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The Greenbrier Classic is on this week in White Sulphur Springs, W. VA., which means there's plenty of talk about Sam Snead. He was of course associated with the Greenbrier Resort for nearly 50 years. Snead, born in 1912 in Hot Springs, VA., was the sweetest swinger in the game forever, it seemed. He won three Canadian Opens, three Masters, three PGA Championships, and one British Open.

Snead never did win the U.S. Open, and that's a shame. He came close many times, but it just wasn't meant to be. He missed a 30-inch par putt on the 18 hole of a playoff at the 1947 U.S. Open, and lost to Lew Worsham. Most famously, he needed only to par the 72 hole at the 1939 U.S. Open in Philadelphia to win. But he triple-bogied the par-five and fell into a tie for fifth.

As many tournaments as Snead won, a record 82, and from 1936-1965 - nobody has won more - he's known more for his effortless style. It would probably help any golfer who tried to emulate his languid rhythm. He's often referred to as Slammin' Sammy Snead, but Sweet-Swinging Sammy Snead also applied. His sweet style was the source of his slamming the ball.

The Encyclopedia of Golf, edited by master writers Donald Steel and Herbert Warren Wind, put it this way about Snead's style: "It was based on a well-proportioned and supremely supple body, and this allied with perfect timing, which seemed to come naturally to him, gave him immense length in his driving without any apparent effort. He played by the light of nature."

I had the chance to observe Snead's style closely when I played with him in May 1991 in Hot Springs. Later my wife and I visited with him at his home. I wrote the following account of the day in the Globe on May 7, 1991.


A person's life includes sadness and joy, not always in equal measures. The other day, while privileged to play golf with the legendary Sam Snead, I learned that the person who spends time in his natural habitat might be better able to cope with life's ups and downs.

There is no questioning Snead's status as a living legend, and as a man of many parts - man of Virginia's Allegheny Mountains, man of golf's most elegant swing, man of regrets and still a few dreams. He gradually revealed these parts while we played the Cascades course, and later at his home high on a hill with views all round of the mountains, the wild country he grew up in and where he has always lived. It was a memorable experience.

Just short of his 79th birthday, Snead retains the balance that won some 135 pro tournaments, including three Canadian Opens, three PGA Championships, three Masters and a British Open. He never won a U.S. Open, and it still grates.

Sweet-swinging Sammy hit many fine shots during our round, but cussed every time he missed a shot. He sets up to the ball beautifully, and though his hands quiver momentarily, he is all smoothness and grace once he takes the club back. After his muscles loosened, he hit some long drives and irons that were right on the money.

Speaking of money, Snead likes to play for some and was holding court on that subject and others when I drove up. He said that he would rather watch squirrels than play for no money. Still, we decided to play for fun only, and set off accompanied by Meister, Snead's Golden Retriever.

"You don't lose a ball with him," Snead said. Later Meister proved himself as he plucked an errant shot of mine from a stream on the fifth hole.

By then Snead had played some arresting shots. He'd missed the first four greens, but had saved par on three of the holes. And soon he favoured me with a tip.

"I'm gonna tell you something that'll help you stop hitting left, stop you from coming over the top," Snead said after I pulled a tee ball at the sixth. "Hit that ball with the club coming in at the same angle you set it at address. You can get it if you keep your right elbow tucked in to your side."

It doesn't matter how many lessons you've taken - Sam Snead talks, you listen. I did, and played the sixth through the 16th holes as well as I could; then I succumbed to the golfer's disease of thinking about the good score that was possible. A couple of closing double bogeys and I was suitably chastened.

"Listen," Snead said, chuckling. "I wouldn't have given you the tip if we were playing for money. But stick with it."

Aside from the instruction, there was story after story. Slammin' Sammy has a million.

Snead spoke of how Ben Hogan was supposed to be so accurate that during a 36-hole day he had to play his shots in the afternoon round from his divots in the morning round.

"I told people that if Hogan was so good he could have put his ball a little right or a little left of the divot," Snead said.

The round soon ended, and Snead drove his Jeep at a fast clip to Chestnut Rail Farm, where he lives on 200 acres. A wall in his impressive trophy room holds a framed photo from a 1940 edition of The Globe and Mail, after Snead shot 67 in the first round of a Canadian Open that he would win. The picture is of Snead and his bride Audrey. They were celebrating their honeymoon at the Open.

"I always thought the Canadian Open should be a major," Snead said.

The talk continued for a couple of hours. Snead spoke fondly of his wife, who died two years ago. He spoke quietly of his sons, one retarded since birth. The other hasn't found his place in life, and Snead has gone into golf course design in hopes they'll work together.

There was sorrow in Snead's voice and then a minute later there was a twinkle in his eyes. He had done what he had loved for 70 years, and exceedingly well, too.

"I thought if I was on I could beat anybody in the game," Snead said. "You got to think you can kill the cats. If you don't think that, you can't do it."

Then the visit ended. Snead walked past the Masters plates in a dining room hutch before showing me to my car.

"Nice view here, isn't it?" he said. "You look down into the valley and up to the mountains when the leaves turn, there's no place prettier. My dad and his dad were born here, in a log cabin."

And so there was continuity at Chestnut Rail Farm. Golf had taken Snead far from his birthplace in Hot Springs, but he had really never left his home. Nor had the powerful swing he'd developed in these mountains left him. I can vouch for that.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein


Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein