The amazing story of how a Virginian country boy became a golfing legend

In the 1979 Quad Cities Open, a 67-year-old Sam Snead matched his age twice as he fired rounds of 67 and 66 en-route to a closing total of seven-under-par. The performance was indicative of his enduring talent and huge will to succeed. More than 40 years after emerging on the PGA Tour, he was still able to compete at the highest level.

In a career spanning six decades, Snead collected 82 PGA Tour victories (more than any other player,) seven Majors and over 160 professional titles.

Renowned for his powerful and accurate ball striking, Snead had a rhythmical and free-flowing swing, earning him the moniker “Swingin’ Sam” when he first appeared on tour. Golf writers later changed it to “Slammin’ Sam” – the nickname that lived with him to the end of his life. “I never liked that much.” He said. “I preferred my old nickname, it showed off my true strengths.”

Samuel Jackson Snead was born in Ashwood Virginia in May 1912. The youngest of six children, he was raised on the Snead family’s chicken farm. From an early age it was clear Sam was a gifted individual. He taught himself to play the banjo and the trumpet by ear, he could run 100 yards in 10 seconds and was a standout player for Valley High School’s American football, baseball and basketball teams.

But it was golf that captured Snead’s imagination. Watching his brother Homer firing balls across the farm, he caught the bug. He fashioned a club from a swamp maple branch with a knotted end and collected balls while caddying at nearby Homestead Hotel Golf Course.

It was at Homestead he picked up his first assistant’s job aged 19. In 1935 he moved to the Greenbrier as a playing professional and, the following year, joined the PGA Tour. Promoter Fred Corcoran marketed Snead as a charismatic country boy from the Back Creek Mountains of Virginia and the “sweet swingin’ hillbilly” quickly made an impact as he won four events in 1937 and eight in 1938.

In 1939 Snead won three times, but it was a tournament he lost that left the greatest impression on him that season. Mistakenly thinking he needed a birdie on the final hole to win the U.S. Open at Spring Mill, when a par would have sufficed, Snead recorded an eight and finished fifth. The national title eluded him through his career – a sore-point for the Virginian. “I should have won the (U.S.) Open,” he said. “If I’d shot one 69 in the last round, I’d have won seven of them.”

Snead’s first Major victory came in the 1942 USPGA Championship – a tournament he’d go on to win on three occasions. He took The Open Championship at St Andrews in 1946 but his greatest Major triumph was his last. In the 1954 Masters he defeated his long-time rival Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff, Snead’s 70 beating Hogan’s 71. “I remember that Masters,” Snead later said. “I can put the flags in every green. I can tell you what Hogan had on each hole.”

Snead’s longevity as a player singles him out from the pack. He claimed his last PGA Tour victory at the age of 52 in the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open. Then, aged 62, he finished tied third in the 1974 PGA Championship. “I won a lot of tournaments because I was in better shape than other guys.” He said. “I didn’t smoke and didn’t drink and went to bed at reasonable hours.” In 1983 at the age of 71, Snead shot a 12-under-par 60 back at Homestead in Virginia. He continued to play golf as long as his legs would carry him around the course and was honorary starter at the Masters from 1984 to 2002.

Snead died from a stroke, four days short of his 90th birthday.

Sam Snead

Sam Snead at the 2001 Masters. Credit: Getty Images

ESSENTIALS
Date of birth: 27 May 1912
Died: 23 May 2002
Place of birth: Ashwood, Virginia, USA
Career highlights:
– 82 PGA Tour wins between 1936 and 1965
– 165 Professional wins worldwide
– 7 Major titles between 1942 and 1954
– Winner of the Vardon Trophy in 1938, 1949, 1950, 1955
– Seven Ryder Cup appearances as a player, three times Ryder Cup captain
– 1974 Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame
Quote: “Snead’s swing resembled a William Faulkner sentence. It was long, laced with the perfect pause and blessed with a powerful ending.” Bill Fields – Golf Writer.