- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

Sam Snead, the golfing great known as "Slammin' Sammy" who used the sweetest swing in the game to win seven major championships and a record 81 PGA Tour events, died yesterday in Hot Springs, Va., at 89.

Snead died at his home at 3:38 p.m., daughter-in-law Anne Snead said. He had been suffering from a series of strokes that began just after the Masters last month, although he had been ill even before the tournament. He died holding hands with his son, Sam Jr., and daughter-in-law.

"He didn't seem scared," Anne Snead said. "I think he was very much at peace."

Snead was raised during the Depression in the backwoods of western Virginia and blessed with as much raw talent as anyone who played golf. He grew up learning the game in bare feet with clubs made from tree limbs, but his swing was a combination of grace and power.

"The golf world is going to miss him," longtime rival Byron Nelson said. "I was never amazed at anything he ever did."

Arnold Palmer, who was on two winning World Cup teams with Snead, called him one of the greatest athletes ever. Snead was so limber that he could kick the top of a door frame even when he was in his early 80s.

"He was a man who was very important to the popularity of the game," Palmer said. "I'm so sorry these things have to happen."

Jack Nicklaus called Snead one of the game's "great champions and most charismatic players."

"I grew up watching Sam Snead play and he brought so much to the game with his great swing and the most fluid motion ever to grace a golf course," Nicklaus said. "All of us who knew Sam enjoyed his sense of humor and his 'great' stories."

Snead was ageless, the only player who won sanctioned tournaments in six decades, from the 1936 West Virginia Closed Pro to the 1982 Legends of Golf, which he won with Don January as his partner.

Snead was famous for his straw hat, cocky grin and homespun humor. A three-time Masters champion, Snead had been an honorary starter since 1983. He would jaunt to the first tee, show off that flowing, flawless swing and then tell stories outside the clubhouse.

But this year was different. Snead's son said his father was recovering from strokelike symptoms and for the first time needed someone else to tee up the ball at the Masters. The ceremonial shot flew into the gallery and struck a fan in the face, breaking the man's glasses.

For all his victories independent record keepers place the total at 160 Snead never won the U.S. Open, which haunted him the rest of his career. He was a runner-up four times, and his most infamous loss occurred in 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club.

There were no scoreboards on the course, and Snead thought he needed a birdie on the final hole to win when all he needed was a par. Playing aggressively, he hit his drive into the left rough and never recovered, making a triple bogey.

"That night, I was ready to go out with a gun and pay somebody to shoot me," Snead said later. "It weighed on my mind so much that I dropped 10 pounds, lost more hair and began to choke even in practice rounds."

He had three other chances: A missed 30-inch putt on the final hole of a playoff in 1947 against Lew Worsham, a three-putt from the edge of the 17th green at Medinah in 1949 to lose to Cary Middlecoff, and a 76 in the final round at Oakmont in 1953 to finish six strokes behind Ben Hogan.

But Snead was the first man to dominate at Augusta National. He won the Masters for the first time in 1949, the year club members began awarding a green jacket. Snead won again three years later, and earned his final Masters victory in 1954 after beating Hogan by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff.

He also was a three-time winner of the PGA Championship during the match play era, and he made it to the finals two other times.

Born May 27, 1912, in Hot Springs, Snead needed no formal teachers to develop the sweet swing that lasted a lifetime. The late Gene Sarazen once said of a young Snead, "I've just watched a kid who doesn't know anything about playing golf, and I don't want to be around when he learns how."

Snead joined the PGA Tour in 1937, driving out to California with only $300. He won at least one tournament every year on tour except one for the next 23 years. His biggest season was in 1950, when he won 11 times. No one has won that much since then, although Tiger Woods came close in 2000 with nine victories.

Snead is survived by his two sons, Sam Jr., 58, and Terry, 49.


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