One made you want to laugh. The other made you want to cry. When the U.S. Senior Open boiled down to Sunday's head-to-head match between Orville Moody and Frank Beard—Falstaff and Hamlet, if you didn't bring your Cliffs Notes—the crowds lining the fairways of the Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., had to choose between the satisfying chortle and the cleansing sob.
The round and lumpy Moody, whose very presence in a fairway gives it the look of an unmade bed, proved that championship golf can still be played with a carefree shrug, especially if you've got a four-foot, yip-curing putter. Beard, a burnout case who was the PGA Tour's leading money winner in 1969 before sliding out of competition in 1981 and into a slough of despond, demonstrated how excruciating tournament golf can be for a thoughtful player trying to regain confidence.
"We grow out of pain, I guess," Beard said on Sunday when it was over. The relaxed smile on his face left plenty of room for interpretation, but there was no mistaking Moody's satisfaction at his two-stroke victory. In winning, the Sarge became the fourth player to triumph in both the Senior Open and the U.S. Open. In fact, his 1969 Open championship was the single victory of his PGA Tour career.
"It was so discouraging," Moody said, recalling his luckless regular Tour days.
Before Moody and Beard seized the stage, this year's Senior Open gave one an opportunity to dwell on the feats of Arnold Palmer, whose emotional pallette has always had more colors than that of either of the contenders, or of anyone else in golf, for that matter. Palmer flooded the valleys of his boyhood with nostalgia all week, just as record June rains had soaked the Laurel Valley fairways. Playing only minutes from his home in Latrobe and on a course he helped redesign, Palmer graciously endured a week of fetes and tributes in his honor, including a premature birthday bash—he turns 60 on Sept. 10—hosted by Bob Hope. The U.S. Post Office even got in a few licks, putting Palmer's mug on a special cachet titled The Legend.
The adulation may have unsettled Palmer, who said, "The pressure on me here is far greater than anywhere I play. It seems like I know everyone, whether they're from Bolivar or Derry or Hostetter or Whitney or Bradenville."
On Thursday morning Arnie led his local irregulars into battle, but five holes and three bogeys into the round the Army had little to roar about. Fighting his irons and fiddling with his grip, Palmer barely made the 36-hole cut and exploded to an 82 on Saturday. He finished with a 77 on Sunday, 24 over par for 72 holes.
Thursday belonged neither to Palmer nor to Gary Player, the two-time defending champ who opened with a 72, but to a three-handicap amateur from Phoenix who was playing with flea-market clubs. J. Frank Boydston, whose 69 led most of the day, until Al Geiberger slid a late-afternoon 68 under the door, was almost apologetic about his round. "I'm pretty much a frustrated player with dreams of grandeur," said Boydston, the 53-year-old owner of two Phoenix-area Chuckbox hamburger joints. "I just hope nobody pinches me and wakes me up."
The amiable Mitty, er, Boydston happily answered questions about his restaurants ("Nothing fancy—beer in mason jars"), his aging clubs ("It takes me a while to select one, 'cause I can't read the numbers on 'em") and his playing strengths ("My biggest asset is that when I miss the ball, it usually goes fairly straight"). Boydston shot a white-knuckle 76 on Friday but still easily made the cut, thereby delaying his return to the hamburger grill. After scores of 78 and 82 in the final two rounds, he would finish tied for 39th.
On Saturday, the usually consistent Geiberger jumped out to a three-stroke lead at seven under, only to crash back to par by day's end. Don Bies made a similar feint, shooting 66 on Friday but giving back six strokes in the last 10 holes on Saturday. By day's end, Laurel Valley's slick, humped-up greens and the requisite USGA rough had tamed all but Moody and Beard, who took command on the back side.