
Snead learned the game by watching players when he was a caddie. He turned professional in 1931. By 1935 he was the assistant golf pro at White Sulphur Springs, in West Virginia. The following year he became the teaching professional at Cascades Inn, in Hot Springs. In 1937, he toured the country in a second hand car, placed seventh at the Los Angeles Open and first in five events, including the Oakland Open and the inaugural Bing Crosby Pro-Am. He was a rawboned long hitter.
Snead absolutely loved to compete. On July 15, 1938, he beat Jimmy Hines (1 up) in the PGA Championship’s semifinal, placing himself in the final for the Wanamaker Cup against Paul Runyan. Paul spent most of the match watching Sam put on a driving exhibition. He outdrove him by 50–70 yards on most holes. Where Runyan used a four-wood for second shot, Sam got a six-iron. But Paul would make a pitching-iron recovery from a bunker that Sam would have bet 50-1 against. He birdied six of the seven par fives to win the title on the 29th hole (8 & 7). It was the widest winning margin in the championship’s history up to that point. “Runyan left me so bothered that after a while I couldn’t have sunk a putt in a bathtub,” said Snead.
Snead was a big winner because he knew how to put shots together and could maintain a very high level of concentration. For 42 years, he participated in 585 PGA Tour events and earned a total of $ 806,676, including his Senior Tour’s gains. His 82 official victories still stand as a record. Independent record keepers give Snead a total of 135 victories, although he claims 165, which included regional events.
Snead finished in the top 10 in 330 events. He won seven majors and his Ryder Cup record (10-2-1) is among the best in the United States team history. He was a three-time captain, holding the position in 1951, 1959 and 1969. In 1946, after the end of World War II, Snead crossed the Atlantic and captured The Open Championship at St. Andrews’ Old Course.
He won at Greensboro a tour-record of eight times, the last at age 53 (also a tour record). He finished in a tie for third at the PGA Championship nine years later at age 62. In 1978, Snead paired with Gardner Dickinson to win the first Legends of Golf tournament held in Austin, Texas. “Desire is the most important thing in sport,” he once said. “I have it. Jeez, no one has more than I’ve got.” The next year, he became the first pro to shoot a score at or below his age when at the Quad Cities Open he shot a 67 and 66 at the age of 67. He was 72 when he shot a 60 at his home course, The Homestead in Hot Springs.
It was said that his swing was the most natural in the history of the game: a thing of sweet tempo and reigned-in power. It was self-taught. “When God decided what He wanted a golf swing to look like, he sent Sam Snead down to show us,” the Wall Street Journal said.
He passed away on May 23, 2002, after suffering a series of mini strokes. He is buried in Ashwood where he spent his summers for the last twenty-five years of his life.
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005