Twice in the last seven weeks a nearsighted young man named Frank Beard, wearing glasses and the old-fashioned white visor of a public-course golfer, has popped up on television sets across the land and in living color whipped America's darling, Arnold Palmer. Had it only happened the first time, when Beard rapped in an eight-foot birdie to spoil Arnold's record 64 and win the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas, he could have been written off as one of those inevitable catastrophes that occur in sport. But it happened again, three weeks later. Here came Palmer and Beard, all even, playing head to head this time, in the final round of the Houston International on the rugged Champions course. Palmer, as his army saluted, made his par 4 on the last green and then stood aside to watch Beard bend over a 20-foot birdie that he would no doubt three-putt like all good Frank Beards should. Instead, Beard sank it for a 67 and another one-stroke victory. What is even worse for the game's elite, he appears capable of doing it some more, perhaps even at some spectacular time and place like next week's U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
The funny thing is, no one really knows who this Frank Beard is. He doesn't drink champagne like the late Tony Lema, he doesn't eat peanut-butter sandwiches like Al Geiberger, he doesn't dress in Doug Sanders floral arrangements, he doesn't dance on the greens like Chi Chi Rodrigeuz and he doesn't give up cigarettes frequently like you know who. He simply looks like a man who comes to the course, puts down his valise, takes off his coat and vest, tees off and rams in money putts on the 18th green. The only reason he can think of why he might be unique is that he admits he is a good putter—something no self-respecting touring pro has ever confessed before. But if Beard keeps on winning money with his elegant, enviable swing, he is going to endanger his anonymity. He even could become the player that everyone in your regular Saturday gangsome will want to hang his overlapping grip on.
The devoted golfer could do a lot worse than try to copy Frank Beard's swing. Consider the touring pros. Except for those happy occasions when Ben Hogan and Sam Snead reappear, the tour has about as many stylish hitters of the ball as you might find in an ordinary Hong Kong riot. Among the more notable methods on public display are the Palmer slash, the Gary Player leap, the Bill Casper punch, the Sanders rake, the Gay Brewer loop and the Julius Boros flick. There is nothing wrong with the results they achieve, of course, but if a man is wondering where his Vs ought to point, he will be far better off searching out Frank Beard.
At six feet and 180 pounds, Beard is too big to get stepped on in the rough, but the way to find him is to search for the swing instead of the man. Look for the man and you are apt to wind up with another nice-looking, pleasant young fellow—someone like Charles Coody or Dave Stockton or the home pro who has been allowed in the tournament out of kindness. But once you see the swing, you won't forget Frank Beard.
June 11, 1967
Beard's swing is one of natural perfection. It is the same one he has had since he used to chip for dimes around the public courses of Dallas when he was a kid. A left-hander who was taught by his father to play golf right-handed—always a plus because it makes for a stronger grip—he takes a slightly open stance, and it is relatively narrow. Then he brings the club up and through in a big, fluid, graceful arc; not slow and not fast, and always the same.
He does not have the obvious flatness and hand action of Hogan, who was also a born left-hander, or the speed and strength of Snead. But he has something special that brings to mind old film clips of Bobby Jones or Gene Sarazen.
Doug Ford, who is one of the more astute observers on the tour, says, "For day-in and day-out consistency, Beard is the best player out here. He is exceptionally accurate with the driver and a superb putter. We've all been saying for two or three years that Frank has the best swing of anybody."
To this, PGA Champion Al Geiberger adds, "It's just a perfect swing, that's all. Everybody keeps asking me who the next great player will be, and I keep saying Frank Beard."
Beard would like to believe it, and you would think the $65,000 he won in the first five months of this season would be enough to keep his confidence up. But he doubts that he will ever be one of the tour supermen.
"My wife, Pat [Tony Lema introduced them at the 1965 Colonial National Invitation in Fort Worth], and other folks get mad at me for saying it, but I know the facts of life," he says. "I know that if I play my best and somebody like Palmer or Nicklaus plays his best, he's got to win.
"I don't do things like start out on the last nine holes at Houston three strokes behind Arnold thinking I'm going to win the tournament. That's the kind of thing he does. Put him three strokes behind anybody, and he believes he's the favorite."
Beard does feel that his game is unusually consistent. "For example," he says, "if you grade everybody 100% and down on each category of play—driver, fairway woods, long irons, short irons, bunker shots, putting—I think I would average about 85% on everything. Palmer's highest averages would come on driving, and his lowest on short irons and bunker shots, where he admits he is weak. My best chance of beating someone like Arnold is with consistency, playing everything 85%, while he may play the woods, the long irons and the putter 100% but falls way below that in other areas."
The secret to survival on the tour, Beard feels, is learning your own pace. "They don't get the crowds very excited, but players like Boros and Geiberger are really respected by all of us because they know themselves so well," he says. "At the most, I would think that I might be able to win my way into that sort of group someday. They are steady, and they play their own game regardless of what's going on. That is the key, trying to eliminate mistakes. And by mistakes I mean gambling when you shouldn't and not gambling when you should."
Beard is fascinated with odds, and he knows which players he would want to let hit the shots for him in the clutch, because he has decided that they are the ones who most consistently hit them the best.
