Golf loses Mr. Colourful – Doug Sanders (1933-2020)

Bernie McGuire
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Golf loses Mr. Colourful – Doug Sanders (1933-2020)

Doug Sanders (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA via Getty Images)

Doug Sanders would be a regular passenger of the once-a-year one-way flight from Houston to Augusta, Georgia as organisers of the Shell Houston Open, when it was staged the week prior to the Masters, would arrange a United Airlines charter flight to fly from nearby Houston International Airport on the Sunday night following the conclusion of the event and then head straight to Augusta, GA.

The flight was for players, caddies, officials, media and anyone happy enough to pay a very reduced fare to Augusta, and one of those regularly on board was Doug Sanders.  The flight would arrive late but once Masters week got underway Sanders would be found under the famed Augusta National clubhouse oak tree happily catching-up with his many long-time friends.

Sadly, he passed away early Easter Sunday morning (Local US time) in his beloved Houston aged 86, on the day that the 2020 Masters would have concluded had it not been for the current Coronavirus pandemic that has seen the Masters moved to November.

He was born into a poor family in 1933, in a small town to the north of Atlanta, the fourth of five children.  He picked cotton as a teenager however the family home was near a nine-hole course and the rest, as they say, was history.

Sanders was still an amateur when he won his first PGA Tour event in 1956 at the Canadian Open in a play-off against Dow Finsterwald, and his best year was in 1961 when he won five times and finished third on the PGA Tour money list.

He had four second-place finishes in the Majors, none more memorable than at the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews where Sanders needed to hole a short three-foot par putt on the final green of the Old Course to deny Jack Nicklaus.  Sanders struck the putt but missed the hole completely sending the event into a Monday play-off, with Nicklaus winning by a shot.

“If I was a master of the English language, I don’t think I could find the adjectives to describe how I felt when I missed that short one,” Sanders said at the time.

“But that’s golf, and that’s the fascination of the game.”

Sanders also finished one shot behind Nicklaus in the 1966 Open at Muirfield. He had a one-shot lead going into the final round of the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills and finished one behind Gene Littler, and he finished one shot behind Bob Rosburg in the 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club.

The loss to Nicklaus took its place with other near misses in golf, such as Scott Hoch at the 1989 Masters and Sanders once cited Walter Hagen saying, “No-one remembers who finishes second.”

“But they still ask me if I ever think about that putt I missed to win the 1970 Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I tell them sometimes it doesn’t cross my mind for a full five minutes.”

Of his 20 PGA Tour victories, he never won the same title twice.
 
Sanders was also known for the colour he brought to golf and picked-up the name “Peacock of the Fairways” given the flamboyant nature of his clothing. Indeed, Esquire magazines in August 1972 named Sanders one of ‘America’s Ten Best Dressed Jocks’.

“The two most frequent questions on tour were, ‘What did Arnold Palmer shoot?’ and ‘What’s Doug Sanders wearing?’” Sanders said to Golf Digest magazine in 2007.

Fellow American Tommy Bolt once said of Sanders, “The man looks like a jukebox with feet.”

Also overlooked were his 20 victories on the PGA Tour, the last of which was the 1972 Kemper Open which he won by one shot over Lee Trevino. He won at some of the bigger spots on tour too, such as Colonial, the Western Open and Doral. When he won the Canadian Open in 1956, it was 29 more years before another amateur — Scott Verplank — won on the PGA Tour.

Sanders played in one Ryder Cup, in 1967 in Houston, with Ben Hogan captain of what is regarded one of the best U.S. teams from that era of the matches.

Sanders stayed active after no longer competing, sponsoring the Doug Sanders Celebrity Classic for six years and a junior golf championship in Houston.

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