News & ToursAugust 8, 2008

Fields: Former U.S. Open Champ Moody Passes

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- It was fitting that Orville Moody, 74 when he died in Texas Friday, passed away during a major championship.

Moody, who had been in declining health for a while, forever will be remembered as the 1969 U.S. Open champion. It was the first major he played in, his first and only PGA Tour win, and he is the last golfer to go through local and sectional qualifying to win the national championship.

He suffered from hay fever so badly he sometimes played wearing a surgical mask. He struggled mightily on the greens. Moody putted crosshanded when he shot 281 at Champions GC in Houston to edge Deane Beman, Al Geiberger and Bob Rosburg by one stroke. "I'm too wobbly on the four-footers the other way," he told The New York Times after he parred the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff, the final stroke an agonizing 14-incher, as he joined such other unlikely U.S. Open winners as Sam Parks Jr. and Jack Fleck. Moody had only one subsequent top-10 in a major after winning the Open, a T-7 at the 1969 PGA.

When Sports Illustrated profiled Moody 10 years after his stunning victory, the headline was "The Putter God Forgot."

Yet Moody always struck the ball like a dream, sure and crisp, among the best ball-strikers of his (or any) time--his game honed by 14 years managing courses during his service in the U.S. Army. Hence, his nickname, "Sarge."

As a senior Moody found a second golf life, thanks to the long putter invented by fellow senior Charles Owens. He won 11 times on the Senior PGA Tour, his biggest the 1989 U.S. Senior Open at Laurel Valley GC when he edged Frank Beard. His dramatic success with the broomstick had the USGA talking about outlawing long putters--the way it had banned croquet putting after Sam Snead adopted it with success in the 1960s--but it never happened.

As recently as 2007 Moody teamed with old friend Jimmy Powell in the Demaret division at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Powell played this year, with Geiberger, but was heartsick about his absent friend.

-- Bill Fields

More from The Loop