NEW YORK — Miller Barber, who wielded a famously unorthodox swing to become a leading player on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and a dominant one in the early years of senior play, died Tuesday. He was 82.
His death was announced by the PGA Tour; no other details were given.
In his nearly half-century in pro golf, Mr. Barber won 11 times on the PGA Tour, then flourished on the Senior (now Champions) Tour in the 1980s, winning 24 events, including five majors. He played in nearly 1,300 tournaments overall and earned more than $5.6 million.
He didn’t seem a prime candidate for golf success. He was pudgy, had hay fever, and his form was ungainly at best.
Mr. Barber’s right elbow flew outward on his backswing as he raised the club to the outside, bringing it high over his head, the shaft almost perpendicular to the ground. (In a classic backswing, the right elbow remains close to the body and the shaft ends up almost parallel to the ground.) Then he looped the club head inside and produced an orthodox downswing.
Fellow players likened Mr. Barber’s contortions to an octopus falling from a tree or a man trying to open an umbrella on a windy day. But he usually got the club face square to the ball, producing long drives and superb iron shots.
“He has a great release through the ball, and that’s one of the most important things,” Arnold Palmer told Newsday in 1989. “And don’t let that muscle tone fool you. He is strong.”
In a 1993 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Mr. Barber said: “When I was young I tried to get more conventional with the way I swung a golf club. It was a total disaster. I just couldn’t swing like Jack Nicklaus or Sam Snead.”
As he once told Golf Digest: “After I loop the club to the inside on the downswing, I look like any other good player. The downswing is all that matters.”
An East Texan with a twang and a folksy manner, Mr. Barber was a favorite among his fellow pros, though a bit of an enigma. He presented a sinister appearance on the course with his dark glasses (tinted prescription lenses) and dark attire, then was nowhere to be found in the evening.
“I never told anyone where I was going at night,” he related in a Golf Magazine interview in 2005. “I was a bachelor and a mystery man with many girlfriends in many cities. For a while they called me 007 — the James Bond movies were popular at the time.”
As Mr. Barber recalled it, player Jim Ferree gave him his nickname. “My activities prompted Ferree to start referring to me as ‘The Mysterious Mr. X,’” Barber said. That eventually morphed into his being known simply as X.
Mr. Barber, a Shreveport, La., native who grew up in Texarkana, Texas, had his best year in 1969. He took a three-shot lead into the final round of the US Open, at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, but faltered with a 78, finishing in a tie for sixth as the virtually unknown Orville Moody captured the title. Mr. Barber was also in the top 10 that year at the Masters, the PGA Championship, and the British Open and played on the US Ryder Cup team.