Bio of Golfer Jerry Barber

Jerry Barber was a PGA Tour winner in the 1950s and 1960s. Remembered as one of the tour's great short-game artists, he sank a series of long putts over the final holes to force a playoff in the 1961 PGA Championship, which he then won. Barber continued making appearances on the PGA Tour all the way into the 1990s.

Full name: Carl Jerome Barber

Date of birth: April 25, 1916

Place of birth: Woodson, Illinois

Date and place of death: September 23, 1994 in Glendale, California

Barber's PGA Tour Wins

Jerry Barber is credited with seven official wins on the PGA Tour:
  • 1953 Azalea Open Invitational
  • 1954 All American Open
  • 1960 Yorba Linda Open Invitational
  • 1960 Tournament of Champions
  • 1961 Azalea Open Invitational
  • 1961 PGA Championship
  • 1963 Azalea Open Invitational

His PGA Championship Win and Other Major Finishes

Jerry Barber won the 1961 PGA Championship after forcing a playoff through an all-time great display of pressure putting. He was 45 years old, which, at that time, made him the oldest golfer ever to win a professional major. Barber was also on the shorter side in height, variously listed at from 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-6. His age and height led to this headline appearing in the Milwaukee Journal after his PGA victory: "Barber Small and Old But Champion".

Barber was tied for fourth place in the 1961 PGA following an opening 69, and took the 36-hole lead with a 67. A 71 in Round 3 dropped him into second place, two strokes behind Don January.

In the final round, Barber shot 70 and January 72, both finishing at 3-under 277. But what distinguishes Barber's victory happened over the final three holes of regulation play. With only the 16th, 17th and 18th holes left in the final round, Barber was four strokes behind January.

On the 16th hole, Barber rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt. On the 17th, he sank a 40-foot par saver. Heading to the 18th green, Barber still trailed January by two strokes. But on that green, January made bogey while Barber made a monster 60-footer for birdie and the tie.

In the 18-hole playoff, Barber won by a stroke, 67 to 68, when January made another bogey on the final hole.

Barber had three Top 5 finishes overall in major championships, his best other finishing tied for second place in the 1959 PGA Championship. Barber was the third-round leader there, but a final-round 73 opened the door and Bob Rosburg's 66 sent Barber home the runner-up by one stroke.

He also tied for fifth at the 1962 Masters, and finished in the Top 10 five other times including ties for sixth in The Masters in 1954 and 1956. Barber's first appearance in any major was in the 1946 U.S. Open, and he last played in a major in the 1983 PGA Championship at age 67.

More About Jerry Barber

In Paul Runyan's Book for Senior Golfers (affiliate link), published in 1963, the legendary short-game practitioner and teacher said he ranked Barber best among the current PGA Tour players in getting up-and-down from immediately off the green. Pro and instructor Eddie Merrins wrote that Barber "had the competitive spirit of Goliath" and said of Barber: "Never long enough off the tee, Barber made up for that shortcoming with laser-like long-iron play and a short game second to none."

The Los Angeles Times obituary of Barber noted that, "Barber was long considered one of the sport’s great putters. In 1976, he helped Tom Watson with his putting, and Watson then won four consecutive titles on the regular tour.

Barber was already 26 years old when he turned pro in 1942. He made nine starts in PGA Tour events in 1948, and 1949 was his first year with double-digit starts (20) on tour.

He was runner-up to Cary Middlecoff in the 1951 Eastern Open, and in the early 1950s was winning state and regional tournaments off the tour. Those included the 1950 Pennsylvania Open Championship and the Waterloo Open in Iowa in 1951 and 1952. In 1959, Barber won the Southern California PGA Championship and the California State Open.

But by that point he was a winner on the PGA Tour, too, that first win coming at the 1953 Azalea Open Invitational. That was a tournament Barber must have been particularly fond of, since he won it three times — and those wins included his first and last (in 1963) on the PGA Tour.

The 1955 PGA Tour season produced Barber's highest number of Top 10 finishes, 13. His best overall year, in terms of finishes, was 1960 when he had two wins, two second-place finishes, one third and nine Top 10s. In 1961, after winning the PGA plus the Azalea, Barber was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Barber had some near-misses along the way, too. He was runner-up in the 1955 Tournament of Champions (which he won in 1960) and 1955 Houston Open, and in the Los Angeles Open in 1954 and 1956.

Two of Barber's wins were by playoffs. In addition to his PGA win by playoff, Barber beat Chandler Harper to win the Azalea in 1961.

After winning the 1961 PGA Championship, Barber bought a Cadillac and got the vanity license place, "1961 PGA." Once, after it broke down on a Los Angeles highway, Barber was seen swinging a weighted club by the side of the highway as he waited for a tow truck to arrive.

Barber's final year with double-digit starts on the PGA Tour was 1965, when he was 49 years old. But he continued playing a handful of tournaments every year through 1985, then played five more tournaments in 1993-94.

Barber last appeared in a PGA Tour tournament in 1994, when he was was 77 years old. His final round was in the Buick Invitational and he beat his age by six strokes with a 71. With that start, Barber set a record he still holds: oldest golfer to make a PGA Tour start.

All told, Barber made 444 career PGA Tour starts. In addition to his seven wins, he was runner-up 14 times and third place nine times.

During his career, Barber also was a member of Team USA in the 1955 Ryder Cup, and was the playing captain of Team USA in the 1961 Ryder Cup. Both were United States victories, but Barber was only 1-4 in five matches.

By the time the Champions Tour launched in 1980, Barber was already 64 years old. He had no official wins, but did reach a playoff at the 1985 Digital Seniors Classic at age 69. One of the other participants in that playoff was Don January, Barber's victim in the 1961 PGA Championship playoff. But Lee Elder was the winner.

Barber played the Champions Tour full time from 1980 through 1992, with a few starts in 1993-94. He returned to the PGA Tour — as his tour exemption earned at the 1961 PGA allowed him to do — for a few starts in 1993-94 after losing his full Champions Tour status. It was those starts by the nearly 80-year-old Barber that caused the PGA Tour to end the lifetime exemption to major championship winners.

Barber made 313 starts on the Champions Tour, with no wins, one runner-up and 10 Top 10 finishes. He also twice won his age category in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, in 1987 and 1993. And in 1991 at age 75 Barber led the Champions Tour in driving accuracy, hitting 78.8-percent of fairways.

Barber was 78 when he died of heart failure in 1994, the same year he beat his age and set the PGA Tour age record at the Buick Invitational.

Barber's advice on the short game, and particularly putting, led many other golfers to seek him out, but he never wrote a full instructional book. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (affiliate link) in 1963 as the author of the article, "Secrets of the Short Game." In 1967, Barber wrote a 24-page booklet titled The Art of Putting.

As a club pro, Barber worked for decades in the Los Angeles area, serving at Wilshire Golf Club and also for 28 years at Griffith Park Golf Club.

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