Sam Snead was in a rage. Sitting in the men's locker room at the Myers Park Country Club shortly before he and Byron Nelson were to begin a second 18-hole playoff to decide the Charlotte (N.C.) Open, he had read a column in the Charlotte Observer hinting that he had purposely bogeyed the 72nd hole of the tournament. The reason? He and Nelson would pick up extra money in a playoff because the accepted practice on the PGA tour is for the competitors to share half the playoff receipts. Snead crumpled the paper into a ball and at first refused to play anymore, either that day or in Charlotte ever again. At last Nelson and club officials persuaded him to change his mind, but the ugly rumor persisted. detracting from what was the most exciting tournament of the year.
Since the beginning of this year's tour, golf fans around the country have been arguing over who is the game's best player—Nelson, last year's leading money winner and the AP's Athlete of the Year, or Snead, recently out of the Navy and quickly reaching the form that has won him the 1942 PGA Championship as well as 37 other events. Coming into Charlotte, each had won four times in 1945, Snead the last three individual events in a row. So when the Charlotte tournament began Friday, there were technically 100 players in the field at Myers Park, but in reality only two mattered. Snead broke fast with a 65, and by the time he reached the 71st hole Monday, he had easily outdistanced everyone but Nelson, who after opening with a 70, a round in which he said he "putted atrociously," had steadily closed ground. Now Nelson, one stroke back and his round over, stood by the scoreboard at 18, awaiting the outcome.
On the par-3 18th, Snead wasn't so lucky. His tee shot stopped 20 yards short of the green, and after some thought he decided to putt the ball.
"I'd never use that club," Nelson was heard to whisper. Snead's putt through some fluffy grass off the green left him 12 feet short, and when he missed his try for par, he and Nelson were tied. They were still tied 24 hours later, having each shot 69 in an 18-hole playoff. The players had the option of another 18 the next day or settling matters immediately. Snead wanted to keep playing, but Nelson demurred. "None of those sudden-death finishes for me," he said.
It was the next morning that Jake Wade's column appeared in the Observer. Wade wrote that "there was widespread gossip all over town that a dive had been arranged to produce a playoff." Wade, recounting the rumor, said that Snead had intentionally flubbed 18 because he would make more money missing the putt than making it. Having done the damage, Wade then sanctimoniously stated that he personally didn't believe the rumor, that it was simply his sad duty to report what was being whispered all over the course, where unfortunately a lot of "sugar" was being waged on the outcome.
Snead refused to respond to Wade's column, but Nelson did, saying he was shocked. "Winning means much more money to us than the little extra we get from the playoff," Nelson said before the round. "Sam would have given big money to have won outright because it would have put him right at the top, where we all want to be."
He then added this intriguing information: "We've about decided that if we tie again today, we'll just be coholders of the title. We both agreed not to play a 19th hole."
There is no question that Wade's column had an effect on Snead's game in the second playoff. As usual, the gate receipts from the second playoff round went to charity to prevent any suggestion of the kind of hanky-panky Snead was being accused of. Snead was over par for the first time in six rounds, shooting 73 to Nelson's steady 69. Charlotte was Nelson's second straight victory and added $2,000 in war bonds, worth $1,312 in cash on the spot, to his money-leading total of $10,763.33.
Nelson and Snead left the course in a rush. Both were due to tee off the next day in the Greensboro ( N.C.) Open, 90 miles to the north. The Greensboro tournament is played in Snead's backyard. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back there after what was clearly a traumatic week in Charlotte.