Grayson County TXGenWeb
Miller Barber

Herald Democrat
By Don Eldredge and Joyce Godwin

Grayson County friends, and most other residents, knew he was a professional golfer of prominent standing, but it was his dedication to his community, especially to his adopted home of Sherman, that made Miller Barber the well-liked and respected man he became.

Barber died Tuesday, June 11, in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a year-long bout with cancer. He and his wife, Karen, had moved to Arizona after he retired from professional golf in 2004, but he maintained friendships in Texas and returned for occasional charity tournaments. He also monetarily supported Grayson County events even when he could not attend.

He gave a lot of time to the kids of Sherman, recalled friend and former Sherman City Councilman Jimmy Jack Beale, who served as a financial adviser for Barber during the golfer's playing days. He contributed so much to the community.

When we had the NFLA (charity golf tournament) going on, all those silent auction items signed by famous golfers and other athletes, Miller and Karen got those for us, said Beale. They helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the kids in this area.

Barber also served on the Sherman Independent School District board of directors from 1986 to 1992, which was a particularly busy time during his professional career.

Long-time Sherman school district coach and administrator Tommy Hudspeth recalled that Barber played a major role in bringing highly successful football coach John Outlaw to the city. He was very supportive of athletics, of course, Hudspeth said, but he was not anti-anything. He was for the kids and the schools, and he really gave up some (professional) time in order to serve the district.

Boys and Girls Club of Sherman Executive Director Mike DeLong said that when he became program director of the local club in 1985, both Barber and his wife were active with the organization. Karen was on our board at the time, DeLong said. Miller and Karen always sponsored teams.

Miller and Karen Barber married in 1970, when the golfer was 39 years old.  She had three sons (Casey, Doug and Brad) from an earlier marriage, and the couple added two more boys, Larry and Richard, to the family.  Throughout much of their early married life, Barber was on the road playing golf while his wife was at home raising the kids.  But he really wasn't a long-distance dad to his five sons.

"One time when Richard was play (a Boys Club sport), he was just a youngster," said DeLong, "he fell and got hurt.  Miller came out of the stands and picked him up and cradled him in his arms...making sure he was OK.  I remember that vividly.  What a tender father he was with his boys."

Barber was born in Shreveport, La., and spent his formative years in Texarkana, Texas, where he finished high school.  He left home for Texas A&M University (one year) and then the University of Arkansas.  Following graduation there, he spent four years in the United States Air Force.  It was the military that brought him to Grayson Perrin Air Force Base, now North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field.

While serving at Perrin, he met Read Omohundro, with whom he would later partner as co-owners of Woodlawn Country Club between Sherman and Denison.

Barber was 11 years old when he first took up golf, proud to tell the story that his first bag was a cardboard tube he shellacked.  He did odd jobs in Texarkana to pay for gold lessons, and by the time he was in college, his game showed professional promis.  His college career culminated with the NCAA championship at Arkansas.

After military duty, he found enough monetary backing in his adopted Grayson County to join the Professional Golfer's Association - initially with little success.  He even too a job as head pro at a New York golf club to augment his earnings.  But it wasn't long before he turned it all around.

When he was "roasted" in Sherman in 1974 during a "Miller Barber Day" celebration, one of Barber's original backers, Ray Clymer of Denison, recalled jokingly, "...when Miller made his first profit on tour, I told him to tear up the contract and strike out on his own.  He thought I was just turning him loose, but really, I didn't want to get caught with the bills if he stopped winning."

Barber's first PGA tour victory came in his fifth year, at the 1964 Cajun Classic in Lafayette, La.  He shot at seven-under-par 67 on the final round, beating out runners-up Gay Brewer and Jack Nicklaus by five strokes with a four-round total of 277.  He came near a second victory that year, losing out to winer Gary Player and runner-up Arnold Palmer in a three-way 18-hole playoff at the Pensacola, Fla., Open.

His second playoff, however, he turned into a victory, beating out Player with a birdie on the third extra hole at the 1967 Oklahoma City Open.  It was the beginning of a streak of at least one tournament victory a year through 1974, when he won the Ohio Kings Island Open.  During that streak he won the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas in 1968 and his richest tournament, the 1973 World Open Golf Championship in Pinehurst, N.C., pocketing $100,000 for the 144-hole event.

Before Barber turned 50 years old in 1981, he had notched 11 PGA tour victories, during which time he became the tenth man on the PGA tour to top the million dollar mark in earnings.  It's likely he could not have suspected that his greated golfing glory was yet to come.

Upon joining the PGS Senior Tour, his first year out he won three tournaments, including the 1981 PGA Seniors' Championship with a two-stroke victory over Arnold Palmer.  He followed that with three more victories in both 1982 and 1983, including the U.S. Senior Open.  By the time he began to curtail his touring schedule in the early 1990s, he had won a record 24 tournaments on the Senior Tour (later renamed the Champions Tour), including five Champions majors.

He played occasional tournaments into the 21st century, winning the Legends of Golf titles with partner Jim Ferree in 2002 and 2003.

Ferree, a North Carolina native who was the same age as Barber and made his greatest mark as a touring profession on the Senior Tour, is credited by most with naming Barber "Mr. X," a nickname he gained during his early days on the PGA tour.

Barber told the story that Ferree began calling him "The Mysterious Mr. X" because, "I never told (anyone) where I was going at night (after a tournament round).  I was a bachelor and a mystery man."

His moniker was shortened from "Mysterious Mr. X" to simply "Mr. X" and eventually jus "X."  Sherman friend and adviser Beale said, "The last seven or eight  years, we talked every single day, if not two or three times a day.  I called him 'X' and he called me "Y.'"

In a story appearing in Golf Digest this past week, it was noted that Barber made 1,297 starts on the regular and senior PGA tours.  That is a record.  In his retirement years he played frequently at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale.

In his final days at Silver Stone Care Center in Scottsdale, his wife and sons Larry and Richard were at his side, with Casey, Doug and Brad in close touch.  On the day he died, Barber receivfed a phone call from Jack Nicklaus.  His son Larry told a Golf Digest writer, "It was short, and Dad did more listening than talking.  But Mr. Nicklaus obviously told him some pretty nice things, because he brightened.  He became alert."

Barber's son Richard has remained active for years with the Sherman Boys and Girls Club, serving as president of its board of directors.  He and his family moved to Arizona this year during his father's illness.

Club Director DeLong said, "Miller loved coming back to Sherman.  Not one time did I ever see a kid ask Miller for an autograph that he didn't, regardless of what he was doing, always smile and sign it, and he was happy to do it."

"We lost a wonderful person in Miller," DeLong said.  "With all the success he had on the golf course, at the end of the day he was a champion for kids, which I think was his biggest accomplishment."

Sherman, Texas


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