Jack Nicklaus’s quote on the cover of SAM, THE ONE AND ONLY SAM SNEAD, encapsulates the excellent job done in this biography by famed sportswriter Al Barkow. “…I think you will find that the man behind the simple swing was more complex than most of the public knew.”
In this well-researched and entertaining book, Barkow paints a picture of a complicated, gifted athlete, sussing out the subtle influences of Snead’s West Virginia backwoods upbringing and his early experiences as a “country boy” who could play golf far better than the country club set he played with and against. Snead emerges as a Shakespearean tragic character within whose greatest gift lay the seeds of his own destruction – his matchless, rhythmic swing – which, in a world so dramatically different from his own native roots, created preconceptions and expectations that anyone – even with more education and world experience -- would have struggled to overcome and meet.
Readers might sometimes wish Barkow’s chronology in the narrative were a bit smoother, but, in order to do justice to a man whose legend is almost larger than life, it had to be difficult to blend the aspects of the golf swing, the daily competitions, the historic tournaments, and the development of Snead’s character in a strictly-adhered-to timeline. For non-golfers, one or two of the detailed descriptions of tournament play might prove to be confusing, but for lovers of the game, they prove fascinating and insightful.
Al Barkow’s thorough biography of Sam Snead will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy complex characters as well as the drama of competition in the centuries-old game of golf.