Palmer, who at 55 affects senior crowds as Michael Jackson moves teenagers, says it's pretty much the same as it was in the old days, with one minor but important distinction. "Thirty years ago, you were playing for your life," says Arnie. "Now, the bottom line is: It isn't as urgent."
Sure. While Palmer's hitting drives down Wall Street and flying his jet, January and Barber are the Big Two among the seniors; January slow and laconic, Barber skittish and wound-up—"He looks like somebody's always chasing him," says Gary McCord, one of Barber's friends from the regular tour.
In a roomful of people, Barber is jittery, a picture that's not quite tuned in right. His eyes dart, he's distracted. But alone, he leans back and crosses his legs. People make him nervous, probably from all the practical jokes that have been played on him. After a life of not being noticed, Barber is now a media event. "Everybody is finding out that as a person and a personality, this guy's something else," says PGA commissioner Deane Beman.
Palmer half-jokingly wonders if Barber's new fame is all for the best. "He's really not as mysterious as everybody thinks," Arnie says. "But why not leave him mysterious? It's kind of nice."
The average age of the 40 regulars on the senior tour is about 57. Half have grown gracefully into tanned and handsome men who could pass for senators; the others resemble farmers. When they read their starting times, they hold the paper at arm's length and squint. In the clubhouse they sit around and talk about who's sick and where's the best cafeteria in town. And they tell Tommy Bolt stories.
"Lightning" Bolt is still a character—at 66 he's as irascible and eccentric as ever. He calls himself "Ol Dad," and everybody else "Son"—and he uses the word "immaculately" a lot, as in: "Son, don't you think Ol Dad is dressed immaculately?" In a poll published by Golf Digest this year, readers voted Bolt and Barber the least-popular players on the senior circuit. Bolt earned the honor rightfully, throwing clubs in every state. Barber won his by default. X marks the spot. No one knows much about him. Now, when Barber and Bolt meet, Barber says, "Hello, No. 1." Bolt answers, "Howdy, No. 2."
Bolt has a saying: "No senior should tee off before 11 a.m." Years ago, when Barber was fresh on the regular tour, he was paired with Bolt in a tournament in which they were given a 7:15 a.m. tee-off time. After four holes and a couple of bogeys, Bolt turned to Barber and said, "Son, what time is it?"
"About 8:20," said Barber.
"What?" yelled Bolt. "Eight-twenty? Well, no wonder. What in the hell are we doing out here? Why, this is when the caddies play."
Things like that don't happen anymore, Barber says. The "young" tour is generic golf. Every blond head the same. Every swing just so perfect. Barber and the others don't hit it as far as they used to, maybe, and perhaps their putters are a little shaky, but playing courses that are, on the average, 400 yards shorter than the kid pros are used to, they can put up the numbers. Barber shot four straight 66s at Melbourne, Fla., in '82, and you know what Gay Brewer told him when X stood over a birdie putt for 65 on the last hole? "Miss it. Don't break your string." Imagine that. Miss it! And Mr. X did. On the junior circuit, the kids don't even talk to each other, much less say something like "Miss it." They sure don't jump into each other's arms as Brewer and Casper did when they teamed to win the Legends last April.