“The Peacock of the Fairways,” Doug Sanders will always be remembered on the PGA Tour for his head-to-foot trend-setting, colorful, and coordinated attire. In fact, Esquire magazine recognized his sartorial splendor and named him one of America’s “Ten Best-Dressed Jocks” in 1973.
From 1957 through the mid-70’s, The Peacock, now 80, strutted those fairways and putted those greens, winning a total of 20 tournaments, which places him as the 32nd winningest player on the Tour. Also to be remembered is that exceptionally short and flat golf swing that could have fit inside a telephone booth but always produced accurate drives and laser-like irons.
The Peacock on the course was only one major part of Sanders’ 24/7 flamboyance. His predilection for drinking, partying, carousing, chasing women, and hobnobbing with celebrities and movie stars—such as Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Evel Knievel, Gene Kelly, Bob Hope, Willie Nelson, Ed McMahon, and presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford—added another fascinating facet to his memorable attributes.
Doug Sanders had it made.
Ultimately, however, everyone remembers that one putt—of no more than 30 inches—at St. Andrews on the 72nd hole in July, 1970, that Sanders did not make. His miscue allowed Jack Nicklaus to back into the next day playoff that Nicklaus won along with The Open championship. Sanders has become philosophical about the moment, but he is still haunted by the slice of immortality and the millions of dollars that slipped below the hole on that fateful day.
Although he recorded 13 top-10 finishes in majors with three more seconds, Sanders retired without winning one of the big ones.
Still, Sanders knows and is grateful that golf, with his self-made swing, was his escape from the abject poverty of his Depression upbringing in the dirt-poor farming area of Cedartown, Georgia. Trading in his cotton-picking youth for a golf scholarship at the University of Florida—“Where I did everything but study.”—Sanders, in his one year there, led the Gators to an SEC championship and then won the 1956 Canadian Open as an amateur. The game was then officially on.
Now it’s time for The Peacock to preen!
NEGM: What motivated you to become “The Peacock”?
DS: Because I grew up in the backwoods of Georgia in an impoverished family, all my clothes were hand-me-downs. I bought my first new shoes when I was 12, and as I paraded down the street in Cedartown, I was thinking, “Everyone’s looking at me and my new shoes.” I loved that feeling. Then I loved the feeling of wearing new pants with a razor-like crease in them. Finally, I just loved the idea of wearing an entire matching ensemble that made me look great and feel great. Yes, clothes make the man!
On Tour, the pros were always asking two questions at the end of the day: “What did Arnie shoot? What did Doug wear?” The players would have contests to guess what colors I’d be wearing on the weekend. I really enjoyed planning my wardrobe to get the colors just right. I really enjoyed the attention I received because of it. I still do.
NEGM: Which pros were the most fun to play with and hang out with?
DS: In no special order, here are the names that immediately come to mind—but I had so many friends on Tour, it’s tough to single out just a few: Arnold, Chi Chi, Lee, Jimmy Demaret, Porky Oliver, Dutch Harrison, Al Besselink. We would all travel together and share so much time together, going to tournaments, at them, then leaving for the next stop. Today so many of the pros go their own ways. There’s not the camaraderie or the friendship of the old days. Different world now.
NEGM: What made Arnold Palmer so special?
DS: I wish today’s players would be more like the guys I just mentioned in the way that we treated the fans. Arnold, especially, would take the time to sign autographs, talk to his Army, and thank them for their support of the tournament. Arnold was just a great guy to be around.
NEGM: What else about “the old days” and the current Tour?
DS: In my heyday the Tour didn’t have the purses like today, so we didn’t really place a premium on the money. We really placed it on our friendships—and by that system, I was a very wealthy man. (But I will add that I supplemented my winnings with all sorts of gambling, on and off the course. Really, I had to.) Unfortunately, today, I believe, the Tour seems to be all about dollars and cents. A real shame.
NEGM: What was one of your most humorous moments that you will always remember?
DS: OK, here’s one I can relate without worry of censorship. One year at the Bing Crosby Clambake, the weather and the wind were so cold that I sent my caddie to get me some thermal underwear. He told me none was available so I said to get me some panty hose, the biggest he could find. He did, and I was almost warm. I was paired with Andy Williams, who froze that day. I told him my secret. The next day, just as cold, I see Andy walking to the tee with great difficulty. His panty hose was too small and too tight. He could barely move. Everyone but Andy thought it was hilarious.
