By George Sweda
Until the 1979 Masters, Ed Sneed usually was referred to as either Sam Snead’s son, nephew, or cousin (despite the different spellings of their last names), or “that other golfer from Ohio State”—the other “other” being Jack Nicklaus, of course, but also could have been Tom Weiskopf, Jerry McGee, or John Cook, all of whom were in the field at Augusta that year, as well.
However, the moment that Masters was over, everyone knew who Sneed was.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Sneed bogeyed the last three holes to set up the first sudden-death playoff in Masters history which he lost on the second hole (No. 11) when Fuzzy Zoeller—playing in his first Masters—sank an eight-foot putt for birdie. Nearly forgotten is the fact that Tom Watson was also in the playoff and Nicklaus—who had not won the Masters since 1975—missed making it a foursome by bogeying his 71st hole. (Ironically, the green jacket lent to Zoeller for the ceremony came from Nicklaus’s locker.)
As another Ohio State alum and the golf writer for the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer, I had a vested interest in all things Nicklaus; the abundance of Buckeyes in the field made it even better. Another OSU grad and former player on the women’s golf team was in the picture, too, one Nancy Popa, whose father, Nick, was a former reporter and in ’79 the executive director of both the Columbus District and Ohio golf associations: By that weekend in April, Nancy was Ed’s wife of nine years and mother of his two young daughters.
Hard as it may be to believe now, Sneed actually did have some good luck during the tournament. In Friday’s second round, partnered with Zoeller, he was able to finish before a rainstorm halted play.
Paired with Craig Stadler on the final day—Watson and Zoeller were the twosome ahead—Sneed struggled, missing the greens of both par threes with his tee shots, bogeying both holes, and recording a two-over 38 for the front nine. Gusting winds may have contributed to his problems both early and late: Afterward, he said pulling the right club was difficult.
His back nine started with a missed five-footer for par on 10. He did birdie the two par fives, 13 and 15, laying up on both, and managed to save par at 14. But the good putting that had served Sneed so well in the first three rounds seemed to disappear: He three-putted both 16—missing a six-footer for par—and 17, where he missed a four-footer. He said later that the one shot he would liked to have had over was the wedge approach to 17, which he expected to stop 25 feet from the cup but instead kicked into the right fringe.
Two images stand out most from that final round: Sneed, bent at the waist, staring down somewhat incredulously after his six-foot par putt stopped on the left lip on the final regulation hole; then, a few minutes later, Zoeller jumping for joy when his winning putt found the cup.
Later that day, Sneed said, “I thought I could still par the 18th and I thought I made the par putt.”
A year later, he told me, “I didn’t underestimate the situation. I just didn’t win.”
George Sweda covered the Masters 32 times before his retirement in 2008.