“Mis-hit!” exclaimed Henry Longhurst, commentating for the BBC. “There but for the grace of God.” Sanders tapped in for bogey and came back the next day for an 18-hole play-off with Jack Nicklaus. The ‘Golden Bear’ shot a 72. Sanders fared one worse. It was the second of Nicklaus’ three Open victories and the eighth of his 18 major wins. For Sanders, it was the closest of the close calls that dogged his career.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it,” he admits. “I’ve thought about it most days ever since. But look, I had a good career. I won twenty times on the PGA Tour. Only four guys in the last forty years have won more than that.” Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III, in case you’re wondering.
He continues: “My life might have been a lot different if I’d made that putt. I might have made $200m more. I could have designed golf courses or got other endorsement deals. I could have been a very rich man. But listen. I’m rich in other ways. I’ve got lots of incredible memories and I’ve lived a blessed life. A very, very blessed life.
“Do I regret not making that putt? Sure I do. But that’s not what’s important to me. What’s important is that I can walk into my bathroom in the morning, look at the mirror on the wall, point at the guy staring back and be able to say, ‘Hey - I like you’. That’s what’s important. As long as you’ve got that, you’re a rich man.”
George Douglas Sanders was born on July 24, 1933, in Cedertown, a small city in north-west Georgia. Like so many families at the time, his suffered through the Great Depression, the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in western history.
Doug’s father, Luke, walked ten miles to and from the cotton fields every day, making a mere 50 cents for a day of back-breaking work. At the age of seven, Doug joined him.
With little money coming in, the family had next-to-no food and zero medical care. Compounding matters, Sanders’ brother Ernest was blinded at the age of four from playing with a dynamite blasting cap, which also took his fingertips off. .
“We were so poor, we all wore hand-me-down clothes,” explains Sanders. “I didn’t have my own pair of shoes until I was 12.”