"First of all, I'm gonna let Hogan hit everything, because he's the greatest shot-maker who ever lived. Second, I think I'd let Tommy Bolt hit everything, because he was the second best. He just didn't give himself a chance, the way he's lived, to prove it in the record books. But to be more detailed, if I need a driver, Palmer can hit it for me. For the fairway woods I'll take Dutch Harrison among the older pros and Gene Littler today. For long irons you must go with Jack Nicklaus, because he can hit them high, which is really important. Nobody can hit the short irons better than Billy Maxwell. Doug Ford is my wedge man. Out of bunkers, I'll go for a guy who doesn't play much, Dick Hart. And, frankly, I would prefer to putt for myself."
Beard is also fascinated with odds because, to put it plainly, he likes to make a few wagers on his talents as both a golfer and a bridge player.
"It sounds bad to say you like to gamble, and mothers will probably be outraged, but I would teach any son of mine to gamble. He could learn something from gambling that he couldn't learn any other way."
Frank reflected a moment. "The greatest lesson I ever learned was when I was 12 years old. We were living in Dallas near the Stevens Park municipal course, and I had one golf club that my dad had given me. I used to go over to the course every day and chip toward some of the greens with a few of the kids. One day I had 15¢ in my pocket and this little Negro boy wanted me to chip him for it—chip up and putt out. I'd never gambled before, but we got it on. Naturally, he beat me and took my money. Boy, I went home and cried all night. But the next day I was out there practicing that shot over and over again. I started being a pro right then."
Beard makes it clear that he does not advocate bringing up your son to be Nick the Greek or an addictive gambler who will blow the house, wife, car, kids and job on a gin hand. (He has reasons to be prudent about gambling. His older half brother, Ralph, a basketball All-America who is now a successful salesman in Louisville, was one of three University of Kentucky players involved in the basketball scandal of the early '50s.) But Frank firmly believes that wagering something when you are young and can't afford to lose will teach you a lesson.
"It will teach you what it's like to hurt," he says, "and want to fight back. Playing for something makes you try harder, I don't care what anybody says. This tour has seen a lot of country-club golfers who had store-bought games and couldn't make it. They held the clubs right, had a manufactured swing that their pros taught them and were grand sportsmen. But there was one thing missing. They had not learned what it was like to have to get it up and down in two from out of the garbage—or go home busted. I learned it playing for nickels and dimes on the muny courses in Dallas and Louisville, and I say it's helped me a lot more than any pretty swing I'm supposed to have."
Underground on the tour the word is that Beard and one of his good friends, Joe Campbell, will play anybody for anything during the practice rounds that always precede a tournament.
When asked about this, Frank smiles and says, "I like a good game." But he adds, "The fellows out here don't play for all that much money anymore, not like you used to hear about. I don't think it's any secret that most of us like to play for a little something in practice—a $5 Nassau usually—because it keeps you sharp. It keeps you trying, keeps up your nerve and teaches you once again not to be afraid to make a putt."
Even off the course, Beard likes a competitive wager, usually at the bridge table. The tour has a sort of unofficial bridge club, of which Frank is one of the foremost members. It includes Campbell, Bert Yancey, Homero Blancas, Dick Crawford, Jay Dolan, Dave Hill and a couple of foreigners, Harold Henning and Bob Verwey, who are affectionately known to the rest as "the Egyptians" and usually pair up.
Before anyone gets the absurd idea that Beard is a hopeless, sinning influence on the youth of America, it should be pointed out that the direct opposite would be closer to the truth. He comes from a religious family and is himself a devout Catholic. He has two sisters who graduated from the University of Dallas with honors and are members of an order of nuns, the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur. Beard is immensely proud of the fact that Sister Mary Judith, the older of the two, has won fellowships—a Fulbright and a Wood-row Wilson—for her work in nuclear physics.
Beard's interest in golf has its family background, for his father, Ralph Beard Sr., was a professional at Cedar Crest in Dallas before he moved to Louisville, where he now operates a hardware store. Frank decided to devote full time to golf his senior year in high school, a move that helped him get a scholarship to the University of Florida. Late in 1962, at the age of 23, he turned pro, and in 1963 he was the leading money winner among the rookies, earning $17,938.
There was a brief period the next year when it looked as if the golf tour might lose Beard's smooth swing. That summer he suffered an attack of encephalitis, which seemed so serious at the time that he was even given the last rites. Beard, perhaps as sick of reading overwrought newspaper accounts of his battle back from the brink of death and similar tear-stained drivel as he was from the encephalitis, has since played down the illness. It is a fact, miraculous or not, that he was back in action five weeks later and finished up the season winning more than $20,000.
In 1965 he climbed up to $40,377 and won his second tournament, the Texas Open; last year he won the Greater New Orleans Open and banked $66,041, which made him the ninth leading money winner on the tour. Thus each year has been better than the last, and 1967 is obviously going to be by far his best. Coming into next week's U.S. Open, Beard is the hottest golfer on the tour, one who has proved he can play Open-type courses—he was third at Bellerive in 1965 and 12th at Olympic last year—and if he professes to be in awe of Nicklaus and Palmer, those two are, in turn, eminently aware of the presence of Frank Beard.
The amazing thing is that in spite of winning more tournaments than many name players, as far as the public is concerned Beard continues to be an unknown personality.
"I'd like to be more colorful," he says, "but, first of all, I've got to be myself. I just don't like peanut butter or champagne. I can't hit the booming drive ["He's not what you would call short," says Palmer tersely] and I'm certainly not Chi Chi. I suppose, if I could win enough, the people would find out who I am. However, I'm too much of a realist to think that will ever happen."
But no one else is. In the end, Frank Beard might turn out to have the best attention-getting gimmick of them all, the kind that deserves special attention at U.S. Open time—his classic swing.