Tiger? Jack? What About Sam Snead?
The conversation grows hotter with each passing year, especially with each passing major on the PGA tour. Who is the undisputed king of them all, Tiger or Jack? It’s all utter nonsense, as the eras don’t have one single thing in common. Everything about the comparison is an unanswerable variable. But! If we have to endure such a conversation, why should it be limited to Tiger and Jack? Yes, I was there. I know how great they are. I was also there for a good part of the generation before, and those years had their share of phenoms as well, like Sam Snead.
And here we go, reaching for the stat books, trying to make a valid verdict out of events many decades apart. I’d like to throw a monkey wrench into that right away, by reminding us all that Slammin’ Sammy Snead was the first, last and only member of the PGA tour…to win an LPGA tournament. That’s right, Sam Snead, a man of no personal confusion, was invited to and won an LPGA title at the Royal Poinciana. He participated in a field of fifteen top level players that included Mickey Wright, Patty Berg and Betsy Rawls. He not only won a women’s tour title, but the $1,500 that went with it, and probably enjoyed the company far more than his usual fare, Ben Hogan (the only man who ever intimidated him, according to Snead).
All right now, men, before you lean back and let go with a smug “of course,” be advised that the great Sam Snead had also played in the tournament the year before, and that Louise Suggs beat him by two strokes. So, stow that PGA versus LPGA stuff right now.
So go ahead – flout your page of statistics, but remember the one that shows Sam Snead as the winner of 82 PGA events, still a record. Seven of those wins were majors, and might have been eleven, had Snead not inexplicably come in as runner-up in the U.S. Open four times. The record book for Sam Snead outweighs some small town phone books, and they include items such as shooting a 60 at Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia at the age of seventy one, seven Ryder Cup teams, and the oldest player to make the cut at the U.S. Open. He has been judged the third greatest golfer of all time behind Nicklaus and Hogan, but even that race is close.
If only majors count for you, which makes you a pretty dull guy in my opinion, you can dismiss the fact that Sam Snead was one of a small group of dominant golfers in his era, and that his era lasted four decades, including three years spent serving in the military – that’s 12 majors’ worth of military service. There is still one more category by which golfers can be judged historically, and Snead looks good there as well. He forfeited a tournament win against Doug Ford based on an out-of-bounds- stake that was ruled in his favor. He sacrificed the title because he didn’t want anyone to think he’d acted unfairly. He went through with a TV exhibition because he didn’t want to jeopardize the show after finding an extra club in his bag, but was prepared to cede the victory. I can easily see Nicklaus doing this, considering his devotion to the game, over his own good fortune. In Tiger’s case, I’ll wait until it happens before making a judgment.
So, render unto Caesar what are Caesar’s is my take on comparing historical golfers, but if you still insist on this “greatest” thing, at least widen the conversation. “Tiger, Jack, Tiger, Jack” is getting on my nerves.