Jerry Barber, the 1961 PGA champion who also served as the pro at Griffith Park Golf Club for 28 years, died Friday of heart failure. He was 78.
Barber's son, Tom, currently listed as co-pro at Griffith Park with Jerry, said his father entered Verdugo Hills Hospital on Monday complaining of flu-like symptoms and it was discovered that he had a bad valve in the left side of his heart. He had a massive stroke later that night, precluding surgery to repair the faulty valve.
Barber, who played on the tour full time from 1948 to 1962, was a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup teams in 1955 and 1961, serving as captain the latter year.
He was the PGA player of the year in 1961.
Victories in the Azalea Open served as bookends for his career on the regular tour. His first win came in that tournament in 1953 and his last was in 1963.
Barber nearly had his first tournament victory in 1950 at the L.A. Open before heavy rain washed away his chances. Barber played through the rain and was in the clubhouse with a 10-shot lead after the third round at Riviera. With several greens at least partially under water, many players had asked for cancellation of the round, to no avail.
But Ben Hogan took matters into his own hands. Hogan staged a one man sit-in and refused to cross the bridge over the torrent rushing through the barranca on No. 11, waiting for the siren to signal postponement of play. When the siren finally sounded, the day's totals were wiped out and scores reverted to the second round. Barber finished the tournament eight shots back. Hogan eventually won, defeating Sam Snead in an 18-hole playoff.
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.
"I have spent many hours practicing long putts," Barber said. "I tell people to get out there and practice 40-foot and longer putts. Practicing medium and short putts won't develop a stroke for long putts."
A hot putter led to Barber's PGA victory. Barber, then 45, was trailing Don January by four shots with three holes remaining. Barber sank putts of 25, 40 and 52 feet and when January bogeyed the 18th, the two-shot switch enabled Barber to tie. In a playoff the next day, Barber shot 67 and won by a stroke.
He thought his career as a competitor was over until the senior tour blossomed. He was already 64 when it was organized in 1980.
Barber, a native of Woodson, Ill., joined the senior tour in 1980 and played a limited schedule this season, the last time a few weeks ago.
Barber was 28 years older than the senior rookies, and even most of the players in the super seniors (60 or older) were at least a dozen years younger. And though seniors are allowed to ride in a cart, only in the past couple of years did Barber begin using one part of the time.
"I've been walking all my life and it's no problem," Barber said.
He wanted to keep playing as long as he could.
"The older you get, the easier it is to shoot your age," Barber said at a tournament a few years ago, adding that he had no thoughts about giving up his game.
"It beats working," he said.
Longevity runs in the Barber family. His mother was 103 when she died, and his father was 86. He has eight brothers and sisters, all still living, ranging in age from 75 to 90.
Barber played a number of events on the regular tour in 1991 after losing his exemption for the Senior (over 50) Tour. He was still eligible for the regular tour because his PGA championship carried a lifetime exemption from qualifying for tournaments.
Tom said his father also had the distinction of making the first hole in one in a PGA tournament that was captured on film, at the Buick Open in Flint, Mich., in 1961.
"When you figure he went on the tour in 1948 and he came off two weeks ago, that's a hell of a roll," said Tom.
Barber is survived by two sons, Tom and Roger; three daughters, Nancy, Sandra and Sally; eight brothers and sisters; 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.