August 12, 2010

My Shot: Sam Snead

Clean fingernails, sirloin steaks, ice cream and the Lord's Prayer: A three-time Masters champion on the things that really matter.


You can't catch a fish unless you keep your line in the water. You have to be patient. A cold wind can be blowing and ice can be forming on your eyebrows, but you have to keep at it.

When I was in training for tournaments, I went to bed at 8 every night and got up at sunrise. But I never slept 10 hours straight. It seemed I would wake up for three hours during the night and just lay there and think about golf.

I've still got the four-string Gibson banjo I ordered from a Sears catalog when I was 14. It took me three years to save enough money to buy it. It may be the most precious thing I own. Nobody has played it but me.

Some people aren't cut out to play golf — mentally, physically or both. You've seen the people I'm talking about. It comes to a point where they should just find a different hobby.

My favorite meal has always been a sirloin steak cooked medium, a baked potato with nothing on it and a green salad with two tablespoons of oil and vinegar dressing. For 50 years I avoided dessert, but now I eat all the ice cream I want.

A lot of old people come to accept the thought of dying. Not me. Dying scares the hell out of me. I want to live forever.

I didn't touch a drop of liquor until I was in my 60s. I never saw the point in starting. When I was young I saw drinking ruin a lot of golfers and celebrities. Today, though, a Diet Coke with some dark rum in it takes away some of my aches and pains.

When I was a kid, I would take my rifle and hunt my way into school each morning. Eventually I hunted all kinds of game all over the world. But one day I just stopped. I came to a point where I enjoyed feeding animals more than killing them.

Could I have whipped Tiger Woods? Hell, yes. In my prime I could do anything with a golf ball I wanted. No man scared me on the golf course.

If you can't pay cash for it, you can't afford it. Except for a house.

The sportswriters started calling me "Slammin' Sam" in the late 1930s. I never liked it very much. I really preferred the nickname I got when I first joined the tour: "Swingin' Sam." That was the name that showed off my true strengths: smoothness and rhythm. Somehow people liked "Slammin' Sam" better.

The best things about being famous? I get good tables in restaurants, and the state trooper lets me go once in a while.

The best golf exercise is hiking up and down steep hills. It helps strengthen your legs, which drive your whole body. You build up your wind, too. Golfers need wind more than you think. Under pressure it's hard to breathe properly, and if you can't catch your breath, your touch will suffer. You can't concentrate, either.

Every man should learn to cook, sew and garden. If you can do those three things, you'll always be able to take care of yourself.

I told my son Jackie that when I'm gone he should never sell the Snead farm. Because no matter how bad things get, he'll always be able to grow enough to eat.

It still drives me crazy when a man doesn't take his hat off indoors, have his shoes shined or have clean fingernails.

A man on TV the other day said we should capture those terrorists and give them a fair trial. That made sense to me for a minute. Then I looked at some pictures of my grandchildren and thought, we should take no prisoners. Because those people want my grandchildren dead.

Never make a golf betwhere you have to shoot even par (with your handicap strokes) to win. Always figure you're going to shoot three or four over par.

I've never gambled in a casino. On the other hand, I've never played a round of golf where I didn't have a bit of money riding on it. With golf it wasn't gambling, because the outcome was always under my control.

People always said I had a natural swing. They thought I wasn't a hard worker. But when I was young, I'd play and practice all day, then practice more at night by my car's headlights. My hands bled. Nobody worked harder at golf than I did.

When Ben Hogan died, I said it felt like I'd lost a brother. Some people didn't understand that, because Ben and I never socialized and rarely talked. But we were like brothers, because we both made the other guy better. A lot of blood brothers can't say that.

Putting: It's not how, but how many. My sidesaddle style wasn't pretty to look at, but I would have putted standing on my head if it would have helped.

I've had the yips off and on for the last 55 years. I'm convinced they come from putting on different kinds of surfaces over a long period of time. You get to the point where your mind can't figure out how hard to hit the ball.

My golden retriever,Meister, died four years ago. I cried like a baby when I had him put down. He understood me when I talked to him; for a dog he had a big vocabulary. And he loved me more than any human ever has.

I've bought carpeting and organs for churches. Sometimes I bought homes and cars for people. But it wasn't true charity, because I always expected a thank-you in return. True charity isn't like that.

The 2 ½ years I spent in the Navy during World War II, dead in the middle of my prime, was good for me. It helped me grow up, gave me a better view of the world. I think every single healthy American boy should go into the service for a spell.

I didn't go to church much as an adult, even though my dad was a Sunday school teacher for 50 years. I used to say it was because I was usually playing golf on Sundays. But the truth is, I have a hard time relying on anyone, including God. Deep down I believe, though. I know the Lord's Prayer by heart.

As I get older, I like being taken care of more and more. I like getting my hair cut, my back rubbed, my finger bandaged if I get a cut. My favorite thing is pedicures.

It goes without sayingthat my biggest disappointment was never winning the U.S. Open. I'm reminded of it all the time. It hurts when people remember you for the things you didn't do, rather than for the things you did do.

People who talk really fastor dart around generally have a hard time playing golf.

Most big-time swing teachers have never been under the gun, so they don't understand how a person's swing changes under pressure. As a young player, the first thing I'd want to know is how to handle the heat.

No doubt about it, a drive that flies dead-straight is the hardest shot in the book to pull off. But I tried to hit it dead straight anyway. That way, if I hooked, sliced, pushed or pulled the ball by 10 yards, it would still be in play.

I have a reputation for being tight with money, and I guess it's accurate. But I can't help it. The biggest Christmas I had as a kid was when I found 15 cents and a pair of socks under my breakfast plate. Poverty will make you respect money.

Tiger Woods is something. But from what I see, he doesn't like putting the short ones. That makes me afraid for him. He's too young for that.

I don't understand how an autograph can be worth money. How can a famous person's signature be worth anything to anyone other than the person who asked for it?

My dad was the best checkers player in the world. He saw at least five moves ahead. I never heard of him losing, and he was a checkers player his whole life.

I detest the factthat I endorsed cigarettes years ago; I didn't even smoke. Lucky Strikes, Viceroys Chesterfields, Granger Pipe tobacco — I endorsed them all. At The Greenbrier they had those ads on the walls as decoration. I made them take them all down.

If you want to know how good you are, go to an empty field with your 9-iron, perch up a single ball, and program yourself to hit the ball exactly 125 yards. Hit the shot, then pace off the yardage. If you came within five yards, you're a player.

I could have been a better father when my kids were young. But I was gone so damned much of the time. It's never too late, though. Jackie and I see each other every day, Terry is nearby, and I can't imagine father and sons being closer than we are now.

Terry is handicapped mentally. He caught a bad fever when he was 2, and he didn't develop normally after that. But having a handicapped child has taught me to look at what they might be capable of, instead of dwelling on their limitations.

Mean dogs and ornery cats are nice to me. I've walked right up to deer and even a bobcat. I trained a bass to let me lift him out of the water. It's just a gift I have. All I do is look at them softly and move in a slow, kind way.

I can't play golf anymore. My legs won't let me walk even nine holes. But I know I'll be able to play again in the spring, after I ride my bicycle through that Bermuda grass they have around my winter home in Florida.