By Tony Jimenez
ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - He ran with the Rat Pack, he befriended U.S. presidents and big-name celebrities but Doug Sanders will forever be remembered as the man who missed THAT putt in the 1970 British Open at St Andrews.
The American had suffered a string of major championship near misses when he walked on to the 72nd green at the Home of Golf needing to sink a three-foot putt to defeat the great Jack Nicklaus.
Sanders, agonizingly, failed to convert and went on to lose out to Nicklaus in a playoff the following day.
"I thought in my mind that I had already won it but you shouldn't really do that," Sanders told Reuters in an interview as he paced up and down the driving range at golf's oldest major.
"I walked up to my ball, looked down at the line and saw what I thought was a pebble. I bent over to get it but it wasn't a pebble, it was just where the sun had burned the grass.
"All the fans on the other side of the green started to laugh. They had a good laugh and when I missed I got to have a good cry and lost a couple of million dollars on top of it," said the 81-year-old resident of Houston, Texas.
"But I can't complain about the life I've had and the people I've met, the friendships I've made."
Sanders has always had a penchant for brightly colored clothes and is as easy as ever to spot on the range, sporting a sky blue and lemon cardigan, bright yellow trousers and sky blue shoes.
Despite his 1970 calamity, he said he always loved returning to the Old Course at St Andrews.
"It reminds me of home and it's just a great holiday for me," said Sanders. "The people are nice and pleasant, they always talk to me and the golf course is absolutely unbelievable.
"I'm enjoying life right now. When you reach my age it's just a pleasure to be around. I've got so many great friends and I always measure wealth by friendships not by dollars.
"I ran with the Rat Pack all my life, with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis junior, with Clint Eastwood, Jack Benny, Bob Hope. We were all friends not just for a day, we had lasting friendships, we went out and partied," added Sanders.
"I've also known a string of U.S. presidents and I think I've flown in more fighter planes than any civilian in the world."
Sanders never managed to win a major and cannot resist another look back at the way golf administered a hammer blow to his solar plexus 45 years ago.
"That was probably the most expensive putt that'll ever be missed," he said. "I'd already missed out on the U.S. Open by a stroke, the British Open by a stroke, the U.S. PGA Championship by a stroke earlier in my career.
"One year I should have won the U.S. Masters. I won 20 regular tournaments and was in five playoffs and lost five playoffs.
"But the guy who was second in this year's Masters made more money in one tournament than I made in my lifetime. I think I made $743,000 in my career on the regular tour," said Sanders.
"I think about that putt so much it's unbelievable but I'm not complaining about anything. Life's been good to me and I've been blessed."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)