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Sam Snead: Golf’s Sweetest Swing

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Sam Snead remains one of golf’s most revered and influential figures, known for his smooth, powerful swing that allowed him to dominate the sport for over four decades. With his trademark straw hat and folksy charm, “Slammin’ Sammy” tallied a record 82 PGA tour victories and 7 major championships, displaying a combination of power, accuracy and longevity unmatched before or since.

Snead’s fluid, rhythmic swing is still considered one of the best and most emulated in golf history. His distinctive setup featured flexed knees, a bowed left wrist and lifted left heel, allowing him to generate tremendous clubhead speed while maintaining balance and control. Snead unleashed this classic motion well into his late 60s, cementing his legacy through his unmatched competitiveness and age-defying skill.

In this article, we’ll explore Snead’s bio and career on the PGA Tour. We’ll look at his standout career achievements and relationship with peers such as Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. We will also take a look at the keys to his swing and his enduring influence on the game of golf. Finally, we will suggest some further reading and take a look at some instructional videos, as well as some footage of Snead in action.

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Sam Snead Bio

Sam Snead was born in 1912 in Ashwood, Virginia. From a young age, he worked as a caddy at The Homestead golf resort, developing his love for the game. By 19, he was an assistant golf pro and turned professional in 1934. His smooth, powerful swing and long drives quickly earned him the nickname “Slammin’ Sammy.”

Snead went on to have one of the longest and most successful careers in PGA Tour history. He tallied a record 82 PGA Tour wins, including 7 major championships (3 Masters, 3 PGA Championships, 1 British Open which he won at St Andrew’s). He was renowned for his consistency, recording over 300 top-10 finishes. Snead won at least one tournament in 17 consecutive years and became the oldest player to win a PGA event at age 52. Though he never won the U.S. Open, he finished second four times.

In addition to his wins record, Snead holds several other distinctions. He was the first player to shoot a 59 in competition and became the first to win a single tournament (the Greater Greensboro Open) 8 times. Snead was also a Ryder Cup stalwart, making 10 teams and serving as captain 4 times. He won numerous awards over his career and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

Snead continued playing golf into his late 60s and teaching into his 80s, cementing his status as a legend. With his folksy charm, signature straw hat and unmatched longevity, Snead remains one of the most popular and iconic figures in golf history. His powerful, fluid swing is still regarded as one of the best and most emulated swings in the sport.

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American Triumvirate

Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson dominated professional golf in the 1940s and early 1950s. The three were cordial competitors who had immense respect for each other’s games, though they did not have an especially close personal relationship off the course. The context of their relationships was documented in James Dodson’s “American Triumvirate”.

On the course, Snead, Hogan and Nelson were fierce rivals who constantly tried to one-up each other at tournaments. They traded victories in big events like the Masters and PGA Championship during this era. Snead and Hogan had several legendary head-to-head battles at Augusta National. While they wanted to beat each other badly, they also recognized that competing against such incredibly talented players made them better. Nelson noted that the one thing he, Hogan and Snead shared was the burning desire to defeat an opponent. Hogan once stated that if Snead had his (Hogan’s) mind, nobody could beat him.

Off the course, they were cordial but not close friends. Hogan in particular was very private and aloof towards his fellow pros. Nelson and Hogan grew up together but rarely socialized outside of golf. Snead was closer to Nelson, and was a pallbearer at Hogan’s funeral per the family’s wishes. While they were not best friends, Snead, Hogan and Nelson shared a bond in being the three preeminent golfers of their generation. Their collective talent and competitive drive lifted the game of golf to new heights in the years surrounding World War II.

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The Snead Golf Swing

Sam Snead had one of the smoothest, most rhythmic golf swings in the history of the game. His swing was almost effortless, yet generated tremendous power that allowed him to be one of the longest hitters of his era.

The key elements of Snead’s swing included his light grip, excellent tempo and rhythm, full shoulder turn, and powerful release through impact. Snead gripped the club very lightly, especially with his right hand, which helped him feel smooth and “oily” throughout the swing. His tempo was unhurried yet athletic, almost like he was swinging in time to a waltz. Snead coiled into a massive shoulder turn on the backswing, loading his body with power. Then he would fire his hips hard on the downswing, releasing the club with incredible speed through impact. His swing stayed on plane beautifully, never getting too steep or coming over the top. The combination of rhythm, flexibility, and explosive power is what made his ball-striking so pure.

