Tiger Woods’s pursuit of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record of 82 victories hasn’t received the breathless attention given the Countdown to Jack and his 18 major championships. With 78 wins, Tiger clearly has Snead in his sights, and he is likely to surpass Slammin’ Sammy well before he catches Jack, if he ever catches Jack.
Spoiler alert: Tiger already owns the all-time victory mark. At least, he should. Using modern standards of what constitutes a bona fide tournament (the event must be at least 54 holes, with a minimum of 20 players), SI Golf Group found that some of Snead’s 82 wins don’t pass the smell test. Fourteen of them, in fact, aren’t credible by today’s standards. However, SI Golf Group found six wins dismissed by Tour historians that should count.
So much for suspense. Our scorecard reads: Tiger 78, Sam 74.
How can a significant record be so wrong, you ask? Well, it’s no secret that historical record keeping has never been a priority at the Fortress of Solitude, a.k.a. Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Many records are riddled with inaccuracies. But don’t pin this all on the Tour. The problem is that there was no formal PGA Tour when Snead was piling up many of his victories, just promoters holding tournaments to attract top players so they could sell tickets and make money.
The Tour dates to the early 1930s, but when the PGA Tour split from the PGA of America in 1968, many records and documents were lost. In the late ’80s, Tour commissioner Deane Beman convened a panel of golf historians to define, once and for all, which tournaments were official.
It was a somewhat cursory effort, done so the results could be published in a coffee-table book: The History of the PGA Tour, in which Al Barkow, golf’s finest Golden Age historian, told colorful tales of the Tour’s humble beginnings.
The PGA Tour’s history was rewritten then. Victory totals were updated and revised. Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were among the players whose numbers were changed. Snead, whose official number was once as high as 88, was credited with 81 victories in the book. (Snead got win number 82 when the PGA Tour later recognized the British Open as an official victory.)
While in New York City for the book tour, Snead questioned how his victory total could be cut to 81. “Deane told me they found three more; then somebody got in there and knocked the props out from under me,” said Snead, who died in 2002. “How can one victory be official and one be unofficial when you have the same [bleeping] players every week?”
Here’s how, Sam.
SUBTRACT 1 for 18-hole tournaments. The PGA Tour doesn’t consider tournaments of fewer than 54 holes official, a decision made before Adam Scott beat Chad Campbell in a playoff at Riviera in 2005 when rain shortened the event to 36 holes. Snead won the first Bing Crosby event in 1937; it was reduced to 18 holes by rain.
SUBTRACT 5 for team victories. Titles won with partners don’t count in modern golf. Snead won five of them, including the 1939 Miami-Biltmore Four-Ball and 1940 Inverness Invitational Four-Ball, both with Ralph Guldahl. Counting a pro-am event as a win is the equivalent of recognizing the team portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am as a Tour victory.
SUBTRACT 3 for 36-hole tournaments. Snead won the Crosby again in ’38. This time it was 36 holes. An even more egregious inclusion is the 1946 World Championship of Golf. The field of four played only 36 holes. That’s like counting the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which groups each year’s major champions for a 36-hole outing, as an official event. If you recognize Snead’s victory, you have to count Tiger’s seven Grand Slam of Golf titles.
SUBTRACT 5 for Snead’s victories in the Palm Beach Round Robin. In 1938 only 15 players competed, and in the other four years the field was 16.
ADD 1 for the 1949 North & South. The North & South was considered unofficial from 1947 through ’49 because the purse was less than $5,000. But the ’49 event, at Pinehurst, had a field of 100-plus, including most of the top players.
ADD 1 for the 1952 Julius Boros Open. The money was unofficial, but 25 pros competed over 54 holes.
ADD 1 for the 1953 Greenbrier Pro-Am. Snead topped a field of 42 players.
ADD 1 for the 1958 Greenbrier. The Tour probably didn’t count this one because it was played at the same time as the Memphis Invitational, which it did rule official. But Greenbrier had a field of 57, including most of the day’s top players, such as Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Doug Sanders and Dutch Harrison.
ADD 1 for the 1959 Sam Snead Festival. It was the same old Greenbrier event with a new name and another stellar field. Snead beat 54 others, but it was played opposite the official Arlington Hotel Open, won by Gene Littler.
ADD 1 for the 1961 Sam Snead Festival. Doug Sanders won the Hot Springs Invitational, which was opposite this event. Snead won his own Festival again in a decent field of 30.
NOTE: Snead’s victories at the 1936 West Virginia Closed Pro and the 1946 Virginia Open in Long Beach, Calif., come into question, but the number of holes played and the size of the fields are unclear. Also, though he tied with three others, Snead is credited with a victory at the 1950 Crosby. A playoff was canceled because of darkness, and all four were credited with the win.