Saddle Up

Outlawing Sam Snead’s croquet approach to putting birthed the sidesaddle putter

Dave Pelz, Peter Kostis and Gary McCord all endorsed it. K.J. Choi briefly put it into play. Of course Bryson DeChambeau is all over it. But Sam Snead remains professional golf’s only successful sidesaddle putter. 

If you ever need to feel better about your flatstick, consider Slammin’ Sammy. The man who racked up 82 wins—the PGA Tour’s all-time leader—was still grinding on his putting stroke well into his 50s. This eternal struggle led to one of the game’s most unique putting stances, along with one of its strangest rules explanations. 

During the second round of the 1966 PGA Championship at Firestone, Snead, then 53 years old, double-hit a 2-foot putt. Frustration and desperation led him to change his putting style in the middle of the round. As Billy Farrell, Snead’s playing partner, told author Al Barkow, “On the very next hole, it’s Sam’s turn to putt and this time he straddles the ball; he goes croquet style.” It seemed crazy, but it worked. He tied for sixth.

Croquet was the way for Snead. He won the 1967 Senior PGA Championship by nine strokes at the PGA National Golf Club. He tied for 10th place in the 1967 Masters. He was on a roll.

Then golf’s governing bodies stepped in. 

That summer, the USGA and the R&A met just before the Walker Cup in England to discuss the matter and decided to outlaw croquet putting by proposing a rules change, effective Jan. 1, 1968. Rule 16-1e states that “on the putting green a player shall not make a stroke from astride, or with either foot touching the line of the putt, or an extension of that line behind the ball.” 

Joseph C. Dey, the executive director of the USGA, said, “We made the decision with great reluctance, but we felt it was the only way to eliminate the unconventional styles that have developed in putting. It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer.”

Undaunted, Snead told friends he could get around the ruling and still putt “his way.” 

Snead putted sidesaddle for the rest of his competitive days and it served him well. He won five more Senior events. In the 1974 PGA Championship at Tanglewood, the 62-year-old Snead famously fired a 68 in the final round to finish tied for third, just three back of Lee Trevino.

Despite Snead’s success, the sidesaddle remains seldom used. Even after the USGA and R&A banned anchored putting in 2013, there was no mass movement to the side-saddle as an alternative. 

Experts like McCord still believe. “What makes it so great?” McCord wrote in a 2010 

Golf Digest piece. “The simplicity: You move only your right arm (for righties), like you’re rolling a ball to the target, with your eyes looking directly at the hole (not from the side, like in traditional putting). You can even look at the hole when you putt.”

With the seemingly endless stream of putting aids on practice greens today, you would think more players would give the old sidesaddle a try. 

They don’t have to look far for inspiration: Snead’s sidesaddle putter is on display just around the corner from his bronze bust in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Sam Sneads Putter
Snead tinkered with his game and equipment late into his career. His side-saddle putter is on display here, and in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of the World Golf Hall of Fame