In addition to the swing itself, Snead had a pre-shot routine of cocking his chin to his right shoulder that many great players like Jack Nicklaus later copied. His free-flowing style and artistic ball-striking made generations of golfers try to copy his moves. While equipment and fitness have changed, Snead’s swing remains one of the classic golf motions of all time.

Snead Golf Swing

The “Snead Squat”

The “Snead Squat” refers to a specific knee and hip movement that Snead utilized in his downswing. As he transitioned from the top of his backswing into his downswing, he would squat down by flexing both knees while maintaining spine angle. This sitting motion allowed Snead to build power from the ground up, engaging his legs and core to unleash tremendous speed through impact.

The key to performing the Snead Squat correctly is to avoid sliding the hips laterally or swaying off the ball on the downswing. Snead maintained centered balance over his feet while dropping down into the squat. His upper body turned hard against his braced lower body, creating a powerful rotational sequence. When done properly, the Snead Squat allows golfers to harness ground reaction forces and unwind the body for maximum clubhead speed. The move requires precise timing, flexibility, and leg strength to perform in a way that enhances – rather than harms – the golf swing.

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“Sam Snead” Drill

In the late 90s, legendary instructor Jim McLean spent 3 days interviewing and taping Sam Snead and getting his thoughts on his golf swing. The video was called “A Swing for a Lifetime.” I remember purchasing it from the Golf Channel when it came out and marvelling at the tempo of Snead’s swing and what seemed like effortless power. That video is not online but I found it on Amazon if you are so inclined.

McLean relays a quick lesson he did with Snead during the shoot, where he asked him to make a short backswing with his 7 iron, stopping when his hands reached hip level. Snead then asked him “how would you go about hitting the ball 150 yards from this position?” So this is the drill that McLean calls the “Sam Snead” drill – he executes this with a heavy club, but it’s not required. I have seen players like John Rahm associated with this drill as well, so who knows what the origin is.

The benefit of this drill is simple – it is learning how to utilize your body and the ground to generate power – not your hands in a “hitting motion.” This drill works best with a “swinging” motion on the downswing with passive hands.

To perform the drill:

  • Take your normal setup with a short iron
  • Make a short backswing, stopping once the club is parallel to the target on the backswing, or hands reach hip height
  • Use your body to swing the club to a full followthrough and generate power without using a “hitting” motion consciously
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Further Reading

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American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf
by James Dodson

Summary: “American Triumverate” chronicles how golf legends Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan rescued the struggling sport of golf from irrelevance during the Great Depression era with their spectacular play and rivalry. Their transformative impact elevated golf into a popular spectator sport, setting viewership and sponsorship records while modernizing how the game was played with their power and precision.

James Dodson argues their outsized talent and work ethic overcame difficult childhoods to make them transcendent star athletes who carried golf to new heights in the public consciousness, paving the way for future icons like Palmer, Nicklaus, & Woods. Skillfully weaving biography with social history, Dodson captures how the “American Triumvirate” of Snead, Nelson and Hogan revolutionized golf as a modern sport through their compelling personal narratives. Critics praised the book as “populated by giants, roaming the country in search of greatness” in bringing this pivotal sports history alive.

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The Game I Love
by Sam Snead

Summary: In The Game I Love, Snead mixes expert advice on golf with unforgettable anecdotes. Acclaimed for his personality as much as for his professionalism, Snead shares stories and advice from his long career, offering insight into his play style and perspective on the sport. Mixing anecdotes about fellow golf legends, politicians, and celebrities with swing tips and commentary on the modern game, Snead comes across as likable and candid about both his many wins and painful losses.

Lauded as much for his vibrant personality as for his skill and professionalism, the record-holding winner of over 180 tournaments aims to pass down strategies shaped through decades of experience to fans and players. Though known partly for repeatedly falling short at the U.S. Open, Snead imparts wisdom so that readers can find success on the greens.

Videos

Shell’s WWoG – Hogan vs Snead
Snead Squat Drill
Snead Instructional Video 80s
Sam Snead Drill
George Gankas on Snead’s Swing
Snead Swing Analysis
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