The oldest player to win a Tour event?
The oldest player to win a Tour event? Clue. He won at Greensboro!
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In late April 1965 Sam Snead was 52 years, 10 months and 8 days.
He won the Greater Greensboro Open that year at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro NC. Did he become The oldest player to win a Tour event? It is now known as the Wyndham Championship. This incredible Tour player is still the oldest player to win a PGA tour event and still ties the record for winning an event the most times. (8 wins at the Greater Greensboro Open)
Other interesting items about this historic win include the fact that Ed Sullivan played in the Pro-Am with Gary Player. Sullivan emceed a special banquet to honor ‘Slammin’ Sammy’ who had won the tournament 7 times since the inaugural in 1938. And, Snead pocketed his biggest check ever for the Greensboro win…. $11,000!
As sportswriter Irwin Smallwood of the Greensboro Daily News said at the time, he didn’t think Snead had a chance to win. With a tough field, all much younger than 52 year old Sam, and temperatures in the 40’s with a little rain, a win was unlikely.
I like one quote in particular attributed to Smallwood. He said Snead “…was just a remarkable golfer. It would have been wonderful to see him play with the equipment of today.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The basketball season was winding down in 1965, so sportswriter Irwin Smallwood of the Greensboro Daily News began shifting his attention to the other sport he covered – golf. He soon realized one thing.
Sam Snead’s appearance at the upcoming Greater Greensboro Open would be the 25th of his legendary career. Considering Snead had won the inaugural event in 1938, and had then won it six more times to earn legendary status in the area, Smallwood thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the silver anniversary.
It certainly seemed like the appropriate time to honor Snead. He was 52 years old and four years removed from his last PGA TOUR win. While Snead was hardly a ceremonial golfer – he’d finished third or better six times since that last win – there was no doubt he was past his prime.
Plus, most of golf’s headlines were now commanded by the Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
It would be nice, Smallwood thought, to give Slammin’ Sammy some attention in the twilight of his career. And no place was more appropriate than Greensboro, where Snead had experienced unprecedented success.
Smallwood mentioned this to John Rendleman, who was the tournament chairman, and Jim Betts, the banquet chairman, as the three were driving to Durham, N.C., to visit with Mike Souchak, a successful PGA TOUR pro who played collegiately at Duke.
“We should do something special for Sam,” Smallwood said, and the other two men in the car agreed.
So the plan was set. On Tuesday night during the week of the tournament, the Sam Snead Testimonial Banquet would be held at Fred Koury’s Plantation Supper Club, which was located a few miles from Sedgefield Country Club where the GGO would be contested.
Hard to imagine a more fitting venue, either.
“Snead was known to have played the trumpet there,” Smallwood said. “It wasn’t unusual for one or two of the players to come and sit in with the band during the tournament.”
When told about the banquet, Snead appreciated that golf fans in Greensboro wanted to celebrate his success in the area. There was one thing, though.
The final chapter had yet to be written.
Once the Greensboro Jaycees, who sponsored the tournament, decided to honor Snead with the testimonial dinner, they had to find an emcee. At the time, Ed Sullivan was writing a “Toast of the Town” column for the New York Daily News, and Smallwood knew one of the sportswriters there.
“I said, ‘Let me try to get Ed Sullivan,'” he recalled.
Smallwood was headed to the Big Apple to cover a basketball game. His friend referred him to someone who wrote for Sports Illustrated, who was more than happy to help.
“He turned around, dialed the phone and said, ‘Ed, I’ve got someone here who wants to talk with you,'” Smallwood said.
Once Sullivan found out who was being honored at the dinner, he said he’d be delighted to come to North Carolina. He didn’t ask for an appearance fee, just expenses, and he was a big draw at the pro-am when he played with Gary Player and a state representative named Mark Short.
“He said, call me at this number on Tuesday, and I fully expected to get a plumber from Amarillo,” Smallwood said, chuckling. “But it was him.”
Sullivan walked away with a great memory, too. He hit an 8-iron to 8 feet on the ninth hole, his last of the day, for a natural birdie.
“That’s one I’ll never forget,” he told the Greensboro newspaper.
The banquet, attended by 800, was a rousing success.
“I’m not sure Greensboro’s had a dinner like that — before or since,” Smallwood said.
Carson Bain, who would become mayor of Greensboro two years later, presented Snead with a certificate good for hamburgers for life from McDonald’s. He and Dave Goforth, two good friends who often went hunting and fishing with Snead, gave the pro a rifle.
The tournament also gifted Snead with a $500 check for a Hot Springs, Virginia, hospital that was dear to the pro’s heart.
And not surprisingly, Snead got the last word.
Just before the festivities ended, Sullivan looked out at the crowd. “Wouldn’t it be nice if old Sam could win the GGO one more time?” he asked.
“Sam squinted into the lights at the Plantation Club, and he said, “Those young boys better watch out. I just might do it,” Smallwood recalled.
Well, it wasn’t exactly Babe Ruth pointing toward the center-field bleachers during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series just before he launched a home run in that direction — but it was close.
The president of Wilson Sporting Goods told Smallwood he’d never seen his client so touched. But Snead never acknowledged his role in the festivities — that is, until the switchboard operator at the Daily News rang his desk one day and told him a box was waiting downstairs.
“It was a set of Wilson Staff clubs,” Smallwood said. “The return address just said: Snead.”
Smallwood, who is now 89, still has those clubs in a golf bag sitting in his office.
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