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When Sam Snead Forfeited Playoff, Antsy about Favorable Ruling He'd Received

 

Everyone knows that Sam Snead won 82 PGA Tour tournaments. That number is one of the better-known records in golf, and it's becoming even better-known all the time as Tiger Woods closes in on it.

But Snead's PGA Tour win total might have been one higher had he not chosen to forfeit a playoff when he started feeling antsy about a favorable ruling he'd received.

The tournament was the 1952 Jacksonville Open. Snead and fellow future Hall of Famer Doug Ford finished tied at 280.

Here's a sign of how loosey-goosey the "PGA Tour"* was in those days: The two players, after tying, discussed among themselves what type of playoff they wanted. Ford favored an immediate sudden-death playoff; Snead argued for, and won, an 18-hole playoff on Tuesday. Snead preferred the 18-hole playoff because he and Ford, in addition to the $2,000 first prize and $1,400 second prize, would also be able to split the gate receipts from the extra day of golf.

(*I put "PGA Tour" in quotes because the tour that exists today - an independent organization that tightly controls the top-level of men's pro tournament golf - didn't really exist in 1952. We refer to it as the PGA Tour, but it was more a loose affiliation of tournaments that adhered to certain minimum requirements set forth by the tournament division of the PGA of America.)

But before that 18-hole playoff took place, Snead decided to forfeit. He accepted the runner-up check, and Ford was declared the winner. Why?

Snead had started feeling unsure about a ruling he'd received in the second round. The golf course's 10th hole was a 545-yard par-5. On his second shot, Snead's ball came to rest outside the out-of-bounds stakes.

Cut-and-dried, right? Ball OB. Penalty. But Snead wasn't penalized. It turns out the location of the OB stakes had been the source of some confusion, and prior to the second round the stakes were picked up and moved.

Nobody had told Snead, however. The starter was supposed to inform each group that teed off about the change in position of the OB stakes on No. 10. But Snead's group (and others) never heard about the change.

Had Snead known, would have played the ball on the line he played? Or would he have chosen a safer route to the hole? The on-site rules official decided that the OB penalty should be waived, since the players weren't informed of the change in the position of out-of-bounds.

So: No penalty. And two rounds later, Snead was tied with Ford and heading to the playoff.

But somewhere between the end of the 72nd hole and the 18-hole playoff scheduled for Tuesday, Snead started thinking he'd gotten too sweet a ruling.

So he forfeited the playoff.

"I want to be fair about it," Snead told reporters at the time. "I don't want anybody to think I am taking advantage of the ruling."

The outcome was significant in several ways. First, obviously, Snead might be credited with 83 wins today rather than 82 had he played the playoff.

Second, it was the first career PGA Tour victory for Doug Ford.

And third, this was the tournament where Jack Burke Jr.'s win streak ended. Burke had won four straight tournaments going into the Jacksonville Open - at the time, the third-longest winning streak in tour history (behind Byron Nelson's 11-tournament win streak of 1945 and Ben Hogan's six in a row in 1948). But Burke finished out of the money, and his streak was over.

 

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