A year earlier, he lost his virginity in a ditch - the start of many wild encounters with the opposite sex. Indeed, a penchant for the ladies explains why he has been divorced three times. “I wasn’t a very good husband,” he has previously admitted.
His introduction to golf came when, at the age of ten, he traded cotton picking for caddying at a local nine-hole course. It was at the same time that he discovered gambling, invariably losing the little money he earned playing chipping games with other, older golfers.
One day, however, his luck changed. From having been regularly on the wrong end of defeats in these games, suddenly, from nowhere, he finally took their money. “It was only $20 but it was the start,” he recalls.
He continued to improve as he got older, so much so that he ending up having, as he puts it, every top university golf team tracking him. He finally settled on the University of Florida, helping the ‘Gators’ to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA championship tournament - their best performance in a national championship up to that point. That was 1955.
He turned professional the following year, but not before becoming the first amateur to win the Canadian Open in the first year that the tournament was televised.
“It was a fun time,” he recalls. “But, really, it was only the beginning.”
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr - Doug Sanders played golf and partied with them all. He laughs as he recalls coming home early from a tournament one time to find ‘Sam’ sitting playing his piano. “That’s the way it was,” he recalls. “There were always people in the house.”
Sanders met ‘The Rat Pack’ in Las Vegas, where the tour used to play its Tournament of Champions event. Today, that tournament takes place every January in Hawaii but it was staged in ‘Sin City’ from its inauguration in 1953 until 1968.
For Sanders, that particular event was the highlight of his year. “I loved it,” he says. You can hear his smile in his voice as he remembers those days. “A poor Georgia kid like me getting to go play for big bucks in Las Vegas - it was a dream come true.”
Sinatra and Martin, he says, took a shine to him immediately and took him under their wing, making him an honorary member of the Rat Pack. “I don’t know what they liked about me,” he says. “Whatever it was, they enjoyed my company and I sure enjoyed theirs. I remember the first night we met. Sinatra said he was going to take me to New York the next weekend. Dean said, ‘No, Frank, I’m taking him to Chicago.’ We had a lot of great times together.”
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