It all seemed so unreal. Here was Carlyle Snead, a golfing no-name a couple of months ago, telling Uncle Sam Snead, who has won 131 tournaments during his career, that he should putt with locked wrists instead of loose wrists. It was almost like Volkswagen telling General Motors how to make Cadillacs.
Carlyle was Sam's putting-coach-in-residence last week during the Greater Greensboro Open, a tournament a lot of people call the Sam Snead Festival because Uncle Sam has won it eight times. One of Sam's friends always gives him a bungalow to use during Greensboro week, and this year Sam invited his nephew to move in with him.
"Sam's hoping some of J.C.'s luck will rub off," the golf pros joked.
J.C.? Carlyle was known as J.C. Snead until he won at Tucson and Doral earlier this season. "Officially I'm Jesse Carlyle Snead," Carlyle said, "but I prefer to be called just Carlyle. I'd been waiting for the right time to drop the J.C. and go with Carlyle, and after winning two tournaments in three weeks I figured I could manage to switch over without too much of a hassle. Now I may change back to J.C. again. Heck, J.C. Snead won two tournaments this year—Carlyle Snead hasn't won any."
Most nights Sam took his putter back to the bungalow with him. "Sam's got the shakes now," said Jesse James Snead, who is Sam's brother and Carlyle's father. "His left hand shakes like crazy when he tries to putt. He's getting old, you know."
Right after dinner Sam would drop some golf balls onto the carpet and putt at a leg of the table in the corner. First he would take the conventional putting stance—using his normal wristy stroke. Miss. Miss. Miss. Then he would try his croquetlike side straddle. Miss. Miss. Miss.
"Carlyle would just watch as Sam missed that table leg all the time," Jesse James Snead said. "Then he'd mention to Sam something about locking his wrists. That's how Carlyle putts, with locked wrists, and he's a great putter. So Sam would try it himself. Bang. Bang. Bang. He'd hit that leg dead-center nine times out of 10."
Carlyle laughed. "That's right," he said. "But you know Sam. He's so stubborn that out there on the course he won't even try to putt with his wrists locked. He just doesn't think it's right—or something. But I think he would solve all his troubles if he locked his wrists. His left hand couldn't shake so much, and that's really his whole problem. Maybe he'll try it someday."
Sam reached almost every green in regulation at Greensboro but putted badly for three days. "If I had a hot putter," he said after his two-under-par 69 on Saturday, "I'd be leading by 10 or 11 shots. I missed seven or eight putts—all for birdies—inside six feet."