SI Vault
Barry McDermott
June 18, 1979
Orville Moody, the 1969 U.S. Open champion, gamely plays on despite that Judas club and a decade of unbelievable frustration
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 18, 1979

The Putter God Forgot

Orville Moody, the 1969 U.S. Open champion, gamely plays on despite that Judas club and a decade of unbelievable frustration

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

It is a paradox of sport that sometimes an act that looks difficult and complex, like the golf swing off the tee, actually can be learned, while one that seems elementary, such as putting, cannot. Apparently, people either putt well or they don't. Lee Trevino and other master putters have worked with Moody on the practice green, but to no avail.

On a recent spring evening Moody and his third wife, Beverly, a former waitress he met and married 6� years ago, are having dinner at a steak-and-ale restaurant not far from the home they rent in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. It is the best restaurant in Plano; usually they prefer to go to a Mexican place that serves all you can eat for $2.89.

The day before Moody had missed the cut in the Byron Nelson tournament. The nature of Moody's life is such that while this week he would earn nothing, the week before he tied for third in the Houston Open and took home $14,400, his biggest check since 1973. Last year Moody earned $44,204 on the tour. This season he has made $34,931 and is 65th on the money list. In Houston a fan had whooped and hollered after Moody's shots. He was asked why. "Because I'm short and fat and want to root for someone just like me," the man replied.

Moody quit the tour in 1974 to operate a public course in a suburb of Denver. That venture cost him $200,000, 1� years of his life and a lot of worry. The problem was simple. The course meandered through the backyards of a subdivision. On every hole there were out-of-bounds markers. A dog bit players, and children took over fairways for football practice. Once Moody ejected an interloper hitting to the second tee—he turned out to have a list of people he planned to shoot. Moody's name was second on the list. Even then he was a runner-up.

In the Plano restaurant, it is a wonder he has any appetite for food. His debts have been such that a lawyer once advised him to declare bankruptcy. On the tour in Florida this spring, before he switched to a travel trailer, he holed up in motels where he had to pay a deposit before making a long-distance phone call. In the Moody home in Plano the dining room is completely bare. Almost all of the family's belongings, including a couple of gold-embroidered gowns given to Beverly by the King of Morocco, were lost in a fire that swept through their house in Lago Vista, Texas at 4 a.m. in March of 1977. A smoke alarm given to the Moodys by Beverly's mother probably saved their lives. Moody drove off to call the fire department. When a fire truck arrived, it broke down. The house was destroyed, but there was one consolation: no jewelry was lost. It was in hock.

Moody figures the fire cost him about $50,000 over the insurance coverage. He has made sizable loans that have never been paid back. Some $1,200 worth of belongings has been stolen from his van. A house occupied by his former wife, Doris, was ravaged in another fire. He had transferred the title to her but the insurance was still in his name, which led to a legal hassle. At last year's Byron Nelson, he was only a shot behind with seven holes to go, but he played the final holes in a stumbling five over par. It was then that the insurance company took his $3,000 pay check.

Moody takes a sip of a soft drink. He is talking about heavyweight fighter Ron Lyle. He had watched Lyle fight on television that afternoon and listened to a description of his arrests, incarcerations and general ill-fortune. "This guy's had more bad luck than me," he says, a bit amazed. A few hours earlier, two of Moody's children had had to make separate trips to the hospital—Jason, who is four, to be treated for an infection he developed after being stung by a bee; Kelley, who is five, to have a tetanus shot after stepping on a nail.

When the waitress takes the dinner orders, Moody says something complimentary to her. Beverly whispers, "He likes to kid those girls. Our children are always coming home and telling me, 'Mom, dad's been beepin' at the girls again.' " Though he has a mumpish face, a gap between his teeth and a receding hairline, women are attracted to him. When Beverly first encountered him, she called her mother and said, "I've just met the nicest man!"

The one deal that was really going to put Moody on easy street after he won the Open involved stocking hundreds of Army PXs around the world with a line of Orville Moody golf clubs and clothing. But as the flavor of Moody's triumph at Houston faded, this and other prospective ventures dried up. Moody survived like a cactus, which is to say, not lushly. "The public," he says, "has a short memory."

Two occurrences years ago convinced him that the tour wasn't going to make him rich. He missed a short putt on the last hole at the Crosby Pro-Am in 1973 that cost him the tournament. The putt dropped him into a three-way tie for first with Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. Nicklaus won the playoff. Then there was a round he played with Johnny Miller. That day Moody's approach shots nestled inside Miller's 13 times, but Miller shot a 70 while Moody had a 73. Afterward, Moody was distressed to hear Miller complaining about his putting.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4