Editor’s note: This story, which originally published on Oct. 20, is another installment in our annual Best Of The Year series. Throughout December, we will be bringing you the top GGP+ stories of 2022.
Doug Sanders may be most remembered for his colorful attire, randy personality, and the 3-foot par putt that he missed on the final hole of the Old Course, which led to a loss of the 1970 Open Championship to Jack Nicklaus. But Sanders also won 20 times on the PGA Tour and was runner-up in four majors.
St Andrews wasn’t Sanders’ only brain cramp, though. Four years earlier, carelessness cost him what likely would have been another victory.
By 1966, Sanders had established himself as one of the best and most identifiable pros. His unusual short backswing weekend hackers could identify with. His wardrobe was awash in pastel from which he easily stood out from the standard white shirts and navy-blue slacks. “I always loved photographing him because he was colorful,” recalls Walter Iooss Jr., best known for his work at Sports Illustrated. “Nobody dressed like him in the history of any sport. Maybe Walt Frazier of the Knicks. Plus, he was handsome.”
In early March 1966, as the PGA Tour arrived in Pensacola for the start of the Florida swing, no golfer on the planet was hotter than Sanders. A month earlier, he beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff at the Bob Hope Desert Classic, and he had three other top-10 finishes in California and Arizona on the winter circuit.
Because most of golf’s marquee names, including Palmer, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Tony Lema, were bypassing the Pensacola Open, the sponsoring Pensacola Sports Association was happy to have Sanders, the defending champion, in the field. On Thursday, Sanders opened with a 63 on the short layout (6,380 yards) at Pensacola Country Club to take a two-stroke lead over Gay Brewer. On Friday, a thunderstorm hit, and the second round was washed out.
“I was surrounded by newspaper reporters and people wanting my autograph. I didn’t think I should brush them off. If I can be this nice to these people, it seems that under the circumstances a little courtesy and understanding could be shown to me.” – Doug Sanders
When play resumed on Saturday, it was downright chilly, with temperatures topping out in the low 50s. As a result, scores were higher than in the first round. Nevertheless, Sanders again shot the lowest round of the day, a 67. His 130 total was four shots clear of Brewer, who followed his first-round 65 with a 69, and six ahead of young Tom Weiskopf. For 36 holes, Sanders had amassed 15 birdies against one bogey. He was poised to win the 16th tournament of his career (in Pensacola for the third time) and possibly challenge the PGA Tour’s 72-hole scoring record.
Sanders played the back nine first on Saturday. The ninth green was some distance from the clubhouse. Thus, after Sanders finished his round, Doc Giffin, who was soon to leave his position as tour press secretary to take a position as Arnold Palmer’s chief scribe and confidant, picked up Sanders in a golf cart and drove to the clubhouse where the press facility was located.
While Sanders was regaling the press about his round, a voice was heard over the intercom. “Where’s Sanders?” It was PGA tournament supervisor Jack Tuthill. “He’s right here,” replied Giffin. “Well, I’ve got some bad news for him,” said Tuthill. Sanders left the press room and met with Tuthill in a clubhouse hallway. “You didn’t sign your card,” Tuthill solemnly informed. “You’re out of the tournament.”
“What difference does it make if it hasn’t been posted yet?” Sanders asked incredulously. Tuthill pulled out the United States Golf Association Rule Book and read Rule 38. “It says the competitor shall check his score for each hole, settle any doubtful points with the committee, ensure that the marker has signed the card himself and return it to the committee as soon as possible.”
“Why can’t I sign it now?” Sanders queried.
“It says in the rule, ‘as soon as possible,’ ” Tuthill rejoined.
“It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of,” Sanders said bitterly when he returned to the press room. Sanders complained that he was victimized by being a nice guy. “I was surrounded by newspaper reporters and people wanting my autograph,” he said. “I didn’t think I should brush them off. If I can be this nice to these people, it seems that under the circumstances a little courtesy and understanding could be shown to me.”
