Tiger Is Approaching Snead’s Record 82 Wins — Or Is He?

Tiger Is Approaching Snead's Record -- Or Is He?
Sam Snead. Tiger Is Approaching Snead’s Record 82 Wins — Or Is He?

Tiger Is Approaching Snead’s Record 82 Wins — Or Is He?

The PGA TOUR site has an interesting article on how the TOUR arrived at 82 for the number of career wins by Sam Snead. It is an important accounting, because with his win at the Masters, Tiger now has accumulated 81 wins. It is inevitable that Tiger will pass Snead, regardless of how many the Slammer has been credited with. But still I find the TOUR’s reasoning weak.

What it comes down to are judgment calls on which of Snead’s victories were worthy of being called professional events. The PGA TOUR empowered a committee in 1987 to clean up the old record books (and not just for Snead) and as a result, the number of wins Snead was credited with fell from 84 to 81. Snead, for his part, claimed 89.

In some instances, the committee credited Snead (and other players) with wins that by some standards are suspect. For example, Snead’s victories in the Crosby Clambake were counted because of its “historical significance.” That ignores the fact that it was hardly a “tournament” in those days. His 1937 victory was in an 18 hole event, his 1938 and 1941 wins were over 36 holes, and his 1950 win was a tie over 54 holes.

In those cases, Snead perhaps has fewer than 81 wins, and Tiger already has passed him.

On the other hand, one of Snead’s three wins at the North-South Open was not counted because the tournaments’ organizers were having a tiff with the PGA Of America.

However, in 1947, 1948 and 1949, the PGA didn’t recognize the North and South as official. Back then, the Tufts family, the owners of Pinehurst, as the story goes, had a dispute with the PGA of America about money. While the North and South went on during those three years as usual, the PGA didn’t acknowledge its existence on the official schedule. That’s important because in Snead’s PGA TOUR official record, his 1949 North and South victory doesn’t count. His 1941 and 1950 North and South wins do.

Similarly, Snead’s wins at the Greenbrier Invitational/Sam Snead Festival also were not counted — even though the field was arguably as good as the one in the actual PGA of America event that week.

The Greenbrier, an elegant, small-town hotel and resort in White Sulphur Springs, held the 1959 Sam Snead Festival at its course opposite the PGA’s Arlington Hotel Open, hosted by an elegant, small-town hotel and resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas. While Snead won his eponymous 1959 Festival by 11 strokes over Mike Souchak in a field that also included E.J. “Dutch” Harrison, Bruce Crampton, Doug Sanders, Jim Turnesa and Gary Player, it was Gene Littler who was beating Jim Ferree in Arkansas by a stroke, with Doug Ford, Tommy Bolt, Cary Middlecoff and Tony Lema among the 99 players entered.

Two years later, Snead defeated Canadian Stan Leonard by a stroke at the Festival while holding off Player, Arnold Palmer and Peter Thomson. Approximately 860 miles away, the PGA was conducting the newly named Hot Springs Open, and Sanders was beating the likes of Middlecoff, Boros, Al Geiberger and Tommy Aaron. Such was the nature of professional golf back then, two tournaments of equal stature played simultaneously, the organizers hustling to attract the best players to their events. Only one tournament, though, part of the official schedule.

It all seems a bit random — and for the PGA TOUR a bit self-serving. An arguably weaker field on the PGA of America circuit would count, while a competing event would not. They count the 18 hole Crosby because it is now an official PGA TOUR event, but not the North-South in years when there was an argument over money.

It seems to me very hard to go back and apply modern standards to that bygone era. The PGA TOUR as an entity didn’t even exist until 1968. Prior to that, the professional tour was an extension of the PGA of America known as the Tournament Players Division. Players often worked as pros at clubs, and toured as their schedule allowed. Others were full time touring pros. Strength of fields likely varied wildly. Records were not well kept.

I have thought for years that what golf needs is an organization like the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR is an group independent of Major League Baseball that dedicates itself to research on baseball’s history, statistics, personalities. The society collects biographies, oral histories, gathers statistics from old newspapers and just generally tries to reconstruct the entire history of the game. For example, SABR has a committee dedicated to researching just the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

A Society for American Golf Research (SAGR) would be independent of the PGA TOUR, the PGA Of America, and of the USGA, all of whom have their own axes to grind and their own spittoons to polish.

With all of the old newspapers now online, people interested in the history of golf should be able to fill in a lot of the gaps in the record — for example, of the old Negro Golf Tour, or of tournaments played, but now lost to time.

Snead’s record is a good example of that last. His first win was at something called the Virginia Closed Pro, an event about which there was little information until the Charleston Daily Mail ran an investigation in 2010.

It is something to think about.

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