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.”

How About Anchored Croquet-Style Putting?

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The new Rules of Golf starting the first of January disallow the use of anchored putting strokes which pretty much signs the eviction notice of long putters from golf bags. Those are ones of extra length shaft designed to be held against the stomach or chest of the user while making a stroke, thus the sobriquet bellies and broomsticks.

This is not the first time the USGA has made a fundamental change to what is allowed in the way of equipment or to the way the ball is hit. Examples coming to mind are the 2010 Rule diminishing the size of grooves on the more lofted irons and placing restrictions on the allowable cross section—the so called “box groove” ban. Or the dictum placing an upper limit on the trampoline effect or springiness of club faces? Or playing a speed limit on the golf ball, a restriction that has a disproportionate impact on average golfers compared to tour professionals.

In fact, all of these examples have had similar effect of making it more difficult for the average player…professionals have the talent and time to compensate.

However, this isn’t a rant about perceived inequity in Rules of Golf modifications but about one of the true greats of the game, Sam Snead.

The story goes during the 1966 PGA Championship Snead, who at 54-years old, though still a prodigious ball striker was having trouble making anything resembling a smooth putting stroke and in fact had the “yips.” After a double hit on short putt he switched to grasping his putter near the end of the grip with his left hand, well below the grip with his right and straddling the line as though playing croquet. The stroke looked strange and even awkward but worked with Slammin’ Sam going on to a T-6.

The next year at the PGA Seniors’ Championship Snead almost lapped the field with a nine stroke victory and even crafted a T-10 in the Masters with his croquet putting. But such unconventional a stroke wasn’t felt to be right and heaven forbid it should catch on with the golfing millions so the USGA moved quickly. January 1 of the next year, 1968, a rule was put in place stating “on the putting green a player shall not make a stroke from astride, or with either foot touching the line of the putt, or an extension of that line behind the ball.”Snead_PGAT_SideSaddle_450x430

More than a little impetus for the change may have come from another golfing great Bobby Jones who, observing Snead astride his putts at the 1967 Masters, was not pleased.

Snead acknowledged it was the USGA’s prerogative to change the Rules and rose to the occasion by placing to the left side of the ball facing the hole and continued with the, albeit modified, croquet-style stroke. He called it putting side-saddle.

The question of course is how did it work and the answer is very well. Not only did Snead win the PGA Seniors three more times but at age 62 managed at third place tie at the 1974 PGA Championship.

Images courtesy of PGA Tour