Miller Westford Barber Jr. (1931–2013)
Miller Barber was a successful professional golfer who played on both the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour and the Senior Tour. While perhaps best known for his unorthodox swing, he had many accomplishments, including multiple tournament victories on both tours while accumulating over $5.6 million in career earnings. He was a graduate of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.
Miller Westford Barber Jr. was born on March 31, 1931, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Miller Westford Barber and Susie Mae Lawrence Barber. He grew up in Texarkana, Texas, living with his mother, who ran a grocery store. He began playing golf when he was around eleven and took his first lesson when he was thirteen.
Barber played golf at UA and graduated in 1954. He then did a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He joined the PGA Tour in 1959 but left for a while to work as a teaching pro at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York. He soon returned to the PGA Tour, and in 1964 he won the Cajun Classic Open Invitational. It was the first of many wins in the career of a man who, despite having an odd swing that featured a flying right elbow, had 1,297 total starts on the PGA and Senior Tours, a total that was, at the time of his death, an all-time record.
Even beyond his unusual swing, Barber was no one’s ideal of a professional golfer, as he was pudgy, suffered from hay fever, and wore prescription dark glasses that gave him a somewhat mysterious look. That image was enhanced by the fact that early in his career, Barber, then a bachelor reputed to have girlfriends in many of the tour stops, would disappear in the evenings, a practice that led his fellow pros to anoint him “Mr. X.” That aside, Barber was a favorite among his fellow pros.
He married at the age of thirty-nine; he and his wife, Karen Barber, were married for forty-three years until his death. The couple had five sons, including three from Karen’s previous marriage.
The best year of his PGA Tour career was by most accounts 1969. That year, he not only took a three-stroke lead into the final round of the U.S. Open—a final-round 78 left him in sixth place—but he also finished in the top ten at the other Grand Slam events: the Masters, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. He was also a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team alongside such luminaries as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Billy Casper. Overall, he won eleven PGA Tour events, the last one coming in 1978 at the Phoenix Open.
While he had a solid career on the PGA Tour, he experienced a professional rebirth when he moved to the fledgling Senior Tour in 1981. He won his first title in June and added two others before the season was over. He would ultimately win five Senior Majors; three Senior Opens, in 1982, 1984, and 1985; a Senior PGA title in 1981; and the Senior Players Championship in 1983. His final win in 1989 gave him a total of twenty-four Senior Tour victories.
While suffering from lymphoma and in hospice in Scottsdale, Arizona, the last phone call Barber received came from golf icon Jack Nicklaus, who was checking on his one-time Ryder Cup teammate; the call was said to have made Barber smile. Barber died three hours later, on June 11, 2013.
For additional information:
Goldstein, Richard. “Miller Barber, 82, Golf Champion with Odd Swing, Dies.” New York Times, June 12, 2013. Online at https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/sports/golf/miller-barber-golf-champion-with-an-unorthodox-swing-dies-at-82.html (accessed May 13, 2020).
Kerr-Dineen, Luke. “Remembering Miller Barber as a Great Player and a Singular Character.” Golf Digest, June 13, 2013. Online at https://www.golfdigest.com/story/remembering-miller-barber-as-a-great-player-and-a-singular-c (accessed May 13, 2020).
Smits, Garry. “Miller Barber Was a Champion of Champions Tour.” Florida Times Union/Jacksonville.com, June 12, 2013. Online at https://www.jacksonville.com/article/20130612/SPORTS/801251421?template=ampart (accessed May 13, 2020).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 05/13/2020