No one was surprised when the Barbers, Jerry and Tom, won the father-son division at last week's GTE West Classic in Ojai, Calif.
They were the father-son division.
"The first father and son to play together on the Senior PGA Tour," marveled Jerry, 76, after edging his club-professional son, Tom, 50, by one stroke in the tournament, won by Al Geiberger. "We made golf history!" As milestones go, this one reeked of dèjà vu. Twenty-four years ago the Barbers became the first father and son to play on the PGA Tour at the same time when they teed up as competitors at the 1969 Azalea Open in Wilmington, N.C. They have played in the same field about a dozen times over the years, most recently at the 1985 Los Angeles Open.
Tom and his dad are the professionals at Griffith Park Golf Courses in L.A. Tom proudly points to his father's illustrious history. Born in 1916, Jerry became a golf pro during World War II and joined the Tour in 1948. Five times a winner, he was PGA champion and Player of the Year in 1961. "Not many people know it," says Tom. "but Dad made the first hole in one captured on film in tournament play, and he was coinventor of the full-finger golf glove."
Already in his mid-'60s when the Senior tour got rolling a decade ago, Jerry has nonetheless earned nearly half a million dollars on the circuit—more than double what he's earned on the regular Tour. "Of course when I won my first pro tournament, I only got $2,000," Jerry said on Sunday. "The guy that won today at Doral [Greg Norman] got $252,000." Last year Barber shot his age or better in 39 tournament rounds and led the seniors in driving accuracy for the second straight year. Says Tom, "He's not just a great dad—he's one of my alltime sports heroes."
Hero or not, the elder Barber recently lost his exemption to play the Senior tour, which is based on a player's status on the PGA's alltime money list. (He was about $75,000 short of the $695,000 cutoff.) He and his son got into the Ojai field by invitation of the sponsor—an opportunity for which both golfers seemed grateful but especially Tom, who underwent open-heart surgery a year ago to repair a defective mitral valve. "I enjoyed every minute of this week—even the three-putts," he said, after bogeying the 18th hole for a final-round 77 to finish 24 strokes off the pace, at 222.
Almost overlooked in the fog of sentiment at Ojai was Tom's son Jeff, 25, a three handicapper who carried his pop's bag. With a little work on his game, his elders said, Jeff Barber could one day anchor the first three-generation entry on the Senior tour. Said Tom, "Dad'll be 101, I'll be 75, and Jeff Will be 50."