The Legend of Doug Sanders

I first met Doug Sanders as a seventeen-year-old on September 1, 1970 when forecaddying for his foursome (which included the legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro) during a Pro/Celebrity event to reopen the newly renovated Bayshore Golf Course on Miami Beach. As the group’s forecaddie, my main duties included watching where the player’s golf balls went, raking bunkers, helping to tend the flagstick and bringing putters to the green for the players to use. Apart from spending an enjoyable time in the company of a pair of famous athletes, I really only recall two episodes from that day. Both of which involve the flamboyant Doug Sanders: Firstly, while playing a par #4 on the back-nine, Sanders’ approach shot finished on the front section of the green. With the edge of a bunker and fringe in his direct line to the hole, he cleanly pitched his ball from off the pristine surface of the green to within a few inches of the hole to save par. The deft touch he demonstrated on that delicate shot was downright remarkable! Secondly, upon completion of his round, the two of us walked to where his car was parked. At that point, I placed his golf bag in the trunk and Doug Sanders handed me some money and his business card. Then, in the most sincere and convincing manner, he said for me to call him if I should ever need his help. I can tell you, I came away from that day with a very favorable impression of Mr. Doug Sanders.

Whenever the name Doug Sanders arises in conversation the majority of golfers immediately tend to think about just one detail in the American’s career…..that infamous short putt on the wickedly contoured final green at St. Andrews which denied him the British Open Championship in 1970. It remains one of the most unfortunate images in the history of the event and, though it was a cruel blow to a great champion in an otherwise illustrious career, it cannot take away from his many achievements.

Indeed, the record books show that Doug Sanders was one of the game’s outstanding players during the late 1950’s and 1960’s when his contemporaries included such greats as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Billy Casper.

When looking back on the career of Doug Sanders, one must wonder at what might have been if he had enjoyed a slice of luck at crucial moments in all four Major Championships. The fact is that he came agonizingly close to winning the entire set, a feat accomplished by only a handful golfers in the history of the game.

Doug’s Near Misses In The Majors

1959 PGA Championship – tied second behind Bob Rosburg at Minneapolis Golf Club

1961 United States Open Championship – second to Gene Littler at Oakland Hills

1966 Masters Tournament – tied fourth, only two strokes behind Jack Nicklaus

1966 British Open – runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield, and defeated by Nicklaus in playoff at St. Andrews in 1970

He might have missed out on glory in the Majors, but he scored twenty (20) victories on the PGA Tour in a richly rewarding fifteen-year spell, including five big wins in 1961 when he climbed to a career high 3rd place in the money rankings.

His career statistics for the period between 1955 and 1975 show that he was a fearless and consistent competitor at the highest level. Apart from his twenty tour victories, he was placed second on 21 occasions, third on 13 occasions, he had 154 top-10 finishes and he featured amongst the top-25 in no fewer than 286 tournaments! He also enjoyed the special feeling of being a member of the 1967 United States Ryder Cup Team – “the finest golfers in the world” captained by Ben Hogan which demolished Britain & Ireland (23.5 – 8.5) in the match held at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

Despite the great success he achieved many golfers will tend to remember Doug Sanders for his eye-catching wardrobe and swashbuckling characteristics, his compact golf swing, and, of course, that putt for the British Open title at St. Andrews over a half-century ago. However, I will remember Doug as a truly kind man and the genuine article. He was a credit to the game and the most “colorful” golfer who has ever lived.

As luck would have it, our paths crossed several more times through the years. In 1997, I was the golf professional at a country club just outside of Boise, Idaho. During the fall, Doug Sanders paid us a visit and orchestrated one of his Sanders Style corporate outings which included a group clinic, a round of golf and an after-dinner speech. Needless to say, the show he put together for our members and guests was quite a success. Then, the last time I saw Doug was in 2016 at Augusta National Golf Club where we had lunch together during the Masters Tournament. As usual, his big heart and winning personality were apparent.


3 thoughts on “The Legend of Doug Sanders

  1. What a great tribute to Mr Sanders. I always had a strong connection with him as he and my dad grew up near each other in small towns in NW Georgia – Doug in Cedartown and my dad in Cave Spring. As I began playing golf in my early teens, my Dad would often take me to play Cedar Valley Golf Club when we visited that area on family vacations. He was one of my favorite pros growing up. Years later while I was playing in a corporate event in the mid-90’s, I noticed a gentleman who was rather flamboyantly dressed, and I thought “He must think he’s Doug Sanders!” A few minutes later I was introduced to Doug himself and what a joy that was. We talked about life in NW Georgia and he acted like I was his long-lost friend. I will always remember that fondly. I was sorry to see that he passed away about 3 years ago, but will remember him for much more than a missed two foot putt. Thanks for recognizing one of golf’s greatest characters, Dick.

  2. Douggie was great he taught me a bunch when l was playing. He always responded to my calls and included me in his book Compact Golf. He is one of my favorites. Thanks for this post Dick.

    Kevin Michaels

  3. Dick, this was truly touching, and also informative about the consummate pro that Doug Sanders was. His weak putt to win the Open is easily as painful as any Ive witnessed. But, I was unaware that he won 20 times on tour. Thanks for illuminating the career of this bigtime successful golfer.

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