Three-time U.S. Senior Open winner Miller Barber dead at 82

Golfer was Legends of Golf partner of Hilton Head Island's Jim Ferree

sports@islandpacket.comJune 12, 2013 

Miller Barber tracks his tee shot on the eighth hole during the final round of the Demaret Division of the 2008 Champions Tour Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf at The Club at Savannah Harbor.

FILE/THE ISLAND PACKET

Miller Barber, the professional golfer nicknamed Mr. X who made a record 1,297 starts on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour combined and is the only man to win three U.S. Senior Opens, died Tuesday at the age of 82.

Barber won 11 of his 694 starts on the PGA Tour and then 24 of his 603 starts on the Champions Tour. His wins total is fourth on the Champions Tour all-time wins list behind Hale Irwin (45), Lee Trevino (29) and Gil Morgan (24). He won at least one Champions Tour event for nine consecutive years from 1981-89.

"Miller Barber was a true gentleman that was special in many ways. I will miss him greatly. Miller...Rest in peace," said CBS Sports golf analyst Peter Kostis on Twitter.

According to PGATour.com, Barber told Golf Digest in 2005 that there were two versions of how he acquired his Mr. X nickname.

In one version, he assumed the nickname from the original Mr. X, George Bayer, because he once outdrove Bayer in a long drive contest at the then-Hartford Open.

In the other version, Barber said that fellow professional golfer and friend Jim Ferree of Hilton Head Island gave him the nickname because "I never told anywhere where I was going at night. I was a bachelor and a mystery man," prompting Ferree to call him "The Mysterious Mr. X."

Ferree paired with Barber to win the Demaret Division of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 2002 and 2003 in Savannah.

The pair last played together in 2012, finishing 11th. Ferree finished 12th by himself in this April's event as Barber was unable to play.

Barber was, according to Ferree, at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., receiving treatment for stomach cancer.

"I was really concentrating and just trying not to be upset," Ferree said at the time..

According to Ferree, Barber had chemotherapy treatments in the fall for cancer. Over the winter, with a compromised immune system, he battled pneumonia three times. Then, Ferree said, doctors found cancer again in March in his abdomen.

"I'm lucky," Ferree said. "To feel good and be able to play like I play, I'm lucky."

Born March 31, 1931 in Shreveport, La., Barber graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1954 and turned pro four years later, winning his first PGA Tour event in 1964 at the Cajun Classic Open Invitational.

Barber's greatest season was 1969, when he won once on the PGA Tour and finished in the top 10 in all four majors to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

He came close to winning the U.S. Open that year outside Houston. Barber held a three-shot lead through 54 holes at Champions Club but shot 78 in the final round to finish three strokes behind winner Orville Moody.

Each of Barber's 11 PGA Tour wins came in a different season, and he won at least once each year from 1967 to 1974, a feat matched only by Jack Nicklaus during that span.

He played again in the Ryder Cup in 1971 and tallied 131 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

Barber enjoyed immediate success on the Champions Tour a year after that circuit began. He was one of the Tour's top players throughout the 1980s, leading the money list in 1981 and 1982. His 24 wins include five senior majors.

His final official Champions Tour start was at the 2004 SBC Championship, but he continued to play in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf until this year.

"We are saddened by the passing of Miller Barber," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. "He was a wonderful player who made his mark on the PGA TOUR with 11 victories and then really excelled on Champions Tour becoming one of its best players in the Tour's formative years. Miller and the Champions Tour's other early stars helped establish the Tour and make it the tremendous success it has become. Golf has lost a great man and competitor."

Barber was also known for his unique swing, once described by a peer "as if his golf club gets caught in a clothesline."

Barber explained to Golf Digest that "by the time I signed up for lessons when I was 13, the swing I have today was already ingrained. Over the years I tried to change, but I really couldn't play any other way. Jackie Burke says my swing looks like an octopus falling out of a tree, and others say I look like a man opening an umbrella in the wind. But after I loop the club to the inside on the downswing, I look like any other good player. The downswing is all that matters."

Barber is survived by his wife, Karen, and five children -- Casey, Doug, Brad, Larry and Richard.

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