Thursday, September 1

How I Caddied for Long Putter Pioneer Orville Moody

IF IT HADN’T BEEN ORVILLE MOODY, some other name player would have been the first to win regularly with the long putter. The 1969 U.S. Open champion, Moody put the broomstick in his bag after turning 50. He went on to win 11 times using the long putter on the senior circuit, including the 1989 U.S. Senior Open.

It was controversial. Other players didn’t like the long putter and tried to get it banned, Moody told me four years ago at the Baltimore Country Club. He was an unpopular pioneer. But for the first time in his life he could roll putts with consistency and confidence. An Army veteran, Moody soldiered on with the long stick.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that Orville was a character. He was funny and had more than a few golf tales. I enjoyed his company on a couple of occasions. Following is the story of how I caddied for Moody in 2007 at a Grand Champions event that preceded the Senior Players Championship.

“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 the Senior Players Championship. I had been on the golf legends circuit throughout the year, attending events in Savannah, Hickory (North Carolina) and then Baltimore.

I’d had unique access to many golf legends—players I watched or knew of while growing up. Thanks to my association with Jack Fleck, I ate in the players’ dining rooms, hung out in the locker rooms and shuttled back and forth to hotels where I rubbed elbows with several former tour pros. You can bet I heard plenty of golf stories, too.


Back to 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, 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. It was the only tour win for a sweet ball-striker who couldn’t putt.

When the Champions Tour (called the Senior Tour at that 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 is one of only four men who has won both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open.

That weekend four years ago 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 caddie for Sarge. 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 had been accustomed to handing his golf ball and clubs to somebody. In Baltimore, 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 distract him from his work, which I could tell he took seriously, even if it was just a legends best-ball event for a quarter-million dollar purse.

How serious?

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. It seemed like the right thing to do. (Orville’s lower back bothered him and I figured bending over to towel off and slip on his sock and shoe would be a problem.)

Sarge was a mess and 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 Moody 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.

Postscript: That was the last time I saw Orville Moody. After a massive stroke, he spent much of the following year in a nursing home. He died in August 2008.

−The Armchair Golfer


Charles Prokop said...

Nice story, Neil. I grew up in Houston and my neighbors when I was in high school knew Orville Moody. The exact nature of their relationship has faded in my memory by now, but I always felt like I knew him a little through them. I was always happy to see him do well, and really enjoyed it when he won at Champions.

Average Golfer said...

Nice, very nice.

Brian Kuehn said...

A nice story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

The Armchair Golfer said...

Thanks, guys. It was a good time. Hard to believe it's been four years.

Anonymous said...

I love this story about Moody. The long putter has become a pretty serious strategy these days when it comes to putting. Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, and now even Phil Mickelson are all giving it a try. Seems like the concept of creating that big pendulum effect really works.
Personally, I cant stand them. I always choke up on my regular putter. For some reason, I just feel like I have more control that way.

Pearce Bley said...

Fantastic story, Neil. I just posted my review of long putters on my blog and I definitely see the future of the game turning to the belly or broom putter. Why wouldn't a guy on the Nationwide Tour try to help his game by adding a long putter to his bag? It allows for a much more natural motion and if you're a shot or two away from gaining your tour card every year, the long putter can get those who miss the cut on the upper tier and onto the tour.
Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson are some big names to switch and I see many more big name players switching in 2012 if not by the end of the year.

LeeW said...

I would like to know how Orville's Daughter Michelle is doing and how her life has progressed ?

LeeW said...

I would like to know how Orvilles Daughter is doing and how her life progressed ?