SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
June 23, 1969
As all the other contenders wilted around him, Orville Moody, a former Army sergeant with a cross-handed putting style, managed to survive a broiling Texas sun and a treacherous course to win the U.S. Open
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June 23, 1969

Old Sarge Cools It

As all the other contenders wilted around him, Orville Moody, a former Army sergeant with a cross-handed putting style, managed to survive a broiling Texas sun and a treacherous course to win the U.S. Open

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All right, you wise guys with your tricky sports questions. So you know who was on deck when Bobby Thomson hit the home run, and how old George Gipp was when he asked Knute to do him that favor, and who shot Eddie Waitkus, and how many guys have hit 50 home runs twice, and all those other answers that pass for saloon talk. Here's one for you. There was a guy from Killeen, Texas (or Chickasha, Oklahoma or Yukon, Oklahoma, depending upon his mood) who putted cross-handed and won the U.S. Open golf championship one time in Houston after he spent 14 years in the Army. Yeah, yeah. Everybody knows his name. Orville Moody. The question is, why didn't he hang in there after all that time and retire as a 30-year man like Omar Bradley?

The answer is a quick $30,000, which is what Orville Moody earned last week by being on a golf course instead of in the Army. Actually, he had tried it once before, after a nine-year hitch, only to discover that PX beer wasn't the best training for the pro tour. So, after missing the cut in the only previous U.S. Open he ever entered, he re-upped for six, won the Korean Open for the third time, not to mention the Fort Hood post tournament and came back swinging late in 1967. He won $13,000 in 1968 and this year he had already earned $38,000, which means that last Thursday, even before his name became a household word, more or less, he was hardly a Jack Fleck. In fact, one golfer in the field even picked Moody to win before the tournament began—Defending Champion Lee Trevino.

The golfers that ex-Staff Sergeant E-6 Orville Moody really had to beat to win his Open were not Trevino, however, or Billy Casper or Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. They were Miller Barber, pro golf's Mysterious Mr. X, who doesn't putt cross-handed but who wears dark glasses and whose elbow flies out on his backswing, and 42-year-old Bob Rosburg, now a country-club pro who had won about 37� all year and who hits the ball with a baseball grip. Barber led by three strokes through three rounds only to wilt when he could have won with a final 74. Rosburg was even with Moody as late as the 18th hole on Sunday but left a putt hanging on the rim of that cup. And so Orville Moody, with his nice, straight, steady golf game, came in at 281 to find himself suddenly the most famous sergeant since Alvin York.

What really happened to most of the big favorites with the cannon swings was that they either drowned in the humidity at Houston or they are still trying to figure out what all those funny clubs were that they had to use on a surprisingly long, long Champions course. Things like two-irons and four-woods, which almost never get dirty on the tour. Meanwhile, Orville Moody and men like Barber and Deane Beman and Al Geiberger, who are accustomed to hitting such clubs because they are almost never very long off the tee, were having a field day. In fact, it was a highly unusual tournament from the very start.

To begin with, there was no big old creaking clubhouse for everyone to rattle around in, for Champions is modern and sparkling new. Across the street from the clubhouse were cottages and houses woven in and around trees and quiet streets and swimming pools, and most of the name players were quartered there. It gave to them the feeling of being in some sort of compound, of being on some kind of strange team, all together. They cooked in and drank in, for the most part, and late in the evenings many of them sat around a pool, chatting, relaxing and verbally taking each other 18 holes again.

In the mornings it was very eerie to look out of one's window over the paper and coffee and see Julius Boros strolling down the lane on his way to work. And in the evenings it was like being in any other suburban neighborhood. The fellow across the street was out in the yard with his kids getting ready to go to Astroworld and arguing with his wife about the directions. Then another fellow would drive up with his children in the car and honk. Where were they going to eat? How do you get there? This was definitely not the usual Open tournament surroundings for Nicklaus and Gary Player, who happened to be the man in the yard and the man in the car, respectively.

Lee Trevino was nonchalant in another way. In Thursday's first round, out to defend the title he won so excitingly last year at Oak Hill, and on a golf course that should have suited him, Trevino was gagging it up and clowning more than ever because Phil Harris, the entertainer, was hanging in his gallery, trading wisecracks.

Trevino started joking about missing the cut the first day, and after the second day was over Trevino had done just that with rounds of 74 and 75. When the Fleas in Lee's gallery chided him about his Mexican bandit costume on the cover of this magazine (SI, June 9), Lee would laugh and shout back, "Hell, man, I had to dress that way until about two years ago."

There were three other pretournament favorites who were never a force in this Open. They were the players who had managed to win two tournaments on the tour this season: Casper, Gene Littler and George Archer. Littler missed the cut after a second-round 80. Archer, the Masters champion, opened with a 69, a tribute to his putting stroke, but after a 74 on Friday he was never in contention. And Casper, looking as if he were playing on the dead run, could never get anything resembling a low round started. Champions' length simply wore them out.

The only person who was ready for Orville Moody to win the big one was Trevino. He actually picked him—seriously, no fooling—and had said to the press before the tournament began that Orville Moody would be the next Open champion because, said Lee, "He's one helluva player."

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