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Doug Sanders, ‘the Peacock of the Fairways,’ dies at 86

April 13, 2020

Doug Sanders’ fashion was stylishly bright. “The Peacock of the Fairways” mixed every hue among his shirts, pants and shoes. Fellow professional golfer Tommy Bolt, the Associated Press reported, once said of Sanders, “The man looks like a jukebox with feet.”

Sanders’ near-misses were excruciatingly bright. Four times a major championship runner-up, the most painful coming in the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Needing a 30-inch putt on the 18th hole to win, Sanders missed, and he lost in a playoff the next day to Jack Nicklaus.

His demeanor throughout it all, especially in defeat, was admirably bright, maybe the brightest characteristic of Sanders, who died Sunday in Houston at 86.

“But they still ask me if I ever think about that putt I missed to win the 1970 Open at St. Andrews,” he recalled to the Associated Press years later. “I tell them sometimes it doesn’t cross my mind for a full five minutes.”

Born on July 24, 1933, in Cedartown, Ga., Sanders taught himself the game, played collegiately at the University of Florida and joined the PGA Tour in 1957. He won 20 times, his best season coming in 1961, when he was a five-time winner. Sanders was also a runner-up 20 times, including at the 1959 PGA Championship, the 1961 U.S. Open and the 1966 Open Championship.

Doug Sanders, right, and Jack Nicklaus after the playoff at the 1970 Open Championship.
Doug Sanders, right, and Jack Nicklaus after the playoff at the 1970 Open Championship.
Getty Images

And the ’70 Open, where he was less than 3 feet away from a breakthrough.

He needed a par on the 18th and knocked his approach on the par-4 to within about 35 feet. His birdie putt stopped about 3 feet from the hole. Sanders, the New York Times reported, had told the Associated Press that he stopped midway through the par putt to examine what he thought was a pebble near his ball, but it turned out to be a patch of rough grass. He thought perhaps that hesitation cost him.

Sanders made the bogey, then lost to Nicklaus by a stroke the next day in the playoff.

“I feel very sick about the British Open,” Sanders told the Sporting News after the loss to Nicklaus, according to the PGA Tour. “Not so much for myself, but for my wife and my son. I’ll tell you something, I never got so many letters and wires than after the British Open. They came from people who said they felt so bad to see me miss winning. Many of them weren’t even signed, just ending with ‘A fan.’”

His fashion also earned him a few admirers.

Sanders, the New York Times reported, owned dozens of slacks and sweaters, and the PGA Tour said he had as many 359 pairs of golf and dress shoes, many colored to match his clothes. In 1973, the PGA Tour said, he was named by Esquire magazine as one of America’s “Ten Best Dressed Jocks.”

All of it, he said, was for the fans.

“I figure the gallery gets as nervous as we do sometimes, and we ought to try to help them enjoy themselves,” he once told Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, reported. “Some guys just don’t have it in them to get laughs. But they shouldn’t resent the rest of us putting on a good show. That’s what we’re out there for, isn’t it?”

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