On July 5, 1946, Sam Snead won the first post-war Open Championship with a 72-hole total of 290. Second to Snead with scores of 294 were American Johnny Bulla and South African Bobby Locke.
Snead was so far out in front of the field as he played the last few holes on the Old Course of St. Andrews that when he stood on the eighteenth tee someone said he could play his putter all the way to the green and still win.
1946: Sam Snead Wins the 1st Open Held After WWII at The Old Course of St. Andrews
In a cool and perfectly played finish, an estimated of 12,000 people attended the final round. A great crowd of some 3,000 people cheered him as Snead holed out in four for a 75, which was his highest score of the championships’ three days.
No champion since has recorded a higher final round but it was plenty good enough for “Slamming Sam” as he was known in the PGA Tour.
The Glasgow Herald’s correspondent wrote:
“He is a very complete golfer with a truly American precision and power in every shot of the game.”
It was the first time Sam played at Saint Andrew’s. He was told that he would not like the Old Course at first, but that it would grow on him. “That is about right,” he said. “It was a lot of character and it has been different every time I’ve played it.”
In a perfect weather day, Locke had seven greens of only one putt and led the field after an opening 69 (34–35).
Australian Norman Von Nida was sharing second place with Henry Cotton one stroke behind, which suggested a change in the balance of power since the pre-war era, when British golfers won their own Open for six years in succession against all “invasion” attempts.
Cotton took over the led with a second round of 70. Snead was one behind after scores of 71 and 70, while Dai Rees, the Welsh Wizard, produced a superb and record score of 67 in the second round to trail by two.
It was a windy final day and Snead had a 74 in the third round to share the lead with Rees and Bulla.
Sam’s opening drive of the last round finished only about a foot from the fence which marks the out-of-bounds area, and the hole cost him a 5.
He took 40 strokes in the first nine. But his last round had no need to be a masterpiece by then.
At the turn, the wind was blowing out scores by the challengers who were playing in front of him.
Cotton took a 79 for the closing round and ended on the eighteenth by missing a short putt of about two feet. When he walked off the last green in the late afternoon, he sat down on the steps leading up to the clubhouse and put his head tween his hands in disappointment.
Everything seemed liable to happen, and everyone liable to have a chance left. Rees, who shared the lead at 215 with Snead and Bulla with Cotton only one stroke behind, took 42 strokes to reach the turn, starting with a heartbreaking 7 in the first hole, and finished with a disastrous 80.
At the Road Hole (the 17th) he hit such a magnificent second shot, drawing in along the length of the dangerous narrow green, that he nearly holed out in two.
This birdie 3 gave him a last chance to tie for second place with birdie on the eighteenth. But his long putt for birdie did not go in.
The Order of Complaints
Sam’s chief complaints about the 75th Open claim that leaving New York, an engine fire sprang in his aircraft on take-off and stopped on the runway with smoke pouring into the cabin.
He could not get a suitable hotel room in postwar London and spent a “miserable night” cursing his bad luck on a bench waiting for a morning train to Edinburgh.
The city was still in bad shape from the war. He saw people sleeping in the street. He then got half drunk on drinking quite strong tea.
When looking at the Old Course for the first time he thought it looked “like the sort of real state you could not give away.” After this remark, he was insulted by the British reporters.
The London Times stressed the rudeness of a “rural American type,” with no historical sense of the Royal and Ancient game, who “would think the Leaning Tower of Pisa a structure about to totter and crash at his feet.”
The Old Course was thus a site for thinking about some of the most basic strategic issues and theories in the story of the game, the swing, and early golf in Scotland.
The purse of $600 did not cover his traveling expenses which were over $1,000. He hit consistently very straight and very long but all his “hitting” muscles were frozen in the icy wind at St. Andrews.
His caddies were a “bunch of bums.” After he gave two caddies back to the caddie masters, he got “Scotty” who was guaranteed to be St. Andrews’s best. But he was left to figure out the course for himself when Scotty went to jail for drunkenness the night before the Open began.
Finally, he thought that any time “you leave the U.S.A. you are just camping out.
There was no absolute, uniform way of preparing the greens and the strangeness of double-sized greens at St. Andrews did not help him to relax, which he consider an important feature for successful putting, but when he dropped a “good putt” for birdie on the tenth, he was in control of his game again.
He produced a fine run home in 35 with a bogey at the sixteenth, at which point he heard what he had to do to win.
After 13 years, Snead won the trophy back for America. The last American to win the title was Denny Shute in 1933. He had only once before played the Open, finishing ninth when Henry Cotton won at Carnoustie in 1937.