Golfer Miller Barber: Turned Funky Swing Into Tour Success

Miller Barber played more tournaments combined on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour than any other golfer — ever. His PGA Tour career started in the 1950s, his Champions Tour career ended in the 2000s. He won 11 times on the PGA Tour, then was the dominant golfer in the first decade of the Champions Tour's history.

Full name: Miller Westford Barber Jr.

Date of birth: March 31, 1931

Place of birth: Shreveport, Louisiana

Date and place of death: June 11, 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona

Nickname: "Mr. X" or "Precious," or, less-often used, "Mr. Consistency"

Number of Tour Wins

Miller Barber won 11 official tournaments on the PGA Tour, the first in 1964 and the last in 1978. On the Champions Tour, Barber won 24 official titles, the first in 1981 and the last in 1989.

All of Barber's tour wins are listed below the bio section that follows.

Barber In the Majors

Barber never won a major championship. He did record seven Top 10 finishes in majors, with a best showing of tied for fourth in the 1971 PGA Championship. In 1969, he finished in the Top 10 at all four majors, with a best of tied for fifth in the PGA Championship. All of his Top 10 finishes in majors came in the three years from 1969 through 1971, including a solo sixth at the 1970 U.S. Open.

The closest he came to winning a major was in the 1969 U.S. Open, where Barber led by three strokes following the third round. Alas, he stumbled to a 78 in the final round and finished tied for sixth, three back of the winner.

Barber's first appearance in a major was in the 1961 U.S. Open; his final major start, at the 1982 PGA Championship. As late as 1979, at age 48, Barber tied the then-Masters 18-hole scoring record of 64 in the second round of the 1979 Masters.

In senior majors, Barber was a force: He won five of them. Those five wins in senior (50-and-over) majors were the 1981 Senior PGA Championship, 1982 U.S. Senior Open, 1983 Senior Players Championship, 1984 U.S. Senior Open and 1985 U.S. Senior Open.

Miller Barber's Golf Swing

Aside from his accomplishments in tournament play, what Barber was best-known for was his distinctive swing. The Who's Who in Golf (Elliott/Kelly, 1976) reference states that Barber "has a peculiar, personalized swing which nobody can imitate."

Peter Alliss, in his 1980 The Who's Who of Golf, called it "a very strange swing indeed," and wrote that Barber "takes the club back very much on an outside line, right elbow projecting strongly, and loops it around and into the ball."

The Encyclopedia of Golf (Steel/Ryde, 1975) described it as "a most dinstinctive, looping swing with a high-flying right elbow."

One of his fellow tour pros once stated that when Barber swings "it looks as if his golf club gets caught in a clothesline." And you know how Jim Furyk's swing was once described as looking like an octopus falling out of a tree? That line was first used for Barber's swing.

While his swing might have been unorthodox, it produced power: Barber was a long driver and was especially known for his prowess with long irons. And in addition to his unique swing, something else set Barber apart from most of his peers: He rarely took a practice swing before playing his stroke.

Barber, in a 2005 interview with Golf Digest, explained:

"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."

More About Miller Barber

Miller Barber's Mr. X nickname stemmed from two things: He usually played tournament golf wearing large, dark glasses; and his habit of quickly disappearing once tournament play ended to go ... somewhere. (That somewhere, before he got married, was often where the ladies where — the clubs. Barber ran with a group of single tour pros in the 1960s that included Raymond Floyd and Bob Rosburg. Floyd once even managed an all-girl rock band that performed topless.)

His fellow tour pros often wondered just what Barber was up to the night before. "I never told anywhere where I was going at night. I was a bachelor and a mystery man," Barber once explained.

Barber's other nickname, Precious, arose after he got married in 1970 and fellow pros overheard his new wife calling him that.

Barber was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, but grew up in Texarkana, Texas, where he picked up golf beginning at age 11. As noted above, his first formal lessons came at age 13.

He played college golf at the University of Arkansas, and graduated with a degree in business in 1954. Barber then spent several years in the Air Force.

He turned pro in 1958 at the age of 28, and gave the PGA Tour a try first in 1959. But without much success, Barber took a job as club pro at Apawamis Club in New York.

Then, he decided to try the tour again. And this time, it stuck.

On the PGA Tour

Miller Barber's first PGA Tour appearance was in 1959, and his last wasn't until 1990. The 1960 season was his first with at least 20 starts.

Barber's first PGA Tour win was at the 1964 Cajun Classic Open Invitational. His next came in 1967, and from 1967 through 1974 Barber recorded one victory per year on the PGA Tour. The only other golfer to win at least once per year during that same stretch was Jack Nicklaus.

Barber first cracked the Top 20 of the PGA Tour money list with a 17th-place finish in 1967. He finished in the Top 25 on the money list every year but one from 1966 through 1978.

His best seasons were:

  • 1968, when he had one win, one runner-up and one third-place showing, with 13 Top 10s, and finished ninth on the money list;
  • 1971, with one win, two seconds, two thirds, nine Top 10s and sixth on the money list;
  • 1973, with one win, two seconds, eight Top 10s, and sixth on the money list;
  • 1977, when, at age 46, he had one win, one second, one third, a career-best 14 Top 10s, and finished eighth on the money list.
Following the 1980 season, Barber ranked No. 10 on the PGA Tour career money list.

