For the longest time, we were never quite sure when Sam Snead was done winning on the PGA Tour.
In 1965, at age 52, he won his eighth Greater Greensboro Open. When he was 60, he finished third in the PGA Championship and when he was 62, he finished fourth in that tournament.
When he was 67, playing in the Quad Cities Open, he became the first player in a PGA Tour event to shoot his age and the next day he shot 66.
The years finally wrestled him off the regular PGA Tour and onto what is now the Champions Tour and by then, he had accumulated 82 official victories, including eight majors, and we figured they might as well go ahead and carve that one in stone because nobody was ever going to beat it.
But once Tiger Woods gets his game cranked up again, he’ll start adding to his 71 wins and before long, he’ll break Slammin’ Sam’s unbreakable record.
We’ve been on the Jack Nicklaus Watch for awhile now, waiting to see if Woods, with 14 already in hand, can equal or better Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. That’s the more glamorous chase, the one that may be the measure we finally use to determine which is greater, but beating Snead’s mark would be an achievement that was beyond our imagination a dozen years ago.
Snead lived to be 90 and to the end, he still had some of that that jaunty, graceful stride that moved fellow pro Jim Ferree to say, “He could walk on eggs and not break any.”
He still wore his trademark straw hat, still lived on the old family farm, still told his salty jokes.
He was born in the Virginia mountains. His biggest rival, Ben Hogan, built his swing brick by brick but Snead brought his homemade swing down from the hills and for decades, it was the game’s textbook -- fluid, simple, powerful.
He hit the tour in 1936. The next year he won three times and the year following that, he won eight times.
Slammin’ Sam was on his way to winning 135 tournaments worldwide, including four Masters, (in one of which he beat Hogan in a playoff), three PGA Championships and one British Open. He never won the US Open, finishing second four times. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams.
He killed them on the seniors circuit, winning six PGA Senior Championships and five World Senior Championships and when he was 68 years old, he and Don January teamed to win the Legends of Golf title.
We’ve never seen one like him and probably never will. His record will go by the wayside, but Australian pro Peter Thomson said, “Like classic plays and symphonies, Sam Snead doesn’t just belong to a generation. His mark will be left on golf into eternity.”