Burns aims to leave smokeless tobacco behind
Will play third tournament without it at Charles Schwab Challenge
May 22, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Sam Burns has 5 top-25 finishes this season with his best showing a T3 at the Sanderson Farms Championship. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
There was something different about Sam Burns as he finished T29 at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last week. He was chomping on a wad of gum, not tobacco.
In an effort to quit dipping, which he’s done since high school, the 22-year-old Louisiana State product is going through a lot of sticks of sugarless Extra.
“Seven days, so far,” Burns, who will tee it up at this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, said of his tobacco-free streak last week. “Hopefully the rest of my life. Cold turkey. I’m trying. It’s been tough; I think about it a lot, obviously.”
Golf and tobacco have a long and complicated history. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were among those who smoked and quit, thanks in part to their reactions to the old film reels and photos that showed them puffing away on the course. Nicklaus said all it took was seeing himself with a cigarette in his mouth while beating Palmer at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“I looked at it and I said, ‘Man, that’s the worst example for our youth. You can’t do that,’” he said in 2012. “And it’s the last time I ever smoked a cigarette on the golf course.”
Palmer smoked against the wishes of his father.
“If I had known what cigarettes were doing to me,” he said in a 2008 interview with Golf Digest, “regardless of what other people might have been saying about my smoking, I would have quit sooner than I did.” He later advocated for more government spending in the fight against cancer.
Smoking and chewing are, of course, not the same thing. And two generations removed from Nicklaus and Palmer, Burns has his own reasons for quitting. He had thought about it for a while, but the idea began to take root when he got engaged to longtime girlfriend Caroline Campbell at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town last month. (He finished ninth.)
“My fiancé is not a big fan of it,” Burns said, “and I’d always kind of wanted to quit, just never wanted to try it because I knew how hard it was gonna be. I started late in high school, so it had probably been four or five years. I knew the health factors.
“It’s a bad habit, anyway,” he added. “It’s tough breaking it. If I wanted to hit balls, then I would use it. For me (the habit) was just because I did it for so long when I played golf; it was just something that I did. Just trying to get away from that.”
The American Cancer Society calls that a trigger. Its website, cancer.org, features tips for quitting like writing down your reasons (to fall back on when it gets hard) and accepting that it will take time and commitment. More advice: pick a Quit Day; tell friends, family and co-workers what you’re doing so they can lend support; stay busy; change up your routine (like taking a different route to work in the morning); and find a healthier alternative than tobacco.
For Burns, that’s the gum.
“After the first few days I had to cut back because my jaws were so sore,” he said at Bethpage Black, where his fans included Caroline and his parents, Beth and Todd. Burns, who is 80th in the FedExCup, climbed onto the first page of the leaderboard Sunday before shooting a back-nine 40 for a 74 (5 over total, T29) in winds that sent scores soaring a lot higher than that.
His best finish this season remains a T3 at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
The PGA marked Burns’ second tournament without dip; his first was the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas the previous week, where he made the 36-hole cut but not much more. He said he’s had a few mild headaches, and guesses he has slightly more of an appetite now. He’s pushing through.
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual on the PGA TOUR, where players like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have been chewing gum to improve focus, and Burns blends right in.
“I haven’t really talked to many guys,” he said. “It’s still pretty fresh. I’m definitely excited to kick the habit and get off of it. Don’t ever start it.”