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How a simple, unspoiled former Army sergeant won the U.S. Open and became a simple, unspoiled—but bona fide—star of the pro golf tour

Good morning, men.

Good morning, sergeant.

Uh, men, I can't hear you.


That's better. At ease. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.... Wooosh. Damn hot day today, eh, men?


Damn good day for golf, eh, men?


Damn right. You men will speak up in formation. Uh, men, you say you really love this golf tour?


That's nice, men, real nice, because today I am takin' over this bleeping tour. I am goin' to win me the bleeping U.S. bleeping Open and git mah bleep to the top of the bleeping golf world and make me some bleeping money and git mah bleep out of this man's Army. Now don't that sound like some good ole bleeping bleep to you, men?

Yes, sergeant.

What did you say?


That's better. Now, you men, listen up. You men will watch me cross-hand it and beat your bleeps off today in the U.S. bleeping Open. You men understand?


Damn right. Now.... Fall out!

It is nearly a year later, a cluster of fairway woods and cross-hand putts past the day that this doughy-faced guy named Orville Moody, with hay fever and a gap between his teeth, seemed to walk out of his favorite barracks, button his fatigue pocket, discard his roll-call clipboard and declare to doubting platoons of civilian golfers that he was about to win himself the U.S. bleeping Open. Of course, that's not exactly how it happened. But, considering the shock waves that Orville Moody sent rippling through the golf Establishment after last June's victory at Houston, it is close enough.

Now here they come out on the golf tour. He, marching down the fairway in all his Izod splendor: red hat, white shirt and blue pants, in red socks, white shoes and blue glove, with, in fact (thanks to that hay fever), red and white eyes and a blue nose. She, not to be outdone, tramps along in the rough in red, white and blue check dress, red hairnet, white shoes and blue sunglasses, red, white and blue bracelets and occasionally a custom-made red, white and blue handbag in the pattern of the U.S. of A. flag. Sure enough, it is the Moodys of Chickasha, Okla., Killeen, Texas, the Fort Hood NCO club and the U.S. Army. Or, if you prefer, Sergeant America and his trusty sidekick, Doris.

The night before, Doris saw Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, but now she can't remember the title: "Tom & Mary Alice, or somethin' like that. I didn't much like it. You know, it was one of them sex things."

Shortly, Moody sees Paul Hahn, the trick-shot artist, giving one of his exhibitions not far away. "Honey," he says to Doris, "go watch this guy. He really does some neat stuff. If you lie down he'll hit a ball out of your mouth. You'll really like it. Hey, Paul!" Moody yells past a couple hundred people sitting in the stands. "This is my wife! Hit one off her teeth!"

Later, back at the house they are renting for the week, Moody sits down to 4 o'clock supper and ponders his state. "You reckon Arnie and Jack and them eat these eggs and beans and pickles and fry up this good ole baloney? I bet they do sometimes. I bet everybody does sometime or other when they're relaxin'. Nothin' like fryin' up some eggs and beans. I like mine out on the river."

Somehow it is easier to picture Orville Moody dozing in a rowboat on Cowhouse Creek outside Killeen, with fishing pole, cold beer and fried beans along, than as the defending champion in golf's grandest event, which comes around again this week in Minnesota. Moody was the second straight obscurity to win the Open, but whereas Lee Trevino, the first, has developed his own taste for the limelight and has become one of the tour's most colorful personalities, Ole Sarge has brought less pretense and more self-effacement to his position than would have seemed humanly possible.

"He is Mr. Unbelievable Nice Guy," says Dave Marr of Moody, "but sometimes he's so nice it seems like he's putting you on. He is a full star, I would say—he can play and, more important, he knows how to play—but he doesn't act like a star. I bet he doesn't even think of himself as one."

There is evidence that Moody's evaluation of his own ability adds up to less than it should. Though a poor to pitiful putter, he is one of the most accurate drivers in the game, and from tee to green, the experts agree, he is unmatched on the tour. In the year since he won the Open he has risen—at the least—to that second echelon of men who pick up galleries when there is no room among the Army or the Fleas.

Still, Moody remains aloof from the glamour, purposely avoiding it because it is not his way. Often he seems in awe of the Palmers, Nicklauses and Caspers on the tour. Even in the aftermath of his victory in the Open he was amazed when CBS asked him to choose a partner for himself in its TV Golf Classic. His reluctance to impose himself—and his game—on a player he might let down reflected a lack of self-confidence that still surfaces on occasion. In the end Miller Barber finally came to Moody, and the two played so well they reached the finals and lost only on the first extra hole. Similarly, Moody agonized for weeks over his selection to the World Cup team. "I wasn't playing that well when I was chosen," he says, "and I didn't want to go over there and play bad for my country. There were a lot of other players more deserving." Luckily, Moody played well in Singapore, as he and Trevino combined to regain the cup for the United States.

It was the culmination of a year that should have reassured Moody about his "place" in the game. In addition to winning the Open and the World Cup, Moody finished in the top 10 in six regular tour events, including a seventh in the PGA Championship. He had a chance to win the British Open late in the third round (despite an advanced case of hay fever that made his head feel like a live grenade) and he did win the World Series of Golf. Altogether he won $79,000 in official money, almost as much unofficially, and he earned almost twice that again in endorsements, appearances, exhibitions and the like. The money came close to $300,000, a slight raise over his $508 a month take-home from the Army.