NEGM: Who were the three best players in your prime? On Tour now?
DS: These three—Arnold, Gary, and Jack—had the most indomitable desire to win. It was so hard to beat them. They were three of the best guys I have ever teed it up with and then spent time with afterwards. I already told you about Arnold. And Laddie, why he wants to live to be the oldest golfer in the world. What an incredible competitor! Jack, well, simply the best clutch player I ever saw. He rarely, rarely ever beat himself with a bad shot or a missed putt.
Tiger, Phil, and Rory.
NEGM: Do you think Tiger will surpass Jack’s 18 majors? How important is this milestone for Tiger?
DS: I do not! Of course, it’s crucial if Tiger wants to replace Jack as the best golfer ever, but I just don’t think he can. His game has deteriorated from the day when he was invulnerable; his body, with age, has deteriorated appreciably, too; his mindset and focus just aren’t what they once were. Also, across the board, there are just so many really good players who can win those majors on any given Sunday.
NEGM: What do you remember about Ben Hogan and your 1967 Ryder Cup experience?
DS: Yeah, Ben Hogan had that indomitable desire to win, too. He and I were friendly but not friends, and he was at the end of his career when I was in my prime. He only had one purpose as captain of that Ryder Cup team: to win big. At the opening dinner at Champions GC, Houston, Hogan introduced us individually by name only and then said, ““Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Ryder Cup Team—the finest golfers in the world.”
Then he sat down, having made his point. Each day before my round he asked me, “Doug, you will win today, won’t you?” I would dutifully reply, “Yes, Captain!” We did win, too, by the most lopsided score in Ryder Cup history: 23.5-8.5.
NEGM: Who would be in your all-time Dream Foursome.
DS: Mmmm. I’m dreaming. Got it. Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, Leigh, are we talking about a foursome or about golf?
NEGM: What’s keeping you busy these days?
DS: First of all, waking up each morning to thank God that I have awakened! I do a lot of corporate and charity golf outings, which I greatly enjoy. I also do some motivational speaking.
I had a lot of fun writing my first book 130 Ways To Make A Bet, based, naturally, on personal experience and proven profits, and I am putting the finishing touches on my second one, with the working title of Doug Sanders: The Peacock of the Fairways, an autobiographical account of my life after the 1970 Open.
Finally, I keep adding to my collection of golf memorabilia, creating a museum really, that I want to leave behind for the general public. From the past decades, I have mementos and equipment and accessories and souvenirs and autographs not only from the greatest golfers and the most famous tournaments but also from Hall of Fame athletes, celebrities, presidents, astronauts, and movie stars. I want to keep the history alive for others that has made such an impact on my own life.
NEGM: You’ve been active with charitable organizations, too.
DS: Yes, for a number of years, I ran one of the most popular Senior Tour stops in Houston, the Doug Sanders Celebrity Golf Classic. Innumerable charities profited from the event, and it was so successful that President George H. W. Bush played in it two years while in the White House. VP Dan Quayle joined him the second time. In 1995, I had both President Bush and President Ford play. I supported their charities with significant donations, too.
Now, my number one priority is junior golf and the Doug Sanders International Junior Golf Championship. It began back in 1978. I bring together the best players, boys and girls 18 and under, from six continents for an annual competition. I want to give back to the game, and this event is a good way to do just that. Notable participants have included Daniel Chopra, Andrew Coltart, Steve Elkington, Fredrik Jacobson, Stephen Keppler, Andrew Magee, Billy Mayfair, and Adam Scott. This year’s tournament will be in Houston in September.
NEGM: In retrospect, you’ve had a good life?
DS: Oh, yes, I have been blessed. You know, I was always motivated. Something inside me always seemed to be driving me to get things accomplished. I pretty much always did what I wanted to do. Not always good decisions, mind you, but what I wanted to do. Along with my good friend Frank Sinatra, we were two guys who pretty much lived our lives just like his hit song, “My Way.”
NEGM: Almost 44 years later, do you still reflect on the missed 30 inch putt?
DS: I certainly don’t want to think about it or what that miss cost me, but I guess I’ll always be famous for missing it, and it has been an integral part of my life story. Usually, I can go at least five minutes or more without it even crossing my mind!WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?