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Barry McDermott
September 17, 1984
Everyone jokes about his 10-cent swing, but Miller Barber—golf's Mysterious Mr. X—laughs his way to the bank from the senior tour, an oldtimers' game in which the players can still play and the scores count
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September 17, 1984

The Extra-ordinary Mr. X

Everyone jokes about his 10-cent swing, but Miller Barber—golf's Mysterious Mr. X—laughs his way to the bank from the senior tour, an oldtimers' game in which the players can still play and the scores count

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Golf and memories. The seniors still have the scoreboard for their looking glass, and corporations love to have them at their outings and in their commercials. "En-darse-ments," January calls them. "My friends say I ought to do one of those Jerry-tall ads."

Miller Barber is hard at work on the practice tee at the Daytona Beach Seniors Classic, thrilled to be there. He always has worked hard. "He loves to hit golf balls," says his buddy, Ben Crenshaw. He has to love it. Barber's swing is an object of ridicule. Elbows, hips, hands and backside fly every which way when he cuts loose, but the results are wonderful. "He hits more solid golf shots," says Crenshaw. "I mean, even today, at 53, he just hits some really solid golf shots when he's on, better than anybody." Snead once said that from one foot before impact, and then on through to the finish, Barber's swing was the best in golf. Snead didn't add, but he could have, that until Barber gets the club head a foot behind the ball, his swing has more flaws than that of any 28 handicapper. Club pros all over the country have gotten rich selling lessons to players with swings better than Barber's. "Now, what'd I do there? What'd I do there?" Barber says on the practice tee. Adams is tutoring Mr. X. Also present is Morris Hatalsky, a regular on what Barber refers to as "the old tour." He means the regular PGA circuit. The new tour is his tour, the seniors.

"He does it great 99 out of 100 times and wants to know what's wrong," says Adams in exasperation. "He hits one bad and he wants to know what's wrong. Hit it eight feet off-line with a two-iron—what's wrong"! Heck, if Morris could hit it like that, with his nerves and his putting stroke, he could shoot some scores."

This is typical practice-tee banter, especially around Barber. He's one of the most-liked guys in golf because he can take a joke and because he can tell one. When he says something amusing, he purses his lips and then exhales a puff of air to keep from smiling, so that he looks something like a fish breathing.

"I just love the guy," says Crenshaw. "He's funny without trying to be." Barber, like Jimmy Durante, has his looks going for him. And his voice, because of chronic hay fever, comes out high with that twang, and he has the habit of repeating himself. "The man sounds like a mimeograph," says Bob Rosburg. Plus, Barber has a whole sackful of odd sayings—Barberisms, if you will. "You bet your ol' whoopee-boopee, your ol' whoopee-boopee," he'll say. Becoming upset is "getting yourself in a hissy." Talking is "yippity-yippin'."

"Oh, lookee there, Morris," Barber calls out on the practice tee, watching an iron shot fly true. "Lookee there." No golfer wants to be known as a good putter, and Barber is no different. Real men hit one-irons. "Remember the time we played together at Hilton Head?" Barber says to Hatalsky. "Now that was something. I hit about 17 greens and just struggled to a 72. Just struggled. Morris hit about six or seven greens and shot a 67. And he got robbed. Morris got robbed." Barber makes his fish face and stands at attention. After every shot he has to raise his head so he can see out from under the bill of his cap.

Behind him, outside the gallery ropes, some fans are studying him. Intermittently one or another will swing an imaginary club, hands and elbows flying. They wonder, how the hell does Barber do it?

"None of it looks right," Adams agrees. "But the ball keeps going straight." Barber is always fiddling with his swing, or tinkering with his putting stroke. Golfers love to give advice, and Barber enjoys taking it. Anyone can school him. One of his buddies is Joe Stepner, a Santa Monica restaurateur. "He's always asking me for putting lessons," says Stepner, sounding bewildered. "Here I am, a W-handicapper, giving him a putting lesson."

There's a phrase in golf: Keeping it going. You hear players say, "I got it under par, but I couldn't keep it going. I blew up." These days Barber is a star because he can keep it going. Barber, Littler, January and Palmer stepped right from the junior circuit into the senior tour and kept it going. Too many of their contemporaries blew up, both in size and in score.

The last two years, Barber has been Senior Player of the Year, sharing the honor last season with January. Since '81, when he turned 50, Barber has been first, first and second on the senior money list, averaging more than $140,000. January edged him out last season, $237,571 to $231,008, but Barber won the overall money crown, picking up an additional $52,537 in unofficial tournaments for a total of $283,545, beating his best year as a regular tour player, 1977, by more than $35,000. X has won 14 tournaments as a senior, January 15, but January has been at it a year-and-a-half longer.

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