Jeev Milkha Singh was devastated. Daniel Chopra put out a tribute. And the golf world was poorer with the demise of Doug Sanders, who may well be somewhere in the upper segments of the list of ‘Best Players Never to have won a Major’.
Sanders, 86, died in an assisted living facility in Houston on Sunday, April 12, a day which would have been the Sunday of the Masters 2020, had it been held on schedule.
The Associated Press reported that his death was confirmed by a text message sent to the PGA Tour by his ex-wife.
Sanders grew up in rural Georgia and as a youngster was of modest means. At one time he picked cotton to help support a family that included four other siblings. He learnt golf at a nine-hole course near the family home and as a junior golfer caught the attention of Gators coach Andrew Bracken.
He wore ‘ragged’ clothes but grew into one of the best-dressed golfers of his time – probably all-time. He brought into vogue the colourful outfits and could carry off colours with great aplomb.
In 1956, Sanders became the last amateur to win the Canadian Open, beating Dow Finsterwald (the 1958 PGA Champion) in a playoff. The next amateur to win a PGA Tour title as an amateur was Scott Verplank, in 1985.
One of successful players on the PGA in the period 1956-1972, Sanders won 20 times on the PGA Tour, of which five wins came in 1961 alone.
Four times he was second or tied second at the Majors, but never won. He came closest at St. Andrews in 1970, but missed a three-foot putt for a win and fell into a tie with Jack Nicklaus, who beat him next in the 18-hole play-off.
Thirteen times he was in Top-10 at the Majors, four of which were in 1966, when he was T-4at Masters, T-8 at US Open, T-2 at The Open and T-6 at the PGA. He finished runner-up at each of thee Majors at least once, except at the Masters, where his best was T-4 in 1966.
A lover for flamboyant attire and nightlife, he was nicknamed the “The Peacock of the Fairways,” for outfits ranging from fuchsia to citrus colours and matching shoes. In 1972, Esquire named him among America’s 10 best-dressed athletes.
A report in Jacksonville.com said, “Long before Deion Sanders (a pro football and baseball player and now a TV sports analyst) proclaimed, ‘If you look good you feel good. If you feel good you play good. If you play good, they pay good,’ Doug Sanders got it.”
Sanders had a short backswing, and the report mentions, “… observing his penchant for the good life, one writer dubbed Sanders, “The man with a short backswing and long nights.”
In the interview with the Times-Union four years ago, Sanders joked, “The only time I left the fairway was to get a phone number.”
Tommy Bolt, a flamboyant player himself, who won the 1958 US Open, once said, Sanders “looks like a jukebox with feet.”
Of the three-putt he missed for the 1970 Open, Sanders once joked that he often went five minutes without thinking about it. Later he said, “My agent told me later that putt cost me millions,” Sanders said. “But I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed to have the career I had.”