Sam Snead wrote this book in 1997 at the age of 85. He would die several years later just before his 90th birthday. It's written in Harvey Penick's epigrammatic one-page chapter style. Like Penick, Snead jumps around among anecdotes from his days on tour with Hogan and Nelson, celebrity and politician anecdotes, swing tips and comments on the modern golf game.
Snead comes across in the book as a very perceptive, honest and likable character. He's very upfront about his failures at the U.S. Open over the years, and he describes each painful experience in great detail. From a broad historical perspective, he and Greg Norman share a sort of tragic fate. It may be unfair, but both will always be known more for their failures and bad luck on the golf course than for their many successes .
A number of things surprised me in this book:
- Officially, Snead holds the record for the most PGA Tour wins at 82. He claims he's actually won 185 events. In 1986 the PGA Tour convened a panel to determine what pre-PGA Tour historical tournaments should count as PGA Tour wins and this panel only gave Snead credit for 82. This is the longest chapter in the book as Snead gives numerous credible examples to support his argument. I'd like to hear the panel's side of this issue.
- It's pretty well known that in 1969, Nicklaus famously conceded at three-and-a-half foot putt to Tony Jacklin that ended the Ryder Cup that year in a draw. This is often referred to as an example of Nicklaus' consummate class and sportsmanship. What is less known is that Snead was the captain of the team that year and strongly disagreed with Nicklaus' decision. Despite numerous compliments that Snead showers on Jack's golfing prowess, it's pretty clear that you didn't want to invite these two guys to the same party.
- Hogan's first tournament after his injury was the L.A. Open at Riveria. Hogan led the tournament all four days and had a four-shot lead in the clubhouse on Sunday. The celebrations had already started, but Snead was still on the course. He birdied four of the last five holes to tie Hogan and beat him later in an 18 hole playoff.
Snead on modern golfers (from the 1997 era) vs. the golfers of his era:
"You can't compare because there are too many differences ... the depth and quality of the fields are much better today ... Hogan, Nelson and I would still be competitive today ... we were better shot makers than Nicklaus, but he was longer and putted better over time ... the modern player doesn't have to be a shot maker anymore."
Notice he does not say that he and Hogan would have won as many majors, only that they would be competitive.
Finally, Snead had some comments about Tiger Woods, who had just completed his first Masters victory and was the talk of golf.
He makes one statement that seems particularly prescient in 2011: "I think he goes at the ball with more than the 85% effort than I did. In the long run, it may cost him. "