Miller Barber: He gave us all hope
We have been so busy here at your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this week, I totally missed this news: Miller Barber, the most unconventional of all accomplished golfers I have watched, died Tuesday at the age of 82.
In Barber’s New York Times obituary, his golf swing was described as “unorthodox.”
That’s like saying Marilyn Monroe’s physique was “curvy.”
When Barber was in his prime, I was a teen-aged golfer making more bogeys than pars. But on Sunday afternoon, when I tuned in to watch Barber, usually in contention with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, he gave me hope. If a swing like his could win on the PGA Tour, then surely there was hope for me.
He was golf’s Everyman. Barber was pudgy, bordering on fat. He wore thick glasses. His back swing had at least three pieces. He took the club back on outside the normal plane. His right elbow flew out far from his body, just the opposite of how all golfers are taught to keep it fairly tucked. His swing looped at the top in what looked to be a crazy contortion. And, at the very top, his club was straight up in the air, far from parallel to the ground. All in all, his back swing was about as smooth as half-eaten cob or corn.
You know how Jim Furyk loops his backswing at the top? Furyk’s swing is textbook, compared to Barber’s.
I remember an interview with Barber after one of his victories — or maybe it was on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf — when he was asked about his unusual swing. Hid exact wording escapes me, but I do remember Barber saying it doesn’t matter how one takes the club back, it’s how ones brings the clubhead through the ball and finishes.
His back swing might have appeared unwieldy, but he did it the same way every time. And, somehow or another, the clubhead was almost always perfectly square when it made contact with the golf ball. What’s more, he was an excellent chipper and putter. And he competed. He thrived on pressure, or so it seemed.
In 1969, he had Top 10 finishes in all four Majors. Amazingly, Barber seemed to get better as he aged. He remains one of the great senior players ever. He won three Senior Opens, still utilizing that three-piece backswing.
He was a southerner, born in Shreveport and raised in east Texas. He played collegiately at Arkansas. He was said to be popular among his former pros. He had a huge fan following, as well. Again, I think that’s because he gave us all hope.
For most of us, it was false hope, but it was hope nonetheless.