By R.J. Smiley
As I read of the passing of Doug Sanders, the man who made flashy golf clothing popular, I thought to myself, “I wonder if his heavenly wings will match his patent leather shoes?”
In 1956 Sanders won the Canadian Open while he was still an amateur. Sanders and I started our golf careers in the same year. He turned pro in 1957 and I joined my high school golf team that same year. After the basketball season in the spring of 1957, my freshman year in high school, the football coach sat down next to me in the lunchroom and told me that I had to go out for the track team if I expected to play on his football team the following fall. Without thinking I said, “Sorry coach I am going to play on the golf team.” I did not even have a set of clubs; the first two matches I used my mother’s very old clubs. The rest is history: Sanders went on to win 20 PGA TOUR events and finished second in four Major Championships and played on the 1967 Ryder Cup Team. And I won was the state high school championship in 1961.
From that year forward Doug Sanders was my hero. I subscribed to all the golf magazines and searched for pictures of him in beautifully matched colorful golf outfits. (There were few golf telecasts in those days and color TV was not invented yet.) In 1973 Esquire Magazine named him one of the Ten Best Jocks in America. He was known as the peacock of the fairways. Sanders was well known for his playboy lifestyle and love for playing golf for money. He always said, “My short swing never breaks down when the pressure is on.” I still remember a picture of Sanders with a beautiful woman on each side showing off his 50 pair of patent leather golf shoes in a rainbow of colors. He had slacks and shirts and sweaters to match.
In the early spring of 1961, my senior year of high school, my mother bought me a pair of yellow and a pair of green golf pants. I wore those slacks, feeling like Sanders, for every match all spring. As I think back, I can’t believe how ridiculous I must have looked to the kids in school when I wore my “golf slacks” to class on the mornings of our afternoon matches.
I continued to follow Sanders throughout his wonderful career. The old round screen color TVs came out in 1965 and I watched Sanders whenever he was on television. I remember it like it was yesterday, the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Sanders the tournament leader by a few strokes was paired with Jack Nicklaus. Jack had made a charge on the back and Sanders lead had been trimmed to one stroke. On the final hole Sanders needed to make a 30’ putt for the Open Championship, writing his name in immorality. With the world watching, the gambling man with ice water in his veins lined up his near gimme putt. Then suddenly a flash of uncertainty in his mind caused Sanders to back away. He settled in over his winning putt, but I believe that every golf fan watching knew he was going to miss. “You never back away from a putt!” His feeble attempt never reached the hole creating an 18-hole playoff the following day.
Nicklaus made a huge putt on the final hole of the playoff giving Sanders another second place finish in a Major. I still remember his canary yellow outfit in the playoff round.
Quotes and quips about Sanders:
Sanders suffered from tortacollis, a rare very painful neck problem and thus the reason for his short flat swing. In a 2003 interview with Golf Digest, Sanders told the reporter that he had scheduled an operation to relieve the neck pain, but the doctor could not guarantee success. “I could not live with the pain any longer. I hired a hit man for $40,000 to kill me if the operation was not successful.” It is obvious he cancelled the hit.
“I went to great lengths to blend the colors of my clothes just right. Oh, my clothes were beautiful. Still are.”
Chi Chi Rodriguez said, ”Doug Sanders was the best money player I ever saw. A great player. He was a better golfer playing with his money than playing with other people’s money.” He is the author of the book, 130 Different Ways to Make a Bet.
“I’m as rich as any man or woman in the world because I weigh and measure my wealth by friends and golf has given me that opportunity.”
Finally, my personal favorite: ”Winners listen to other people. They’re always trying to learn; they respect other people’s opinions. Losers just want to talk.”
RIP MY HERO!