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Sammy's still on the run

At 49, Sam Snead, winner in the Canada Cup, may be playing the best golf of his life

Winning or losing, Sam Snead makes golf news, but seldom has he made as much good golf news as he did last week at the ninth annual Canada Cup Matches in Puerto Rico. He shot an astonishing 16-under-par 272 to win the individual International Trophy by eight shots and continue his fine streak that began with a victory in the Las Vegas Tournament of Champions in May and carried through his own Sam Snead Festival two weeks later.

At 49, Snead is playing such a beautiful brand of golf that he seems almost godlike on the golf course. His swing is smooth and relaxed, his putting is firm. Even his stride is brisk and undismayed. This was the 110th tournament title of his career and many of those who watched him drive and putt and chip at the Dorado Beach course were convinced that he was playing the best golf of his life.

"I guess I'm playing as well as I ever have," Snead told a reporter after the tournament, "but I'm not nearly as long, maybe 20 yards shorter off the tee. But I'm keeping the ball in play much better than I ever have before."

This was hardly an overstatement. Snead shot 67-67-70-68 on a course that is abundantly trapped and, though lakes are a nagging danger on nine of its holes, he hit only one ball into the water. His performance dominated what is supposed to be a team championship and forced into the background two courageous performers who deserve plenty of notice themselves. One of these is a sprightly, 31-year-old professional named Ben Arda, who bounced in from the Philippines to shoot 69-69-72-76 and finish fifth in the individual standings. The other was the 51-year-old Jimmy Demaret, who joined the American team as an emergency replacement for Arnold Palmer. After a four-week layoff and with only one practice round behind him, Demaret shot a 288 to help the U.S. twosome win the team trophy by 12 strokes over Australia.

The confusion and unpleasantness that surrounded the tournament two weeks before it started and led to the unfortunate withdrawal of Palmer, Gary Player and Stan Leonard of Canada is still very much on the minds of the people planning future Canada Cup Matches. As everyone knows by now, the three golfers were forced to drop out of this year's Matches by a stubborn, last-minute refusal on the part of the sponsors of the Memphis Open, who insisted on the appearance of all three in Tennessee, and a stubborn, last-minute threat by The Professional Golfers' Association to fine them $500 apiece and suspend them from the U.S. pro tour for six months if they did play in Puerto Rico. Hopefully, this kind of loose coordination is a thing of the past.

"We haven't set the dates for next year's tournament in Argentina," said Frank Pace Jr., president of General Dynamics Corporation and president of the International Golf Association, which administers the Canada Cup. "We've only said it will be in the fall. When this one is over we're going to sit down with the PGA and work out a more specific date. This we're willing to do. What we are not willing to do under any circumstances is let them name the U.S. team. We'll listen to any suggestions they may have, but we have to control the selection of the players or we might just as well call the whole thing off."

Best of all

Actually, more engrossing than the hassle and almost as impressive as Sam Snead was the tournament's lustrous setting. Certainly none of the players is likely to come across anything like the Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club for quite a while. The players, at no expense to themselves, were cradled in beachfront apartments that would cost ordinary visitors $30 to $42 in the off season. It was a tribute either to the stern patriotism of the 66-man field or to the singleminded determination of golfers that each entrant showed up at the first tee every day. "We've agreed," announced Celestino Tugot, speaking for the Philippines team, "that if we all become millionaires we'll come and stay here."

A severe dry spell had scorched the area for a month before the tournament began, but the course had been doused with half a million gallons of water a day, and its Bermuda fairways and greens were in superb condition for the Canada Cup. The course is located just behind the hotel area, swinging up to the sea at the 4th and 18th holes, and its fairways are flanked by towering coconut palms and bushy grapefruit trees. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, it winds around three ponds and a windswept lagoon some 600 yards long. Dorado Beach officials seem to take pleasure in announcing that 2,800 golf balls "shimmer" at the bottom of this lagoon, and that this total represents only a quarter of the balls that have found a watery grave on the course since it was opened for business in December 1958. Besides the water, the 7,115-yard course has some 130 sand traps and the Caribbean wind. These elements combine to make Dorado Beach's par 72 a difficult figure to match.

Despite the beauty of the setting, in one respect it was unfortunate that the tournament was held at Dorado Beach. Golf in Puerto Rico is somewhat less popular than cockfighting and the inaccessibility of Dorado Beach kept the galleries to a polite 300 or 400 a day until the last two rounds. One player reported he had a bigger crowd watching him swim than he had on the golf course.

Small and intent

The main purpose of the tournament was served, however, and the fine showing of the Philippines team was typical of the kind of international response this event is designed to create. Arda, who is a Cebu Islander with dark skin, pitch-black hair and a little pot belly that protrudes like a melon, weighs only 124 pounds but he was the best golfer, ounce for ounce, in the field. Now a professional at the Manila Golf Club, Arda spends most of his time working in the golf shop at his course and giving lessons. He practices only rarely and gets to play in perhaps two or three tournaments at the most in a year. In his practice rounds at Dorado Beach he produced a couple of scores in the 80s, but shot a 69 the day before play began and a 69 in the first round. Despite a cable from home saying that his wife (the mother of the five Arda children) was gravely ill with a heart attack—this later turned out to be a cruel and inexplicable fake—he shot another 69 on the second day and a par 72 on the third. The remarkable series of rounds tied him for second place with the jaunty and resourceful Australian, Peter Thomson, six shots behind Snead. Meanwhile, Arda's 45-year-old teammate, Tugot, who devotes most of his spare time away from his course in Mindanao to the running of his 200-head cattle ranch, had shot 76-74-76 to put the Philippines team in third place in the team standings. In seven previous Canada Cup attempts the Philippines entry had never finished better than a tie for 10th. Cables of encouragement and congratulations from home poured in daily. People all over the world, in fact, could understand now that even in the Philippines it is possible to produce a world-class golfer.

On the final day Arda, perhaps rattled by the fact he and Tugot were paired with Snead and Demaret and obviously still worried about his wife, fell to a 76, but Tugot scored a 73, his best round of the tournament, and the Philippines finished fifth in the over-all team standing. Their combined total of 585 placed them ahead of such renowned golfing countries as Wales, South Africa, Argentina, Scotland, Japan and England.

Demaret, who was delighted and surprised by his own fine play, had considerable praise for Arda and Tugot. "Those boys are two wonderful players," he said, "and they've got an awful lot of desire." They have, of course, but it is going to be many years before people forget Demaret's own determination.

Snead sat in the locker room after his final round, drinking an ice-cold bottle of beer and mapping out his immediate schedule, which included 36 holes of practice in Detroit the following day to prepare for a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifying round the day after. Who did he think was the better golfer, Snead was asked, the Snead of today or the young Snead of 20 years ago?

"This Snead here," he replied, grinning broadly and gulping the last of his drink. He may be right, too.