Snead’s LPGA Win

Sam_Snead_PalmBeachPost_640x480Sam Snead—Slammin’ Sammy—golfing legend, multiple major winner, Hall of Fame member and holder of the record for most wins on the PGA Tour with 82. And there’s another little known distinction in Snead’s distinctive career.

Sam Snead is the only man to ever post a victory on the LPGA Tour.

Back in February 1962, for the second year in a row, Snead teed it up against 14 of the best female professional golfers in the Royal Poinciana Invitational, a sanctioned LPGA Tour event held on the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Club.

Yes, that’s correct a par-3 course and an official stop on the 12-year-old LPGA Tour. The players competing included all-time greats Louise Suggs (who beat Snead for the title in 1961), Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth. Wright finished second by five shots to Snead’s score of 211 (52, 53, 53, 53) for four rounds played over two days.

Said Snead, quoted in an article by Dick Taylor in the Palm Beach Post of February 8, 1962, “I decided to play just as steady as I could, and let the girls make the mistakes. You can’t ‘go to the whip’ with them as you can on the men’s tour.” Comments that obviously wouldn’t withstand today’s frantic politically correct scrutiny.

After losing the previous year’s event by two strokes to future Hall of Famer Suggs, Snead had to take a lot of teasing even though it was a 54 hole event and had 11 other male professionals in the field including Bobby Cruickshank, Gardner Dickinson and Lew Worsham. Typical of the times, press reports were vague as to the amount of the winner’s check Snead took home but it was “in the neighborhood of $1,500.”

The 18th Major – Jack Nicklaus 1986 Masters

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Thirty years is a long time and if you are old enough, 1986 may have some strong memories. There were the tragedies of the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in the Ukraine but also for some, the thrill of the Chicago Bears winning the Super Bowl in a blowout 46 to 10 and the New York Mets taking the World Series 4 games to 3. Both coincidentally beating Boston area teams, the Patriots and Red Sox.

In our game there were some interesting things going on as well. Future Hall of Fame member Pat Bradley won three majors on the LPGA Tour and on the men’s Tour the U.S. Open was won by 44-year old Raymond Floyd also a future inductee to the Hall of Fame. But who can forget the other win by an “old guy?” At the age of 46 without a Tour win in two years and major championship in six Jack Nicklaus gave us one for the ages.

His victory in that year’s Masters is still considered to be the greatest ever.

Fans watching the last nine holes that April Sunday could share the emotion the Golden Bear must have been feeling…and talk about performing under pressure! It’s been 30 years and still the nervousness, excitement and finally the elation when Nicklaus took his sixth Masters and 18th major championship is very real.

There are dozens of stories about what happening that day including the legend of Nicklaus’ putter, a Clay Long-designed MacGregor Response ZT 615, that compared with the then popular models looked like a kitchen utensil or maybe a garden tool. MacGregor took orders for 5,000 the Monday morning following.

My favorite story took place at the start of the week. As Nicklaus related it in his autobiography Jack Nicklaus: My Story written with Ken Bowden, he described a Tom McCollister column in the Atlanta Journal:

[McCollister was] announcing the demise of Jack Nicklaus, golfer. According to this piece I was finished, washed up, kaput, the clubs were rusted out, the Bear was off hibernating somewhere, it was all over and done with, forget it, hang ‘em up and go design golf courses or whatever.

Strong stuff and many agreed but the measure of Nicklaus the man was his reaction to this rather harsh opinion dismissing his ability. Again from his book:

[But] this one struck a nerve. “Finished, huh?” I said to myself. “All washed up, am I? Well, we’ll see about that this week.”

A clipping of the offending column stayed pasted to the rental house refrigerator courtesy of Nicklaus’ longtime friend John Montgomery and was undoubtedly a strong “I’ll-show-‘em” incentive each time Nicklaus passed.

