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