HOWARD WARD: Doug Sanders Lived Life in Living Color
Doug Sanders made charisma a catch word on the PGA Tour during the 1960s and '70s.
If your day needed brightening, follow Doug Sanders for a few holes. His wardrobes ranged from bright to brighter. His clothes weren't loud. They screamed.
From pink to purple to green to bright red. And the outfits weren't just thrown together. Everything matched, from the shoes and socks to the pants and shirts. Even the underwear, he reveals.
The "Peacock of the Fairway," as Sanders was nicknamed, spent about as much time planning his colorful wardrobes as working on his golf game.
"I would buy a pair of pants, then go downtown shopping for things to match them," Sanders said. "I would find a shirt, shoes and socks, and put them all together. Finally I reached a deal where I'd order a pair of pants and the company would just throw everything else into the same dye so they'd come out perfectly matched.
"I used to practice in one color, then change clothes before I played. The people loved it. Guys used to make bets about what color I would wear each day."
But not all was fun and games and making people smile. Sanders, whose golf swing was so compact that people used to joke that he could make a full swing in a phone booth, suffered from a serious neck ailment that curtailed his career and kept him off the Senior Tour.
"I had torticollis, where my head tilted one way and my chin went the other," he said. "I couldn't hit a golf ball without biting the collar of my shirt to keep my head in place. The pain was terrible, like an intense cramp that never goes away.
"The operation lasted seven and a half hours, and I was in a coma for 10 days and lost 40 pounds. But if you have that desire to get out and do something, you can do it. I don't want to just exist. I want to live."
Sanders' last of 20 PGA Tour wins came at the Kemper Open in Charlotte in 1972. As he was preparing to accept the trophy near the 18th green, he received a telephone call. It was President Nixon, offering congratulations. Nixon's wife, Pat, also spoke to him.
"Thanks," Sanders said to the first lady, "even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in awhile."
Sanders' personality made him a favorite of everyone from kids to presidents to movie stars.
"I have the most incredible collection of memorabilia in my house that you can imagine," Sanders said. "I could fill a museum or a sports bar with it, and it would be one of the biggest draws in the world. I have 165 letters from various presidents, all framed. And you wouldn't believe all the stuff I have that was given me by celebrities."
Sanders has lived the good life, but it didn't start out that way. He was born in Cedartown, Ga., where, he said in a Golf Digest interview, "My dad walked five miles to work for 50 cents a day.
"There wasn't enough to eat. No doctors. Lice in our hair. Ratty hand-me-down clothes. So many people in the Depression had it like that. Everybody just floated through it, waiting for the nightmare to end."
Sanders, sitting on the patio at the Country Club of North Carolina clubhouse after participating in the eighth annual Buck Adams Memorial Pro-Am last week, ignored the open bar and sipped on a diet cola.
In the Golf Digest interview, he said, "I quit drinking because it started going to my head more than it used to and it was too hard on my body. Drinking is a young man's vice."
Sanders, 73, enjoyed a brilliant career on the PGA Tour, winning 20 events but failing to win a major championship.
He came closest in the 1970 British Open, missing a heart-breaking 30-inch putt on the 72nd hole and losing a playoff the next day to Jack Nicklaus.
"I won 20 tournaments, finished second 21 times, third 13 times and finished from third to 10th 154 times," he said with a wry smile. "And my total winnings were $774,000."
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