By Joy Chakravarty
Doug Sanders, winner of 20 PGA Tour titles and a four-time runner-up in major championships, passed away on Sunday at the age of 86.
Long before bright and colourful clothing became trendy on the golf course, the Texan wore them with such verve that he was lovingly nicknamed ‘Peacock of the Fairways’,
However, Sanders’ impact on the game far transcended his skills and style on the golf course, or than 30-inch putt he missed on the 72nd hole to beat Jack Nicklaus and win the 1970 Open Championship.
A true visionary who believed in developing golf at the grassroots level and give back to the sport, he played a key role in giving India two of its most famous golfers – Jeev Milkha Singh and the Delhi-born and bred Swede Daniel Chopra.
In 1978, Sanders personally sponsored and started the Doug Sanders Junior International, which became the vehicle for many young players, especially from Asia and Australia, to showcase their skills against some of the finest junior stars in the US and Europe. For many years, the final of the tournament was held in Aberdeen, Scotland, where both Jeev and Chopra were champions.
“That really was the first time I met a superstar on the PGA Tour and Doug just had so much time for us. He was a generous, large-hearted soul,” reminisced Jeev.
“I spent a lot of time with him as a 13-year-old trying to find out how I could take the next step towards becoming a professional golfer. He really was the one who reached out to Abilene Christian University in Texas and helped me secure the scholarship. There was no looking back after that.
“Even during my NCAA days, and also later whenever I travelled to the US, I could always speak to him and discuss anything under the sun.”
One of the Jeev’s cherished travel accessory for many years was a copy of The Bible that Doug’s wife, Scotty, presented to him in early 1990s.
“Of course they knew that I am a Sikh. But Scotty and Doug were both very religious people and wanted me to have the Bible and probably read a few lines and learn something new,” said an emotional Jeev.
“I would read a few passages before sleeping each night and found it a very nice way to relax and learn something new, something nice every day.”
In a testimonial on DougSanders.org, Chopra wrote: “When I won the Doug Sanders World Championship in 1991, I found the experience to be empowering. It cemented my belief in myself and that one day I will get to play with the best players in the world.
“That victory also gave me the opportunity to get to know one of the great characters of the game. To me, Mr Sanders was a juniper and still to this day very inspirational, full of colour, life and positive energy. It was not just the game itself, but how the game should be played.
“I am proud to say I am a Doug Sanders World Junior Champion.”
Rest in Peace, Doug Sanders.