ORVILLE MOODY, THE 1969 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION, died today in Texas. He was 74. Reports didn’t give a cause of death, but he had been in poor health for most of the year after suffering a massive stroke.
A former caddie informed me of Orville’s death via email before the news hit the wire. I hope to have more later, but now I bring you a story I published last fall at MVN’s Down the Middle. I spent time with Orville in Baltimore, which I’m pretty certain was his last competitive event on the Grand Champions circuit.
(October 2, 2007)
“You want to ride with me? It will be easier to keep up.”
Sure, I said to Orville Moody.
I was at a Grand Champions event in Baltimore, the prelude to this week’s Senior Players Championship. Since befriending Jack Fleck in March I’ve been on the golf legends circuit throughout the year, attending events at Savannah, Hickory (North Carolina) and, this past weekend, Baltimore.
I’ve had unique access to many golf legends — players I watched or knew of while growing up. Thanks to my association with Jack, I’ve eaten in the players’ dining rooms, hung out in the locker rooms and shuttled back and forth to hotels where I’ve rubbed elbows with several former tour pros. You can bet I’ve heard plenty of golf stories, too.
Back to Orville Moody or “Sarge,” my companion for 18 holes at the Baltimore Country Club East Course, a rolling, old-style layout with sloping greens created by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast.
Nicknamed Sarge because of his Army days, Orville Moody was the last local qualifier to win the U.S. Open, coming from virtually nowhere to claim the trophy in 1969 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas. It was the only tour win for a sweet ball-striker who couldn’t putt.
About the time the Champions Tour (called the Senior Tour at the time) was cranking up in the mid 1980s, Sarge turned 50 and started winning tournaments in bunches, thanks, in large part, to his long putter, considered a novelty in those days. Moody won 11 times on the senior circuit and is one of only four men who has won both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open.
This past weekend Sarge was partnered with Jack Fleck in a best-ball tournament that featured several legends — Jim Feree, Fred Hawkins, Gene Littler, Don January, Billy Casper, Bob Goalby, Dow Finsterwald, Doug Ford, Doug Sanders, Lee Elder and Billy Maxwell, to name most of them.
Caddie by Default
Many of the legends don’t hire caddies for these events, so as we rolled down the second fairway I realized I could play caddie for Sarge, although I would steer clear of yardages, club selection and reading greens. I’ve been around golf, but I’m not going to pretend to be a “real” caddie. Still, for 40 or so years Moody has been accustomed to handing his golf ball and clubs to somebody. On Sunday, I was that somebody.
There was some chit-chat, mostly initiated by Orville. I was not going to yap at him or do anything to possibly distract him from his work, which I could tell he took seriously even if it was “just” a legends best-ball for a quarter-million dollar purse.
On the 8th hole Sarge removed his shoe and sock to have a go at a ball in a greenside pond. He slipped on the bank and almost fell in the drink. Then he slashed at the ball with his 60-degree wedge, splattering mud on his dark slacks and pale green shirt.
There I was on the green toweling off his muddy, grassy bare foot. I know it might sound weird, but it seemed like the right thing to do. (Orville’s lower back bothers him and I figured bending over to towel off and slip on his sock and shoe might be a problem.)
Sarge was a mess and, I think, a bit flustered, too. It was awkward. Yet my instinct was to help my player.
I enjoyed watching Moody’s shot preparation. I did, in fact, give him yardages off sprinkler heads, adding and subtracting based on the pin placements. Once Sarge pulled a club and got over the ball there was no hesitation. His compact swing produced low straight shots with the hint of a fade. His speed on the slick, sloping greens was good. Determining the correct lines was another matter.
After coming off the 18th hole, I thanked Orville for allowing me to ride along. “I’ll probably see you at the Legends in Savannah next April,” I told him.
I knew Sarge wasn’t thrilled about his play — especially on the back nine — but he said I made the day more enjoyable. I felt good about that.
−The Armchair Golfer
Remembering Orville Moody: A Caddie’s Story (Part 1)
Remembering Orville Moody: A Caddie’s Story (Conclusion)