His play on the back nine Sunday has taken on almost mythic status, written and talked about by commentators from Herbert Warren Wind (“nothing less than the most important accomplishment in golf since Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam in 1930”) to yours truly. However, Nicklaus himself points out the back nine charge of six under par wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t had some incredible luck on the eighth hole.

His drive on this steeply uphill par-5, known as Yellow Jasmine, was pushed slightly and wound up right of the fairway laying on pine needles with several trees blocking the route forward. The prudent play would have been to pitch back to the fairway, however at that point being even par for the round Nicklaus knew unless he started scoring better the tournament was out of reach.

Definitely a higher risk shot was called for.

There was a small opening that a perfectly struck shot might sneak through and with a slight fade the ball would miss the first two trees immediately in front of him and, if it stayed low enough long enough, others closer to the fairway. But he also could tell, if the ball wasn’t hit perfectly it was anybody’s guess where it would wind up and a bogey or worse a very real possibility.

With three wood in hand and taking his time he aligned the shot carefully. But when Nicklaus struck the ball though on the center of the clubface it started slightly right of the opening at which he was aiming, narrowly missed the first tree trunk and just barely passed through an even smaller gap in the branches. The ball did stay low though and curved further right to finish near the edge of the green, just the spot you want to be if you’re going to miss the putting surface,.

A pitch and two putts secured his par and gave Nicklaus the emotional boost from escaping potential disaster that set the stage for a seven under par run over the next ten holes for a final score of 65.

Thirty years ago it seemed fantastic…it still does today.

Diegeling-Anchored Putting into the Hall of Fame

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The first of January marks implementation of the modification to the Rules of Golf banning anchored putting strokes but though many think the anchored stroke with a “belly” or “broomstick” putter is something thought up by players in recent years, it in fact has a long history.

In the 1920Diegel_Trophys future Hall of Famer Leo Diegel came up with what was tagged as “Diegeling,” a stroke with a conventional length putter but with the end of the grip pressed into his navel. Though anchored putting was not unknown–there’s at least one report of players using an anchored putting stroke from around 1900–the pro from Detroit was the first nationally prominent player to use it in and win professional tournaments.

Beginning in 1920 he took home trophies 30 times on Tour including the PGA Championship twice. Diegel had the reputation for being among the best shotmakers of his era and having an intensity that elevated the game to an all-consuming passion combined with a coolness when the competition was the toughest. In 1928 on his way to winning his first PGA Championship (then contested at match play) he defeated the great Walter Hagen in the quarter-finals knocking out “the Haig” who had won the previous four PGAs. Then in 1929 before taking care of Johnny Farrell 6 & 4 in the finals, Diegel again beat Hagen in the semi-finals.

Even early in his career he showed promise tying for second in the 1920 U.S. Open one stroke behind Englishman Ted Ray. Diegel was selected to play for the United States in the first four Ryder Cup squads and won the Canadian Open four times though it was not yet an official event on the PGA Tour. He also played a role in one of the game’s most enduring events by finishing just two shots behind Bobby Jones in the British Open of 1930, the second leg of Jones’ epic Grand Slam.Diegel_1_300x200

Diegel had a career worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame, albeit while “Diegeling.”

Just to keep it all in perspective with all the attention given to current stars such as Adam Scott and Bernhard Langer, many A-list players have used a belly or broomstick putter at one time or another. Plus fans will remember Charlie Owens winning won twice on the then Senior Tour wielding a 51 inch putter he had tagged “Slim Jim” that he anchored to his chest due at least in part from injuries he received during his service in the U.S. Army as a parachutist. Another outlier with a broomstick in his bag at the time was Orville Moody (“The Sarge”) who won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open.

A flood of major winners using anchored strokes was responsible for the 2013 change in Rule 14-1b making them illegal thus relegating bellies and broomsticks to history: 2011 Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship and though not a major Bill Haas in the Tour Championship; 2012 U.S. Open-Webb Simpson and Ernie Els the Open Championship; 2013 Adam Scott the Masters.

Images courtesy of the World Golf Hall of Fame