According to Giffin, Sanders blamed the fiasco on him. “Doug was a little hot. He said I pulled him away from the ninth green, and that’s why he failed to sign his card,” Giffin recalled in a recent interview. “I didn’t pull him away. I was sitting there waiting for him and he came and got into the cart. I told him I was there and wanted to take him into the press room for an interview, but I didn’t feel like I pulled him away.”
The sponsoring Pensacola Sports Association was not happy to have its main drawing card lost for the final two rounds. “It created quite an uproar in the area because Doug was very popular in that part of the country,” Giffin says. “He was from (Cedartown) Georgia. So, a lot of fans got really hot about it. That night, we had to hastily put out a press release explaining the reason why he was disqualified.”
The terse statement issued by the tour also may have given Sanders reason to be upset: “Over the past few years, players have been recalled by our officials from such areas as the locker room and putting greens to have the cards signed. The obligation under the rule rests with the competitor and, henceforth, the officials will not search out a competitor for non-compliance.”
In other words, although the tour had made exceptions in the past, they were not going to do it for Sanders, who may not have been as well-liked by the tour brass as he was by fans. Eighteen months later, Sanders would be disqualified at the Carling World Open in Toronto for verbally abusing official Steve Shabala after an unfavorable ruling regarding a drop.
“That’s just one of the cardinal rules, but if you get distracted it can happen. The people in the scorer’s tent are supposed to make sure the players sign their cards, but what on God’s earth was he thinking of?” – Frank Beard
Joseph Dey, then executive director of the USGA, observed at the time that Rule 36, Section 5 stated, “A penalty of disqualification, however, may, in exceptional individual cases, be waived or modified.” However, Dey also opined that from what he knew of the matter the rule would not afford Sanders relief.
“I was there,” Frank Beard recalls. He missed the cut at Pensacola by one stroke. “That’s just one of the cardinal rules, but if you get distracted it can happen. The people in the scorer’s tent are supposed to make sure the players sign their cards, but what on God’s earth was he thinking of?”
Beard added the same result would have happened if Palmer or Nicklaus had forgotten to sign his card.
Would it happen in 2022? The answer is, yes. “The rule you’re referring to stands today,” Tracey Veal of the PGA Tour wrote in an email.
“There is a ‘designated scoring area’ – could be a building, a tent, a trailer – and once the player is to have deemed left the scoring area, he would be disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard.”
In a sport where the players police themselves, for the most part, it makes perfect sense that the matter of attesting to a score be done immediately after the round, before the players leave the course and move on to other things, so that discrepancies can be addressed and corrected while the round is still fresh in their minds.
Naturally, players are primarily concerned with their own score, not that of their fellow competitors. This was dramatically demonstrated at the 1968 Masters, when Tommy Aaron wrote on his scorecard that playing competitor Roberto De Vicenzo had a par 4 on the 17th hole instead of the birdie he actually made. Because De Vicenzo did not catch the error before signing the card, Bob Goalby got a green jacket and De Vicenzo a silver medal as runner-up instead of a playoff. In fact, earlier in the final round, Goalby had incorrectly given playing competitor Raymond Floyd a par on the 16th hole instead of the bogey Floyd actually made. Floyd corrected the error at the scorer’s table.
“Doug and I got along great after that,” Giffin says. “No longstanding ill will at all.”
Sanders died in 2020 at age 86.
The primary beneficiary of Sanders’ brain cramp was Brewer, who won the 1966 Pensacola Open and $10,000, a sum that, two days earlier, seemed destined to go into Sanders’ pocket. However, Sanders quickly got over his shocking disappointment, winning in Jacksonville and Greensboro in the next month.
There is another reason the Sanders incident is worth noting. Not since that Saturday in 1966 has a player leading a PGA Tour event been disqualified for forgetting to sign a scorecard.
Never say never, but 56 years is a pretty good run.
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