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Twice in the last seven weeks a nearsighted young man named Frank Beard, wearing glasses and the old-fashioned white visor of a public-course golfer, has popped up on television sets across the land and in living color whipped America's darling, Arnold Palmer. Had it only happened the first time, when Beard rapped in an eight-foot birdie to spoil Arnold's record 64 and win the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas, he could have been written off as one of those inevitable catastrophes that occur in sport. But it happened again, three weeks later. Here came Palmer and Beard, all even, playing head to head this time, in the final round of the Houston International on the rugged Champions course. Palmer, as his army saluted, made his par 4 on the last green and then stood aside to watch Beard bend over a 20-foot birdie that he would no doubt three-putt like all good Frank Beards should. Instead, Beard sank it for a 67 and another one-stroke victory. What is even worse for the game's elite, he appears capable of doing it some more, perhaps even at some spectacular time and place like next week's U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
The funny thing is, no one really knows who this Frank Beard is. He doesn't drink champagne like the late Tony Lema, he doesn't eat peanut-butter sandwiches like Al Geiberger, he doesn't dress in Doug Sanders floral arrangements, he doesn't dance on the greens like Chi Chi Rodrigeuz and he doesn't give up cigarettes frequently like you know who. He simply looks like a man who comes to the course, puts down his valise, takes off his coat and vest, tees off and rams in money putts on the 18th green. The only reason he can think of why he might be unique is that he admits he is a good putter—something no self-respecting touring pro has ever confessed before. But if Beard keeps on winning money with his elegant, enviable swing, he is going to endanger his anonymity. He even could become the player that everyone in your regular Saturday gangsome will want to hang his overlapping grip on.
The devoted golfer could do a lot worse than try to copy Frank Beard's swing. Consider the touring pros. Except for those happy occasions when Ben Hogan and Sam Snead reappear, the tour has about as many stylish hitters of the ball as you might find in an ordinary Hong Kong riot. Among the more notable methods on public display are the Palmer slash, the Gary Player leap, the Bill Casper punch, the Sanders rake, the Gay Brewer loop and the Julius Boros flick. There is nothing wrong with the results they achieve, of course, but if a man is wondering where his Vs ought to point, he will be far better off searching out Frank Beard.
At six feet and 180 pounds, Beard is too big to get stepped on in the rough, but the way to find him is to search for the swing instead of the man. Look for the man and you are apt to wind up with another nice-looking, pleasant young fellow—someone like Charles Coody or Dave Stockton or the home pro who has been allowed in the tournament out of kindness. But once you see the swing, you won't forget Frank Beard.
Beard's swing is one of natural perfection. It is the same one he has had since he used to chip for dimes around the public courses of Dallas when he was a kid. A left-hander who was taught by his father to play golf right-handed—always a plus because it makes for a stronger grip—he takes a slightly open stance, and it is relatively narrow. Then he brings the club up and through in a big, fluid, graceful arc; not slow and not fast, and always the same.
He does not have the obvious flatness and hand action of Hogan, who was also a born left-hander, or the speed and strength of Snead. But he has something special that brings to mind old film clips of Bobby Jones or Gene Sarazen.
Doug Ford, who is one of the more astute observers on the tour, says, "For day-in and day-out consistency, Beard is the best player out here. He is exceptionally accurate with the driver and a superb putter. We've all been saying for two or three years that Frank has the best swing of anybody."
Beard would like to believe it, and you would think the $65,000 he won in the first five months of this season would be enough to keep his confidence up. But he doubts that he will ever be one of the tour supermen.
"My wife, Pat [ Tony Lema introduced them at the 1965 Colonial National Invitation in Fort Worth], and other folks get mad at me for saying it, but I know the facts of life," he says. "I know that if I play my best and somebody like Palmer or Nicklaus plays his best, he's got to win.