Friday, January 22

Putting Genius: Wendell 'Fat Boy' Barnes

IN HIS BOOK LET 'ER RIP, Gardner Dickinson called him "the greatest putter I ever saw." That's saying something. Dickinson played on the PGA Tour during the Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus eras. A protege of Hogan who copied the Texas golf legend in nearly every way, Dickinson had seen many great players and putters in his long career.

But, according to Dickinson, no one matched Wendell "Fat Boy" Barnes on the greens. You remember Barnes, right? No, neither do I.

"When I was in high school and college," Dickinson wrote, "I was a great putter, although no one knew it because of Wendell Barnes."

Barnes was a good friend and a longtime teammate, first in high school and later in college when both young men played on the golf team at Louisiana State University.

"Wendell never played in the pressure cooker of the pro tour," Dickinson added, "but he was, hands down, the greatest putter I've ever seen."

Dickinson said the guys called Barnes "Fat Boy" because he was chubby. Barnes was "good-natured and took it in stride." It was the 1940s. Kids (and people) had nicknames that would be considered unacceptable by today's societal standards. No one made much of a fuss about such things back then.

Wrist Putter

Dickinson explained how his friend played a controlled hook and never learned how to hit a fade. It didn't seem to matter. "He just wanted to reach the green any old way, then kill you with his putting," Dickinson wrote.

Barnes employed a wristy stroke, common in those days, "like Lloyd Mangrum, Pete Cooper and Billy Casper," Dickinson recalled. "He stroked down on the ball, almost taking a little turf, and the roll he got was just uncanny. He popped the ball so smartly you could hear it clear across the green. In his mind, no putt was too long to make."

Blade, mallet, Cash-in, whatever -- Barnes could putt with any style of putter. Dickinson watched in amazement during eight years of high school and college golf.

"I'm convinced that nobody in the world could have out-putted Wendell."

Barnes died last March at the age of 89. Dickinson, whose career included seven wins on the PGA Tour, died in 1998. He was 70.

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