With seven Grand Slam titles each, they share seventh place in the rankings of major championship winners. They are American Sam Snead and Australian Karrie Webb...
He won more tournaments than any other golfer in the history of the US PGA Tour, 82, and he was still competing at the top well after turning 50. At 67, he became the oldest player to make the second round cut of a PGA tournament, the Westchester Classic in 1979. Thanks to a formidable physique, he was one of the most competitive veterans on Tour even after his 60th birthday.
Born in Hot Springs (Virginia), Sam Snead died in Fall Hills (New Jersey) on 23rd May 2002 from heart problems, just four days short of his 90th birthday. His death came the same week as the Memorial Tournament, dedicated by the PGA as a tribute to the legends of golf.
He began playing golf during the Great Depression, encouraged by his father, who gave him a club he himself had chiselled from a branch.
Known as “Slammin’ Sam”, or simply ”Slammer”, because of his long driving, Snead won 135 times throughout the world, including seven Grand Slams: three US Masters at Augusta (1949, 1952 and 1954 – the latter in a memorable 18-hole play-off against Ben Hogan); three US PGA Championships (1942, 1949 and 1951); and one British Open (1946). All that eluded him was the US Open – he was second four times.
He won 27 times on the Tour before securing his first major. In 1950, he won 11 PGA events, becoming the first player to top 10 in a single season. In his first season on the Tour, 1937, he had won five tournaments, three fewer than in his second season.
Blessed with what the experts describe as a “sweet swing”, Snead won the same tournament more times than anyone else: eight victories in the Greater Greensboro Open, the final one also being his last victory, in 1965, aged 52 years, 10 months and eight days – making him the oldest golf winner in the world.
At 62, he finished third in the US PGA Championship (1974), and five years later carded rounds of 67-66 in the Quad Cities Open. He also won six tournaments on the PGA Seniors Tour and five World Seniors Championships. In 1983, aged 71, he carded a 60 at his home club, The Homestead.
He was named to the World Hall of Fame in 1974; won the Harry Vardon Trophy for best player of the year four times; finished top of the money list on three occasions; played in 10 Ryder Cups; and captained the Americans three times.
His exquisite swing was a model for all golfers. Another golfing great, Jack Nicklaus, described his swing as “the most fluid and elegant movement ever seen on a golf course”.
One of Snead’s favourite phrases was: “Take care of your accounts, stay away from whisky, and never concede a putt.” And another: “If a lot of people gripped a knife and fork the way the do a golf club they’d starve to death.” And: “Thinking instead of acting is the number one golf disease.”
From 1984 to 2002, Snead hit the honorary drive that opened each edition of the US Masters at Augusta. Until 2001 he shared the honour with Byron Nelson and until 1999 with Gene Sarazen.
After a successful amateur career, 19-year-old Karrie Webb turned professional in 1994. The following year she joined the Ladies European Tour, and immediately triumphed almost without a learning curve. She was young, confident and fearless. The following year, still only 20, she won the Weetabix Women’s British Open (before it gained major championship status) and, inevitably, was named LET Rookie of the Year.
That same season she competed in the qualifying tournament to obtain a US LPGA Tour card, and her legend grew when she defied a broken wrist to finish second and earn her playing privileges. Then, in just her second tournament as a LPGA member, she won the 1996 HealthSouth Inaugural. “She was a name you heard about before she became a force on Tour,” said two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Meg Mallon, “and she didn’t disappoint.”
Webb grew up in the small town of Ayr in Queensland and still maintains a residence there. She started playing golf at the age of eight, and earned her first golf trophy in her first-ever golf tournament. “It was the first time I ever played 18 holes,” she recalled. “It was over two days and I shot 150 and then 135, and I won the Encouragement Award.” Little did she know that she had finished in last place. “I didn’t find that out until I got a little older.”
Webb got all the encouragement she needed from her coach, Kelvin Haller, a quadriplegic, unable to use his hands or legs, the result of a workplace accident in 1993. “I knew she was good,” he said, “but I didn’t really have any idea. None of us did. It’s a small town. When Karrie played in that first British Open, and –bang! – she won it, I guess we all started to catch on.”
Haller still lives and coaches in Ayr and, as he has some slight movement in his right arm, he is able to communicate with Webb via the internet. Webb frequently emails Haller a video of her current swing. He then analyses it on his computer against her previous swings and, if he thinks she needs any instruction, will either telephone or email her. Once a year, when Webb returns to Ayr at Christmas, they get a chance to work together in person.
And what a swing it is. Webb is a throwback to another era, able to manoeuvre the ball, and hit high-arcing long irons that land soft and spin, usually on the green. “She’s one of the best ball strikers ever to come out on our tour,” said Mallon. “I love watching her play golf because she’s the complete package.”
Webb has become Australia’s most successful female player. She dominated the LPGA Tour in 1999 and 2000, winning the Player of the Year award in consecutive years. She played like she expected to win every time she teed it up and she nearly did. She won six tournaments and finished in the top-10 22 times in 1999, and captured seven more titles the following year. “For those two years,” said another LPGA legend, Juli Inkster, “when she was in the field, everyone felt like they were playing for second place.”
In 2001, Webb won two more majors. She was the only player to finish under par at the U.S. Women’s Open, successfully defending her title and earning enough points for the Hall of Fame. In a career marked by one accomplishment after another, that was arguably her greatest achievement. She was only 25 and had to wait another five years before officially becoming eligible for induction: i.e. until she had played 10 LPGA events in each of 10 seasons. “It took me forever to get in,” said Inkster. “I feel like the turtle and Karrie is the hare.”
“It’s hard to fathom,” added Beth Daniel. “When the LPGA changed the qualifying criteria (in 1999), they made it so the players who dominated their era would be recognised and Karrie’s been dominant.”
With her two-stroke victory at the 2001 McDonald’s LPGA Championship, Webb became one of six women (joining fellow Hall of Fame members Inkster, Pat Bradley, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs and Annika Sorenstam) to achieve the LPGA Career Grand Slam, as well as the youngest ever (at 26). In 2002, she won the Weetabix Women’s British Open (by then designated a major) for her sixth major championship victory and became the first player in LPGA history to achieve the “Super Slam,” which is winning all five majors available in her career.
Now 44, she continues to play on the LPGA Tour, although her results are nowhere near those she achieved in her heyday. Her last wins on the circuit date to 2014: the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open and JCTB Founders Cup.
In 2019, until August, she had played in eight tournaments, had not made the cut in half of them, and her best result was 27th. Fortunately, she doesn’t need prizemoney from competition play to be able to make ends meet, especially if she has managed effectively the money she earned during her career on the LPG Tour: just over $20 million, in addition to what surely has been a great deal more secured through brand endorsements.