This Sunday, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning will tee it up, and play a golf match for charity against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady.
The event, played at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, FL., has been named The Match: Champions for Charity, and is expected to raise more than $10 million for Covid-19 relief.
A live sporting event, featuring four of the greatest in their respective sports, will surely garner a large television audience.
In terms of longevity in their sport, Manning and Brady defied the odds. Manning, age 44, played quarterback in the NFL for 18 seasons before retiring in 2016.
Tom Brady, winner of six Super Bowls, is still an active player, who will turn 43 in August as he directs the offense of the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Tiger Woods, age 44, and Phil Mickelson, age 49, continue to play golf at a very high level. Between the two, they have 126 PGA victories. If they can stay healthy, they both may win again, and add to their Hall of Fame careers.
However, in terms of career length and success, they still have to go some to match “Old Man River”, the incomparable Sam Snead. I don’t like to quote statistics, but it is necessary to illustrate the incredible durability of his golfing life.
Born in the Virginia hills in 1912, he was caddying at age seven, and an assistant club pro at age 17.
Turning pro in 1934, he won enough money to play golf full time.
He won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1938, played here in North Carolina, the first of eight times he would win that event.
The last time was in 1965, when he was age 52 and 10 months, the record for the oldest player to win a regular PGA tournament.
Sam won the L.A. Open in 1945, and finished second in the same tournament, on the same course in 1974 when he was age 62. That same year he finished 3rd in the PGA Championship.
In 1979, he shot his age, 67, at the Quad Cities Open; then went out and shot a 66 in the final round of the tournament. He just kept rolling along, playing competitive golf, and often out driving players that were as much as 50 years younger. At age 85, he shot a 78 at the Greenbrier Club in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
I first met Sam Snead in the sporting goods department of K-Mart in Delray Beach, FL in 1984.
He was in the fishing aisle looking for rubber worms, and wearing his customary straw palmetto hat. That meeting led him to do a signing of memorabilia at our sports auction house. On that day, I was able to talk with Sam about his remarkable career, and how he was able to sustain his performance.
First there was the swing, described by Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan as the best ever in golf history. He was known to hit the ball long and straight, not with a draw or fade, and he had no peer at hitting the long irons. The swing was fluid and rhythmical, as he would sometimes hum a waltz to keep his timing.
“They said my swing was natural, but I worked very hard at it,” said Sam, who was self taught. “I practiced and played all day, and then practiced some more at night with the car headlights.”
Sam was loose jointed, extremely flexible, and demonstrated that for us when he stood in a doorway, and kicked the door jam 7 1/2 feet up. I tried that at home, and it didn’t work out so well. By his early teens, he was hitting the ball further than any adults.
There is the story, repeated by Snead, that at age 14, he hit his ball onto the green into the foursome of Mr. Alva Bradley, President of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Bradley was furious and yelled at the young Snead, “Son, don’t you know better than to hit a fairway shot into an occupied green?” Snead replied, “ Mr. Bradley, that wasn’t no fairway shot, that was my tee shot.” Since the railroad president had never seen a 345 yard tee shot, he made him do it again. Sam did it.
Another secret to Snead’s success was his competitiveness, and will to win at all times. Growing up poor he learned a respect for money, and that was naturally on his mind his whole life. He recalled that, “the biggest Christmas he ever had as a kid was when he found 15 cents and a pair of socks under his breakfast plate.”
Snead only played in the British Open once. The year was 1946, and he won the title, but he lost money on the trip, because the winning purse was less than his expenses. He never gambled in a casino, but he loved to have a few bucks on a golf game. He knew how to set the odds, “With golf it wasn’t gambling.”
Samuel Jackson Snead passed away from complications from a stroke in 2002, just a few days shy of his 90th birthday. Too bad he isn’t still around for this weekend’s exhibition. He would be about 108, but I think he would still want a piece of the action.
I feel fortunate. I got to see Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle at the bat, Jim Brown run the football, and Bob Cousy dribbling down on the fast break. And I got to see Sam Snead swing the golf club. An American legend.
Mike Wood is a sports correspondent for The Daily Advance.