SI Vault
Alfred Wright
August 07, 1961
Foul weather and worse tempers marred pro golf's biggest championship, but a trio of remarkable last-round putts and a steady hand in the playoff carried the day for Jerry Barber
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August 07, 1961

Rain, Strain And A Win

Foul weather and worse tempers marred pro golf's biggest championship, but a trio of remarkable last-round putts and a steady hand in the playoff carried the day for Jerry Barber

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Doughty must certainly be the word for Jerry Barber, the new Professional Golfers' Association champion. Twice in two days last weekend, the Californian worked his way from behind to overcome the lead of Don January, the young man from Dallas who came within a whisker of winning.

Barber gained his victory in an 18-hole, Monday afternoon playoff after the two golfers had tied on Sunday with 3-under-par scores of 277 for the regulation 72 holes. On midafternoon of Monday, Barber stood on the tee of the short 14th hole trailing January by a stroke. He proceeded to birdie the 14th with a 2 and the 15th with a 3 to take the lead, each time with marvelous long putts. January pulled even again at the 16th with a fine birdie putt of his own, and so it went until each parked his ball in facing bunkers bordering the 18th fairway, 180 yards from the green. Barber now hit the decisive shot that won him the tournament—a three-iron to within 18 feet of the flagstick. Two putts, and his ball was in the cup. January missed his uphill 10-footer for a tie and the 90 holes of sweat and strain in the worst kind of July heat had at last paid off for the wiry little pro from the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles.

When Barber and January started playing what was supposed to be their final 36 .holes of the tournament on Sunday morning, they stood two strokes apart. Barber, with the only two consecutive sub-par rounds—a 69 on Thursday and a 67 on Saturday—was four under par at 136. January was tied with Doug Sanders at 138, thanks to a spectacular 66 on Saturday, just one stroke shy of Lawson Little's 21-year-old competitive course record at Olympia Fields. Nearest to them were Art Wall Jr. at 139, the defending champion Jay Hebert, Ted Kroll and Ernie Vossler, all tied at an even par 140.

Until this point the 1961 PGA championship might more aptly have been called the Snakebit Open. Just about everything had gone wrong that might have. The players had been complaining from the start about the overthick fairways that had the depth of a carpet in a courtesan's boudoir. The entire day's play on Friday had been washed off the books when a light morning drizzle suddenly swelled into a dense, two-hour deluge that dumped more than an inch of rain on the course before it let up in mid-afternoon. Tommy Bolt, who can no more move without controversy than an automobile can travel without gas, had quit the tournament just before the Friday rain-out following a string of bogeys (he claimed "muscle spasms" in his back) and then had been reinstated because Friday didn't count. At the 12th hole on Sunday's first round, he sent word to the clubhouse that unless an osteopath appeared at the 13th (which he later bogeyed) he would quit. This was short notice and no osteopath materialized. Bolt stalked to the clubhouse and swore at several club members. For the nonce, anyway, he has ended his truce with his temper and, sadly, his association with the PGA, which, for his language, suspended him indefinitely.

But Bolt's squall was not the only one on Sunday morning. At 7:40, a shorter storm that nevertheless could have given aces and spades to the most violent Bolt tantrum, tore at the golf course and poured nearly another inch of water on it. it was in this setting, some two hours later, that Barber and January began their morning round together with only meager galleries following them. Remembering how Barber in 1959 had led and lost this same championship in the final few holes, and how January finished three strokes behind the winner in 1960, skeptics in large numbers were already looking for the eventual winner among some of the other close contenders. That, however, was a mistake. January shot a brilliant morning round of 67 to go five under par for the 54 holes, and Barber's very respectable 71 left him only two strokes astern at 207. The nearest to them as the final 18 holes began in the afternoon were young Wes Ellis Jr. and aging Ted Kroll—each three strokes behind Barber at an even-par 210.

The golf that followed for the next five hours and more between two such opposite personalities as Barber and January won't be soon forgotten by the thousands who slipped and slithered through the mud in pursuit. January, as thin as a frontiersman from his native Texas, is a 6-foot Southwesterner who seldom opens his mouth except to stick a cigarette between his teeth. He strikes the golf ball with a graceful, languid motion and glides along the fairway in a somnambulant gait, usually with the beak of his scarlet cap pulled tightly over his hawklike features.

Barber, at 45, is 14 years older than January and as chipper as a hummingbird. Only 5 feet 5 and weighing but 137, he is one of the smallest men ever to reach true stature on the golfing tour. He expresses himself well and glibly, giving an acerbic edge to many of his remarks.

The fourth round

Throughout their first nine holes, January seemed completely self-possessed. He had a birdie 4 on the first hole and followed it with eight conventionally executed pars. Barber, meanwhile, was scrambling to keep up, holing out a 50-yard approach shot on the 3rd hole for his par, bogeying the 5th and finishing with four straight 3s to hold January's margin down to the original two strokes.

On the 10th hole, Barber topped his drive into a creek just a few yards in front of the tee—like any Sunday duffer. He ended with a double-bogey 6, and as January continued to click off the pars when he needed them, and the four-stroke difference seemed insurmountable and the outcome only a matter of time.

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