The Story Behind Sam Snead's Side Saddle Putter

With the upcoming USGA ban on anchored putters just around the corner, I thought it would be interesting to look back at another putting method that was banned because of its “unorthodoxy.” Tony Parker, writing for World Golf Hall of Fame, penned the following article about the great Sam Snead:

“Players who will have to adjust their putting styles for the upcoming ban on anchored putting can take heart in the success that World Golf Hall of Fame member Sam Snead found after he was forced into a similar situation in the 1960s. Slammin’ Sammy Snead was an eight-time winner of the Greater Greensboro Open. The tournament, which is now known as the Wyndham Championship, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this week. Snead’s final PGA TOUR victory came at the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at the age of 52. He set the record for oldest PGA TOUR winner with that victory. Snead was still a strong ball-striker in his 50s, but struggled with the yips on the greens.

During the second round of the 1966 PGA Championship at Firestone he double-hit a 2-foot putt and in desperation changed his putting style in the middle of the round. As Billy Farrell, Snead’s playing partner, told Al Barkow, “On the very next hole, it’s Sam’s turn to putt and this time he straddles the ball; he goes croquet style.” It worked for Snead and for the rest of the round he continued to use the croquet style of putting. He tied for sixth place that week.

The following January, Snead would win the PGA Seniors’ Championship by nine strokes at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He would go on to win the PGA Seniors’ three more times after that commanding victory. Snead tied for 10th place in the 1967 Masters using his unique croquet putting style. It was his best finish since 1963. His success with this new approach to putting drew the attention of golf’s governing bodies.

The USGA and the R&A met just before the Walker Cup in England to discuss the matter and decided to outlaw croquet putting by proposing a rules change, effective Jan. 1, 1968. Rule 16-1e states that “on the putting green a player shall not make a stroke from astride, or with either foot touching the line of the putt, or an extension of that line behind the ball.” Joseph C. Dey, the Executive Director of the USGA and fellow future Hall of Fame member, said, “We made the decision with great reluctance, but we felt it was the only way to eliminate the unconventional styles that have developed in putting.

It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer.” Snead responded by saying that, “I might be able to alter my stance and still putt my way.” He did just that by improvising a side-saddle stance for the rest of his days to great success. At age 62, he put on a remarkable show and tied for third at the 1974 PGA Championship at Tanglewood, losing out to Lee Trevino. It will be interesting to see how players respond and adapt to the ban on the anchored putter. Will Snead’s side-saddle putting style make a comeback? If they need inspiration, players and fans can get a look at Snead’s side-saddle putter, along with his trademark hat and other unique items, in the World Golf Hall of Fame’s Major Moments exhibition.”

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Sam Snead’s side-saddle putter — along with his lunch box and irons — is on display at the World Golf Hall of Fame. (Keyur Khamar/PGATour.com)

 

It will be interesting to see what adjustments players will make to ensure they putt legally once the ban takes place. Rumor has it that long putters will still be used, but players will find a way to stroke the putt without anchoring the putter. Stay tuned for an interesting display of putting!