Among the highlights of his PGA Tour victories was the 1971 Phoenix Open, which Barber won with a score of 261. That was the lowest 72-hole winning score posted on tour since Mike Souchak's then-record 257, set at the 1955 Texas Open.

Another win in Arizona was at the 1972 Tucson Open. There, Barber took part in what turned out to be the last 18-hole playoff on the PGA Tour outside of the majors. He beat George Archer in that playoff on the third extra hole (21st hole overall) after they had tied again at the end of the 18-hole playoff.

And in 1973, Barber won the World Open Golf Championship, a 144-hole tournament played over two weeks at Pinehurst. The $100,000 first-place check was the biggest payout in golf at the time.

The last year in which Barber made at least 20 starts on the PGA Tour was 1982, but by then he was playing the newly formed senior circuit.

For his PGA Tour career, Barber made 711 starts with 11 wins, 17 second-place finishes, 16 third-place finishes and 131 Top 10 finishes. Among those 17 runner-up finishes were playoff losses to Gary Player (and Arnold Palmer) in the 1964 Pensacola Open; and to Jack Nicklaus in the 1973 Greater New Orleans Open.

Barber also played for team USA in the 1969 Ryder Cup and 1971 Ryder Cup, both American victories although Barber's combined record was only 1-4-2.

On the Champions Tour

The Champions Tour was founded in 1980, and Barber turned 50 in 1981. He made six starts on the senior tour that year, winning three of them. One was his first win in a senior major, the Senior PGA Championship.

Barber became the dominant golfer in the early years of the Champions Tour's existence. He won at least three tournaments each of his first five seasons, and recorded wins for nine consecutive years, 1981 through 1989. At the time, that nine-year win streak was the Champions Tour record.

Barber won the U.S. Senior Open in 1982. In 1983 and 1984, he won four times each, had three runner-up showings each year, and added two thirds in 1983 and three in 1984. He finished in the Top 10 in 15 of 16 starts in 1983 and in 20 of 22 starts in 1984.

He led the Champions Tour money list in each of first two seasons (1981 and 1982), was second in 1983 and 1984; fourth in 1985; in the Top 10 each year from 1981 through 1988; and finished 11th in money in 1989, the last year he won a tournament, at age 58. He also led the Champions Tour in scoring average once, in 1981.

At the time of Barber's 24th and final win in 1989, he was the senior tour's all-time leader in tournament victories. He still ranks sixth today.

When Barber he won his fifth and final senior major in 1985, he was just the second player to record five wins in senior majors. He therefore shared, with Arnold Palmer, the tour record for wins in majors at that time. Today, Barber's five wins in senior majors still ranks sixth in tour history.

Another distinction for Barber on the Champions Tour: He won the U.S. Senior Open three times (1982, 1984, 1985), the first golfer to do that.

Barber continued playing the senior tour through 2004, when he made his final, official Champions Tour start. For his Champions Tour career, Barber made 603 starts with 24 wins, 16 seconds, 21 thirds and 155 Top 10s.

Combining his PGA Tour and Champions Tour stats, Barber had 1,297 tournament starts. That's more than any other golfer ever.

Following retirement, Barber often spent time hanging out at the Scottsdale, Arizona clubs Troon North Golf Club and Whisper Rock, where current and past PGA Tour pros often sought him out, for his commentary on their swings but moreso for his great storytelling. He was 82 years old when he died in 2013.

Barber is a member of the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Texas Golf Hall of Fame, Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame, and Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

He was one of multiple co-authors for the book Top Tips from Senior Pros, published in 1991. In the VHS video series Master System to Better Golf — The Seniors, Barber was the featured golfer in the episode focusing on the driver and the wedge. He also appeared in a 1970 episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, playing Dan Sikes and Bob Murphy.

Barber's Tournament Wins

Barber is credited with 11 official wins on the PGA Tour:
  • 1964 Cajun Classic Open Invitational
  • 1967 Oklahoma City Open Invitational
  • 1968 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1969 Kaiser International Open Invitational
  • 1970 Greater New Orleans Open Invitational
  • 1971 Phoenix Open Invitational
  • 1972 Dean Martin Tucson Open
  • 1973 World Open Golf Championship
  • 1974 Ohio Kings Island Open
  • 1977 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic
  • 1978 Phoenix Open
He had 24 official tournament victories on the Champions Tour:
  • 1981 Peter Jackson Champions
  • 1981 Suntree Seniors Classic
  • 1981 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1982 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1982 Suntree Classic
  • 1982 Hilton Head Seniors International
  • 1983 Senior Tournament Players Championship
  • 1983 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am
  • 1983 United Virginia Bank Seniors
  • 1983 Hilton Head Seniors International
  • 1984 Roy Clark Senior Challenge
  • 1984 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1984 Greater Syracuse Seniors Pro Classic
  • 1984 Denver Post Champions of Golf
  • 1985 Sunrise Senior Classic
  • 1985 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1985 PaineWebber World Seniors Invitational
  • 1986 MONY Senior Tournament of Champions
  • 1987 Showdown Classic
  • 1987 Newport Cup
  • 1988 Showdown Classic
  • 1988 Fairfield Barnett Classic
  • 1989 MONY Senior Tournament of Champions
  • 1989 Vintage Chrysler Invitational
Barber also had two victories on the Japan Senior Tour, the 1985 Coca-Cola Grandslam Championship and the 1991 Fuji Electric Grandslam Championship.

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