One made you want to laugh. The other made you want to cry. When the U.S. Senior Open boiled down to Sunday's head-to-head match between Orville Moody and Frank Beard—Falstaff and Hamlet, if you didn't bring your Cliffs Notes—the crowds lining the fairways of the Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., had to choose between the satisfying chortle and the cleansing sob.
The round and lumpy Moody, whose very presence in a fairway gives it the look of an unmade bed, proved that championship golf can still be played with a carefree shrug, especially if you've got a four-foot, yip-curing putter. Beard, a burnout case who was the PGA Tour's leading money winner in 1969 before sliding out of competition in 1981 and into a slough of despond, demonstrated how excruciating tournament golf can be for a thoughtful player trying to regain confidence.
"We grow out of pain, I guess," Beard said on Sunday when it was over. The relaxed smile on his face left plenty of room for interpretation, but there was no mistaking Moody's satisfaction at his two-stroke victory. In winning, the Sarge became the fourth player to triumph in both the Senior Open and the U.S. Open. In fact, his 1969 Open championship was the single victory of his PGA Tour career.
"It was so discouraging," Moody said, recalling his luckless regular Tour days.
July 9, 1989
Before Moody and Beard seized the stage, this year's Senior Open gave one an opportunity to dwell on the feats of Arnold Palmer, whose emotional pallette has always had more colors than that of either of the contenders, or of anyone else in golf, for that matter. Palmer flooded the valleys of his boyhood with nostalgia all week, just as record June rains had soaked the Laurel Valley fairways. Playing only minutes from his home in Latrobe and on a course he helped redesign, Palmer graciously endured a week of fetes and tributes in his honor, including a premature birthday bash—he turns 60 on Sept. 10—hosted by Bob Hope. The U.S. Post Office even got in a few licks, putting Palmer's mug on a special cachet titled The Legend.
The adulation may have unsettled Palmer, who said, "The pressure on me here is far greater than anywhere I play. It seems like I know everyone, whether they're from Bolivar or Derry or Hostetter or Whitney or Bradenville."
On Thursday morning Arnie led his local irregulars into battle, but five holes and three bogeys into the round the Army had little to roar about. Fighting his irons and fiddling with his grip, Palmer barely made the 36-hole cut and exploded to an 82 on Saturday. He finished with a 77 on Sunday, 24 over par for 72 holes.
Thursday belonged neither to Palmer nor to Gary Player, the two-time defending champ who opened with a 72, but to a three-handicap amateur from Phoenix who was playing with flea-market clubs. J. Frank Boydston, whose 69 led most of the day, until Al Geiberger slid a late-afternoon 68 under the door, was almost apologetic about his round. "I'm pretty much a frustrated player with dreams of grandeur," said Boydston, the 53-year-old owner of two Phoenix-area Chuckbox hamburger joints. "I just hope nobody pinches me and wakes me up."
The amiable Mitty, er, Boydston happily answered questions about his restaurants ("Nothing fancy—beer in mason jars"), his aging clubs ("It takes me a while to select one, 'cause I can't read the numbers on 'em") and his playing strengths ("My biggest asset is that when I miss the ball, it usually goes fairly straight"). Boydston shot a white-knuckle 76 on Friday but still easily made the cut, thereby delaying his return to the hamburger grill. After scores of 78 and 82 in the final two rounds, he would finish tied for 39th.
On Saturday, the usually consistent Geiberger jumped out to a three-stroke lead at seven under, only to crash back to par by day's end. Don Bies made a similar feint, shooting 66 on Friday but giving back six strokes in the last 10 holes on Saturday. By day's end, Laurel Valley's slick, humped-up greens and the requisite USGA rough had tamed all but Moody and Beard, who took command on the back side.
Moody, with his 19-year-old daughter, Michelle, carrying his bag and helping him read putts, went into a trance and shot a Senior Open-record 64, including an eagle 3 on the amphitheaterlike 18th. On that hole he cut a five-wood over the water and rolled the ball 12 feet past the pin. "What can I say?" said Moody afterward. "I get that way sometimes, where I feel like I can put the ball anywhere I want."
Moody gave credit for the putts that fell to his long-shafted putter, which he has used since 1985 to cure "a terrible jerk" in his stroke. Would he prepare for Sunday's finale with a session on the practice range? He snorted in disbelief. "I haven't worked on any part of my game for a long time," he said with a grin. "I hit 10 or 15 balls in the morning, just to loosen up."
Loosening up was more of a psychological exercise for Beard, who described his play as "tentative" and seemed to regard his putter as a pipe bomb that might explode. His sudden return to prominence had caught him with a far-off look in his eye, as if he were a soldier wandering out of the jungle years after the war is over. "I'm mentally exhausted," he said on Saturday evening.
Beard's slide from golf's mountaintop to the slag heap of alcoholism and divorce was one of the saddest episodes of the '70s. The winner of 11 tournaments between 1963 and '71, he wound up as a club pro in Palm Desert, Calif., where he remarried and tried to put his life back together. "When I quit the Tour in 1981, my golf game and my personal life had dissipated; my confidence and self-esteem were at rock bottom," he said. "I was not just behind the 8 ball, I was under it."
Beard joined the Senior tour in May, after two years of uncertain soliloquy and a trial run on the Golden State mini-tour in California. "I picked up my Sunday bag and carried it like the other guys," he said. "And I loved it. But there was always the nagging feeling that I wasn't where I was supposed to be. I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable until I was with my peers again."
Beard proved on Sunday that he was where he belonged, but the tentativeness that worried him Saturday cost him the Open. On the front side Beard left four putts parked at the rim, three of them for birdies.
Moody, meanwhile, played the par 5's in three under. The victory was worth $80,000 and boosted Moody to the top of the senior money list, with $318,923. After getting a hug and kiss from Michelle, who was born five months after her father won the U.S. Open, Moody threw his arm around Beard and the two men walked off the 18th green to an ovation.
"Orville, with that new putter, could do well on the big Tour right now," Beard said of his reacquired peer. "But he's got a bird's nest on the ground in the Senior tour, so why should he?"
A bird's nest with a pretty nice nest egg to go with it.