During his time on the junior tour, Barber was almost a cipher. He was kind of dumpy looking, and didn't have much to say. The Mysterious Mr. X. Palmer and Nicklaus were the stars. Hardly anyone noticed that Barber won a tournament a year for eight straight seasons, 1967-74, a record matched during that period only by Nicklaus. Barber twice made the Ryder Cup team. And with the $655,543 he has picked up on the senior circuit, his total of $2.2 million puts him in eighth place, only $25,076 behind Palmer on the alltime money list.
Now, back on the practice tee, there's a small excavation where Barber has carved out his divots. Hatalsky is watching closely. Adams says, "Did you ever see Hogan play, Morris?" Ben Hogan, the great iconoclast, now 72 and living in Fort Worth, is the only player of stature who has shunned the senior circuit. He once told a friend, "If you win, what do you win?" That sentiment partly explains his disinterest. There's also the car wreck that almost killed him in 1949. "He just hurts all over," says Jackie Burke. Barber once tried to entice his friend Hogan onto the oldies' circuit. Sitting with the great man at the annual dinner in Fort Worth hosted by Hogan's golf company, Barber worked up the courage to ask Hogan to be his teammate in the Legends.
"No," said Hogan.
Says Barber, "With Mr. Hogan, a few words go a long way."
It's a pity Hogan isn't there. Sure, Snead, Casper, Palmer, Barber and the others are only replicas of what they once were, but a treasure doesn't lose its value just because it has a coating of dust.
Hatalsky tells Adams that no, he had never seen Hogan play.
Adams nods his head. "Well, I'll tell you," he says. "If he ever lost his balance, he'd just walk in. If he didn't reach a perfect position every time, he'd be so mad...damn, what a mechanical man."
Barber grew up in the northeast corner of Texas, in Texarkana. The town is divided by the Texas-Arkansas border, which is marked by different colored bricks running down the center of State Line Avenue. "You can have one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas," says Barber. But he was born in Shreveport, La., true to his manner, just sneaking up on everyone. His parents were visiting relatives there when Miller showed up, several hours before April Fools' Day, 1931, three weeks before he was expected. He was an only child. His parents split three years later, and his mother, Susie Mae, and his grandmother, Kitty, raised him. The whole family worked in Bryce's Cafeteria in Texarkana. Bryce, Susie Mae's brother, was off at the war, and the women were keeping the home fries burning. When he got a little older, Miller helped out, preparing vegetables, busing dishes and bringing out the food trays. He recalls an occasional celebrity coming in for lunch at Bryce's. Gene Autry and Orson Welles were two.
Golf was just something he picked up. He could play during the day, as long as he made it on his bicycle to Bryce's by 8 p.m. to escort his mother home. Because it was wartime, his golf bag was nothing more than shellacked cardboard. Late at night, he and his buddies would dive in a lake for balls at a local country club. One night the club manager caught them and sentenced them to a month of swabbing toilets.
Byron Nelson had a big influence on Barber's career. Nelson was married to a woman from Texarkana and would come to town to practice for the Masters. Barber would caddie for Nelson, a mission so important that Miller would wash his tennis shoes for the occasion. The first time he worked for Nelson, Barber took the shag bag and stood out in a field about 100 yards down range. Nelson's first shot hit the bill of Barber's cap. Nelson started waving Barber to come in. When the boy was within earshot, Nelson told him not to stand by the shag bag. That was his target. "One day he played 18 holes and hit the pin 10 times with shots," Barber says. "I'll never forget that as long as I live."