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Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little "Slammin' Sammy"

Sam Snead played winning golf longer than anybody else in history. He won 82 PGA tournaments, still the most of any golfer ever. He won 152 times worldwide, plus another 14 on the Champions Tour. He has 7 majors -- he never won the US Open, although he finished 2nd four times.

He won the GGO, aka the Greater Greensboro Open (now the Wyndham Championship), a total of 8 times. The first was in 1938, the last in 1965 at the ripe old age of 52 years, 311 days. That win makes him the oldest winner ever on the PGA Tour. And just to give you an idea of how good he played, let me lift a few examples of his longevity as listed on Wikipedia:
  • In 1971, he won the PGA Club Professional Championship.
  • In 1974, at age 62, he shot a one-under-par 279 to come in third, three strokes behind winner Lee Trevino at the PGA Championship at Tanglewood in Clemmons, North Carolina.
  • In 1978, he won the first Legends of Golf event, which was the impetus for the creation two years later of the Senior PGA Tour, now known as the Champions Tour.
  • In 1979 he was the youngest PGA Tour golfer to shoot his age (67) in the second round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open. He shot under his age (66) in the final round.
  • In 1983, at age 71, he shot a round of 60 (12-under-par) at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for all the numbers I listed above.)

Look, this is a guy who played high-quality golf far longer than most people think is possible. He was a believer in weight work and flexibility training long before Tiger or even Gary Player. I've heard some people say they actually saw him stand in a doorway and kick the top with one foot!

I found this YouTube video with a variety of swing clips from various times in his career. The slo-mo swings begin around the 1:15 mark:

There's a lot you can learn by studying this video, but I'll point out a few things that stood out to me.

Although it's not shown in this video, Snead was renowned for practicing his swing barefooted. He even played part of a round at the Masters this way! He said that practicing barefoot helped him regain his sense of balance whenever he had trouble with his swing. Of course, many teachers now recommend this as a way to improve your rhythm (Sean Foley was the most recent I heard). You can certainly see that he never looks off-balance.

Snead is sometimes known for a technique nicknamed the "Snead squat," where his knees actually separated when he started his downswing. (Most players keep their knees about equidistant from each other until they hit the ball.) At about the 1:55 mark you'll find something that very few videos have -- shots of Snead's swing taken from behind his back! The beauty of this is that you can see how the squat was actually accomplished...

And it appears to be very close to a Stack and Tilt swing! His right leg stays mostly straight -- not flexed as in most swings -- and he stays very much centered over the ball. Please note the difference, however; Snead is centered in his stance, not over his left side, so it's not technically Stack and Tilt. Still, the technique is very close.

You'll also note that Snead overswings a bit. Even in the swings where he's older, he still gets past parallel. With this much flexibility, it's no wonder he played so well for so long.

One other thing I'd like to point out: Although he often starts his left hip slightly before his shoulders in his downswing -- especially in the younger swings -- you will note that his entire left side, from his shoulder to his knee, generally seems to move as a unit. I've recommended feeling as if your upper and lower body start the downswing together as a way to improve your tempo and keep from creating unwanted spine angles. I didn't know it when I started recommending it, but apparently Snead used this technique himself. Look at how graceful and smooth his swing looks when he does it.

As much as any player you'll see, Snead looks as if he just turns away from the ball, then turns back through the ball. Just watching this video a few times might help improve your rhythm and tempo.

Snead got his nickname because he was just about the longest player in any field, regardless of whether he was using hickory shafts or metal shafts. It's worth your while to spend some time learning how "Slammin' Sammy" got the job done.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best Sam Snead lessons I have ever read is in Butch Harmon's book "The Pro". His father, Claude (the last club pro to win The Masters), had a student come to him wanting Harmon to teach him how to swing like Snead. The guy headed to the driving range - but Harmon headed to the practice green. Harmon put a ball in one of the holes and asked the guy if he could pick the ball out of the hole without bending his knees. The guy said "of course not." To which Harmon replied, "then you can't swing like Snead."

    Snead was exceptionally flexible, so as pretty as Snead's swing is, you better do your stretching before trying to copy it.