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THE BAD-FORM CHAMPION OF GOLF
Alfred Wright
January 22, 1962
His approach to the game is casual, and his choppy swing is almost comical, but happy Doug Sanders is getting the last laugh by becoming one of the biggest winners in pro golf
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January 22, 1962

The Bad-form Champion Of Golf

His approach to the game is casual, and his choppy swing is almost comical, but happy Doug Sanders is getting the last laugh by becoming one of the biggest winners in pro golf

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In the sometimes grim world of high-pressure tournament golf, Doug Sanders, who won $57,428.47 on the 1961 tour and finished third on the list of money winners behind Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, is the most refreshing and amusing "new" professional in a good long time. Both on and off the golf course, Sanders has a personality as bounding and carefree as a porpoise. He has a wisecrack on his lips under conditions that send his fellow pros into their meanest sulks. When he misses an important putt he often goes into a comic pantomime that brings a cheerful guffaw from the gallery. He chats endlessly with the spectators and keeps them entertained with a stockroom full of ready-made gags. Not since the late Porky Oliver was touring the country has there been a tournament golfer who is as full of fun as Sanders.

But even if he were not, it is more than likely that Sanders would attract large crowds, for if ever there was a winning golfer who reminded spectators of themselves he is the man. When he swings, Sanders looks exactly like a hacker who is trying hard to knock the ball into the next county. He addresses the ball with a wide, stiff-legged stance, and after an inordinate amount of wiggling and jiggling he takes an extremely short backswing before whaling at the ball with all the strength in his slight, 163-pound frame.

It should not be gathered, however, that there is anything frivolous about Doug Sanders' tournament play. He is an avaricious competitor, and in the last few years he has risen rapidly to the top of the tour. In 1958 he finished 23rd and earned $13,740. By the next year he was 14th in winnings, taking $20,794 away from the tour. He was 10th in 1960, winning $26,471. While he has never won the Open or the PGA, he has come close. Last year he was leading the Open at Oakland Hills with only nine holes to play, but an erratic putting streak on his part and a string of birdies by Gene Littler, the eventual winner, cost Sanders the lead. He finished runner-up to Littler, by a stroke. In the last three PGA championships, he twice was third and in 1959 finished second. Opening the 1962 season in Los Angeles a fortnight ago, Sanders finished with a 284—well ahead of Player. Unlike a number of the younger pros who make spectacular showings along the circuit but never in the big tournaments, Sanders has already shown that he is capable of playing excellent golf on the most difficult tournament courses.

Along with everything else, Sanders has the looks to fit the frolicsome Prince Hal role he plays in golf (see cover). His figure is trim and athletic on its 5-foot 10-inch frame, although his tightly tailored slacks are beginning to betray the slightest suggestion of a bulge around the waist, a tribute to the kind of good living a big winner can afford. Usually hatless and with a wooden tee tucked behind his right ear, Sanders strides briskly down the fairways looking very much like the kind of young man that girls would take a shine to, as they quite often do.

His good looks are more than amply complemented by those of his wife, the former Joan Faye of Winter Haven, Fla., who was a successful model and water skier in Miami and Cypress Gardens before the Sanderses were married in the spring of 1960. In fact, with all the good things he has going for him—appearance, wit, ability, money, a pretty wife, a lively 4-year-old son by a former marriage and Joanie's pretty 4-year-old daughter, also by a former marriage—Sanders seems to contradict the popular notion that it takes adversity to breed success.

George Douglas Sanders, as he was christened 28 years ago (the Douglas was a sop to an uncle who wanted to call him Douglas Fairbanks Junior Sanders after his favorite actor), was born in Cedartown, Ga. some 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. His father and mother were people of quite modest means with five children to raise—three boys and two girls. Doug was the second youngest. Ernest was seven years older than he, Sara six, James three. His sister Stella was six years younger. His father farmed on a small scale and also drove a truck between Cedartown and Boston for one of the New England textile mills that had migrated to Georgia. Later the elder Sanders and James, who lost a hand while fighting as a marine in the Korean conflict, operated taxicabs in Cedartown.

Doug grew up in a small house bordering the nine-hole golf course in Cedartown and, as he now likes to recall, "from the time I was seven years old I always had enough spending money." His first income was acquired by retrieving stray golf balls in the rough bordering the golf course. "Did you see a golf ball come in here, son?" a player would ask little Doug, and he would look up with his innocent blue eyes and say, "No, sir." It didn't take Sanders long to capture a bucket full of balls that he could sell to his older brother for 50�, and James would resell them to the golf pro for $3. Sanders still carries with him two important lessons learned from this experience—the value of mannerly responses and a deep respect for money.

When full-sized caddies were scarce during World War II, Doug Sanders packed golf bags around the Cedartown course at a slightly exorbitant rate, although he was little more than 10 years old and scarcely bigger than a golf bag. He and his brother figured out ways to practice and play on the course without paying the customary fees. He attributes his abbreviated golf swing to those early days of bootleg practice. "The fairways were only so wide," Sanders says, "and we had to keep the ball in the middle where we could find it and run in case somebody spotted us on the course." The training was so effective that Sanders has hit only five or six balls (he is not sure which) out of bounds during the full five years he has been playing on the pro circuit.

Future pro's pro

The golf pro at Cedartown was a young man named Maurice Hudson, who now teaches at the Northwood Club in Dallas. He took a liking to Sanders and helped polish some of the rough edges off Sanders' game and off Sanders himself. "I probably learned more from Hudson than from anyone else," Sanders says. "If he found me doing something wrong or behaving badly he would take the time to tell me what he had learned from his own mistakes. The things I learned from Maurice Hudson go way beyond just playing golf."

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