Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Sam Snead's legacy all over record books
On Sunday, one of the most accomplished golfers of all time would have turned 100 years old: Sam Snead, the PGA Tour's career leader in victories (82), a seven-time major champion and a four-time Vardon Trophy winner, and recipient of the PGA Tour's lifetime achievement award in 1998.
Snead, who died in 2002, just a few days shy of his 90th birthday, generated an array of numbers that are scattered throughout the PGA Tour's record books. We at Numbers Game thought it appropriate, as Slammin' Sammy hits the century mark, to revisit some of the most impressive of those figures.
Let's start with Snead's biggest mark on the tour's records.
82: When Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach earlier this year, he moved into ninth on the PGA Tour's all-time list with 40 victories. Lefty isn't even halfway to Snead's 82 career wins.
It's basically irrefutable that Snead played in an era with weaker fields than today, but 82 victories is still an unbelievable number. And Snead wasn't playing against all stiffs -- he competed against greats like Ben Hogan (who also would have turned 100 this year) and Cary Middlecoff, just to name a couple.
8: No other event contributed to those 82 career wins more than the Greater Greensboro Open, a tournament Snead won eight times in his career. No player has ever won an event more frequently in PGA Tour history.
However, Tiger Woods is hot on his tail in that regard. Woods has won two events -- the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational -- seven times each. No other player has won an event seven times in his PGA Tour career.
52: Snead's final career win on tour came, appropriately, at Greensboro in 1965. At 52 years, 10 months, Snead became the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. That's a record that still stands.
69.23: Snead's 1950 PGA Tour season was one of the most sensational in the history of the sport. Not only did he win 11 times, he finished second in five more events, and in the top 10 a remarkable 22 times in 25 starts.
The most impressive number associated with his season, though, was 69.23 -- his then-record-setting scoring average that year. His Vardon Trophy-winning, non-adjusted scoring average was a PGA Tour record, and remained that way until 2000, when it was broken by Woods (68.17).
4: Snead wound up with seven career major championships -- a number surpassed by only six players in the history of the sport. But the one major that eluded Snead was the U.S. Open, which he finished second in four times. Only Mickelson, who now has five runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, has more.
It's remarkable to think that three of the best players in the history of the sport were all born in 1912: Snead (May 27), Hogan (Aug. 13) and Byron Nelson (Feb. 4). A century later, their respective legacies can be seen across the sport.
Who is the only player to win the Colonial in back-to-back years?
Three on the tee this week examines the storybook finish that wasn't, the now-two-time winner who generated the plot twist, and a DFW-area resident looking to change his fortunes at Colonial this week. The Numbers Game starter calls to the tee:
Dicky Pride: Basically everything about this storyline seemed to come from a movie script (including the lead character's name). The journeyman player, having not won in almost two decades, makes an improbable par to force a playoff, en route to getting back into the winner's circle.
Unfortunately for Pride, Jason Dufner nailed a dramatic 25-foot birdie putt to seal the victory Sunday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, rewriting the script that could have been.
Had Pride won last week, it would have been his first PGA Tour victory since the 1994 St. Jude Classic. The span of 17 years, 9 months between wins would have broken the PGA Tour record (currently it's 15 years, 9 months by Robert Gamez).
Consider this: Pride's last win came about a month before Woods took his first class at Stanford. Reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was 5 years old, and Greg Norman was the No. 1 player on the planet.
Speaking of the man who did win on Sunday
Jason Dufner: From 2004 through mid-April of this year, Dufner made 163 starts on the PGA Tour without picking up a victory. In the last month, he's started three events, and won twice. And to quote a quick-witted Twitter follower from Sunday (@ufchomp), "If you've seen his wife [Jason's recently married], it's three wins."
Dufner's recent success can be largely accredited to his fantastic ball-striking: He led the field in greens in regulation at the Byron Nelson, and was second in driving accuracy. Dufner currently sits in the top 10 on tour in total driving, ball-striking, driving accuracy and par-5 scoring average.
Though Dufner is one of the hottest players on Earth right now, there are some reasons to suspect his great play might not continue this weekend. Dufner has never had consecutive top-5 finishes in his PGA Tour career, and in three starts at this event, he has two missed cuts and a T-54 finish.
Hunter Mahan: There's now company for Mahan in the multiple-wins club this year on the PGA Tour. The world's sixth-ranked player enjoys a relative home game this week (he resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area).
Mahan turned 30 on Thursday, removing him from the ranks of "best PGA Tour players in their 20s." Mahan was tied for second on that list with four victories before last week, trailing only Dustin Johnson with five. Sean O'Hair and Bill Haas also have four wins -- and currently maintain their sub-30 age status (not for long, though, in Haas' case; he turns 30 on Wednesday).
Mahan could be due for a good finish this week -- he's carded rounds of par or better in nine of his past 10 rounds in this event, and had his best career finish (T-10) here last year.
Question: Who is the only player to win the Colonial in back-to-back years?
Answer: Ben Hogan did it twice in 1946-47 and 1952-53.
Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.