Crenshaw on Sam Snead: Three decades of dominance

July 03, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

EDITOR'S NOTE: Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead were each born 100 years ago, and their lives eventually intersected as three of golf's legendary players. PGATOUR.COM asked another golfing great, Ben Crenshaw, to provide his thoughts on each of the three as part of our Century Celebration. We'll post Crenshaw's comments on the tournament week in which each of those legends are most associated. This week: Sam Snead for The Greenbrier Classic. Snead served as head pro and head pro emeritus at The Greenbrier from 1944 until his death in 2002.

By Ben Crenshaw, Special to PGATOUR.COM

Sam Snead, no question, had the advantage of longevity more than Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. I'm not saying his number of wins -- 82 -- has anything to do with that. That's just how good he was for so long. Just ask the people who saw him come out in 1936 or '37.

Charlie Price had the greatest expression about Sam's swing. It was in one of those first books I got when I started studying the game. Charlie said Sam Snead had a swing that was as graceful as the leap of a cat. When you watched it, you just couldn't believe how smooth and rhythmical and powerful it was. And he was a great athlete.

More Crenshaw essays
ON BEN HOGAN: The will and determination to be great was matched by his gentlemanly perfection. Column
ON BYRON NELSON: He was filled with kindness, incredible talent and "beat the courses to death." Column

Eighty-two wins and so many near misses. He certainly won his share of majors but the one blemish was that he never won a U.S. Open. Some people have said that was one of the historic collapses at Philadelphia Athletic Club in '39 when he needed to par the final hole to win, but tripled it and finished tied for fifth.

He played so well for so long. He finally admitted that putting was his bugaboo in the last 20 years when he played, but he made it work somehow.

But hitting the ball? There's no question that people came away with the impression that he was born to hit a golf ball. He did it much better than everybody else at the time. He was long and he could hit shots and he was pretty smart competitively too.

His book -- Sam Snead's "The Education of a Golfer" -- is a hell of a book to read about coming up in golf and learning to play competitively. He talked about picking out little idiosyncrasies in people's personalities that he almost preyed upon. He'd watch for people's nervous habits and he'd sort of size up players. And I'm not saying he would exploit them, but he knew them. He said that was part of it, using it, not unfairly, but using to your own advantage. Competitive. Really competitive.

I'll never forget, when Lanny Wadkins and I teed off with him in 1973 at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Lanny had just turned pro, I was an amateur and Sam was 61 at the time. He played as many good shots as you'd want to see. Of course, he knew Oakmont like the back of his hand.

He just played beautifully. We were just amazed. I think Lanny finished sixth and I missed the cut. Sam made the cut and finished in the top 30. I think that was my first time to play with him. A little in awe? I was really in awe. Oh my goodness. Whatever the shot called for, that's what he was going to play. It was beautiful.

His legacy? Longevity comes to mind quicker than competitiveness. I think when you classify the great players, you look how long their careers are -- Jack's that way -- and when you play that well for three decades, there's not that many people who can say that.

Ben Crenshaw is the winner of 19 PGA TOUR events, including two Masters, and also captained the U.S. team to a win at the 1999 Ryder Cup. He is an accomplished golf course designer with partner Bill Coore.