I’ve often wondered what on earth could motivate anyone to own 359 pairs of very colorful shoes? Perhaps growing up in that time period where a lot of families were fighting poverty just coming out of the Great Depression was one reason.
The man who built that massive collection of shoes was Doug Sanders who, as a very successful and colorful professional golfer, won twenty times on the Tour but had to live 50 years with one loss so painful it could make a grown man cry.
Sanders was born in 1934 in Georgia when money was tight. Both his parents picked cotton for a living and on a good day would earn a dollar. That obviously left no money for anything other than the necessities and it wasn’t until Sanders was eight years old that he got his very own pair of new shoes.
As a young boy, Sanders was also forced to pick cotton to help his parents survive. Lucky for him though, near his hometown of Cedartown, Georgia, was a golf course where he would go find lost golf balls that he could sell for a nickel apiece. The members of the club enjoyed the hustling Sanders and he quickly picked up the game. As he grew up, he became so proficient he was good enough to play for the University of Florida.
In the summer of 1956, a friend encouraged Sanders to go to Canada to play in the Canadian Amateur Championship but he played poorly that week. The following week was the Canadian Open which had a much stronger field as most were professionals. Sanders just said, “What the heck.” He decided to enter it and amazingly went on to win. Sanders is still the only amateur to have won the Canadian Open.
Sanders was a fashion plate on the course sometimes wearing every color in the rainbow all on the same day. His love of colorful attire earned Sanders the nickname of the “Peacock of the Fairway” and he did his best to live up to it.
Sanders was a wonderful putter. So much so that when Sam Snead was asked who he would choose to make an important putt, he pointed to Sanders. But in 1970 Sanders received a gut-wrenching blow when he missed that now-famous 30-inch putt to win the Open Championship at the home of golf, St. Andrews Links. What is truly amazing is that the pain that Sanders had felt over the years after that loss has been felt by everyone that has ever played this humbling game. The difference being that in Sander’s case an Open Championship title was at stake.
Be honest now, I’m sure every golfer out there knows what that kind of miss feels like. As it turned out, that Sunday in 1970 at the Open Championship, the missed putt on the 72nd hole put him into a playoff with Jack Nicklaus which he then lost by a single stroke.
Even though he came to be known as a legend who took adversity on the chin, many years later I asked Sanders if he still thinks about that missed putt. His reply, “Heck no, Bob. Sometimes five minutes go by without me giving it a thought.” And, he meant it.
Besides his colorful outfits and matching shoes, Sanders had a very unusual swing with a backswing so short that many said he could swing while standing in a phone booth.
Long after Sanders hung up his spikes, he still dressed to the nines. I remember standing on the range chatting with two-time major winner Jackie Burke, who won the 1956 Masters and the 1956 PGA Championship. We spotted Sanders some twenty feet away when he turned and asked me if I knew what Doug did with his old clothes? I replied that I had no idea, and Burke, with a big smile on his face, said: “He wears them.”
Sanders was a true gem and certainly a one-of-a-kind personality besides being a wonderfully talented player. His 20 wins are the exact number of PGA Tour victories that Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw, and Ernie Els have each recorded.
On April 12, the Peacock of the Fairway, Doug Sanders passed away, leaving some big shoes to fill — in fact, 359 pairs.