By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Doug Sanders is angry. Well, actually, Doug Sanders is furious. The legendary professional golfer, a man who has been part of Houston's celebrity scene for decades, a well-known schmoozer with anyone who might be considered part of the high and mighty, a man known for the care he takes with his personal and public image, a man, in short, whose whole persona is built on being in control -- this man is losing it. The veins in his neck are bulging. His head is twitching so hard that he has to clamp his teeth on his shirt collar just to keep still.
"There was no fraud out there!" Sanders explodes. His ire is directed at a television set. A taped image of Wayne Dolcefino, reporter for Channel 13/ KTRK, has been talking about how the Doug Sanders Kingwood Celebrity Classic, a golf tournament that for 14 years brought stars from Hollywood, politics and business to Houston in order to raise money for various charities, in fact raised money primarily for Doug Sanders. The allegations, which were originally aired in February, didn't exactly lead to a media feeding frenzy. Actually, most of the Houston media let the charges slide. But Dolcefino's pursuit was enough. It started a few rocks moving, and that has led to an avalanche that Sanders fears may have buried him and his career. Now he's trying to dig his way out and get back on top again.
"The reason I'm doing this interview is to get rid of the sack of crap that I'm carrying around," Sanders says, his head continuing to twitch. In the bedroom of his Memorial-area home, behind a closed door that obscures his emotions from a visiting grandchild, the once-proud 62-year-old Sanders is nearing a breakdown. He winces when Dolcefino alleges that "Sanders" -- not charity -- "was the biggest money winner."
Sanders gazes out of a bedroom window. As a heavy May downpour drenches the atrium that he wants to convert into a Doug Sanders memorabilia museum, the allegations continue: that Sanders did not pay his staff's salaries; that he failed to honor his contract; that his scholarship program was in truth responsible for very few scholarships; that "printing errors" falsely represented, by over $100,000, the actual amount his Classic donated to charity; that his celebrity "friends" were being put up at fancy local hotels, free of charge.
As the TV issues charges that the $240,000 salary Sanders took for running his golf tournament was inappropriate, the tears pour down his face. "I'm burning my ass up, using up the best years of my life," he says. "I should have been paid." Sanders is now clutching his neck. Since Dolcefino's report aired, he can't keep his head still. It's a sad irony for a man regarded in golf circles as "The Peacock," who as a player was best known for his zesty wardrobe, his legions of female followers, and for missing a 30-inch putt that cost him the 1970 British Open.
But because he can no longer keep his head still and down, Sanders' truncated swing has lost all its suppleness. He is currently ranked last in money earnings on the Senior PGA Tour. And because of the cloud of controversy that now surrounds his tournament, Sanders has been forced to step down as director, and his name will be removed from the tournament banner.
"I was stuck one time for $280,000 out of my own pocket," he says. "I never got one quarter. Not one fucking quarter. I paid all my expenses for all those years. And pardon me for being angry. I am fucking angry." Sanders clutches his throat with one hand, his chest with the other. His ruddy complexion has turned a violent shade of purple. But he refuses to quit for the day.
"I didn't want to get up a lot of the times and go to Australia or Singapore or Europe. But dammit, I owed something back. And it was my turn to pay back. How in the hell could I look in the mirror at night?" Sanders' face is now lobster-red, but still he refuses to stop. He's hoping for the penultimate frustration blowout, after which he'll finally be able to let all his anger out and move on in life.
"Every time I got on airplanes, every time I went someplace," he continues, "I was selling a spot to the pro-am. This [expose] was wrong. This was making Doug Sanders look like a damned person that lies, and I did not do that. You'll never know in your life what this has done to me."
Sanders finally asks that we stop. He throws himself upon his king-sized bed, where he lies still, clutching his neck and his heart. His gaze shifts from the expose that's on pause in the VCR ,to his grandson's empty crib, to the soggy atrium.
He shuts his eyes to his pain.
Life hasn't always been this way for Doug Sanders. In fact, it's rarely been this way. Most Houstonians know Sanders as the chipper hanger-on to the stars who, since 1981, has welcomed celebrities to his tournament at the Deerwood Club in Kingwood.