Despite this, and the fact that he also was named Player of the Year by the PGA, Moody was unmoved. "I'm no star," he says. "Those others are in a different class. Maybe my capabilities are equal, but I never associate myself with Palmer and Nicklaus and them. They've won a passel of tournaments. I've won one. I may never win again, but no matter how many more I win, I won't be like them. Maybe if I had come out sooner...when I was young...."

This last thought is one that haunts any man who starts life over at 34, especially one in professional sport, where careers are short anyhow. But with Moody there are other considerations.

"The big names are talking to him now, and he gets a big kick out of that," says a man close to the Moodys. "Nicklaus put his arm around him a few weeks ago and Orv ate it up. To understand his attitude, you have to know that Orv's family never had anything. He's always been just one poor, dumb, busted Indian sergeant. And he remembers."

Orville Moody was born in Chickasha, Okla., the last of 10 children, most of whom lived for a time in a three-room dwelling across the street from the Oklahoma College for Women golf course. His father was, variously, motorcycle cop, bus driver, airplane hangar guard, pool hall owner and greenkeeper who at one point in the Depression made $35 a month. Mrs. Moody, a three-eighths Choctaw Indian, bore her children over a span of 24 years. Moody does not talk much about those days except to recall that at the age of 7 he had Saint Vitus's dance so seriously he couldn't feed himself. The doctor put little Orville on eight oranges a day and cured him. "We were poor, but I never starved," Moody says. "I kept eatin' them oranges." The remarkable Sarah Moody, now 78, still comes to three or four tournaments a year, and on those occasions walks 18 holes with her son each day and visits him on the tee, whispering things like, "You're only two off the lead, boy. Keep movin'."

"My mother," says Moody. "She watches them boards."

Back in Chickasha, Sarah's boy Orville learned the game on sand greens where, after he fired an approach shot home, he raked a path to the hole and putted out. Moody went to high school in Oklahoma City, then to college in Norman, where Bud Wilkinson gave him a football scholarship so he could play golf for the university. There he lasted about three rounds before leaving school, all for the unrequited love of a girl—not Doris—whom he was so crazy about "I couldn't taste food." In 1953 Moody enlisted in the Army.

For a year he served on the "weapons committee" at Fort Chaffee, Ark., but shortly after that he transferred to Special Services and began the travels that were to take him to battalion golf courses around the world. In 1959 in Korea Moody was made a sergeant when a general's wife, whom he had been teaching golf, suggested it. "She kept calling me Sarge," says Moody. "I said, 'Ma'am, I'm not a sergeant. I'm only E-4.' They made me a sergeant the next day."

It was during those days that Moody came to perfect his golf game—as well as card tricks, sleight-of-hand derring-do and a little number with coins that knocked everyone's eyes out. He also excelled at Ping-Pong. "I once won 203 straight games," Moody says.

This performance pales, however, in comparison with his most astounding military accomplishment: making it through 14 years without lighting a cigarette or drinking a cup of coffee. "Never could taste of it," he says. "Never could smoke or taste anything made of weeds."

Moody won the Korean Open three times and earned a trophy room full of other titles while becoming immaculately steady off the tee. "I remember him once in a service tournament hitting out of bounds on the first hole," says Mason Rudolph. "He shot 62 that day. But he could putt then."

"Hell, I could beat them all then," says Moody. "I shot 63 every other round. Trevino couldn't carry my putter back then. But I lost the touch. No competition."

Now Moody's putting is a source of wonderment to his peers on the tour. He used a regular stroke in his Army days, but shortly after experiencing the pressure of the tour he switched to the cross-hand technique, sometimes referred to as "give up."

"He's about the worst putter of all our real good players," says Johnny Pott, himself a cross-hander. "Remember his putt to win the Open? He looked like he hit it with a grease stick. He shook the thing off the blade. I told him he'll set cross-handed putting back 50 years."

Trevino says, "This man rolls it worse than anyone alive."

Even when he was rolling it good all those years Moody could not get the backing to leave the Army and try the tour. He qualified for the Open in 1962 but missed the cut and re-upped for six. Then, finally, at Fort Hood in Killeen he started beating four local businessmen out of so much that they decided it would be cheaper to finance him on the circuit. That first year (1968) he finished 103rd on the money list, with $12,950, but closed strong, with high finishes at Westchester and Kemper.

The following June at the Open, while most of the touring pros were getting acquainted with their four-woods for the first time on the long Champions layout, everybody found out Moody could play. Moreover, he turned the post-tournament press interview into a story in itself, with accounts of his life in the Army, comments about his name (he didn't know if it was Orville James or Orville Cleve) and his phone call from President Nixon, which included this memorable exchange:

President: It's not often that somebody comes out of the Army to win the Open.

Sergeant: No, sir, it's the first time.

"The press had a lot of fun with that Orville Who? stuff," says Moody. "But they got the phone call all wrong. The President said he hoped my victory would be an inspiration to the lower and middle classes. He never said I was from the lower or middle class. One writer said, 'Talk about faceless guys in golf. Here's a man just won the Open and he doesn't even know his own name.' But I'm doin' O.K. with 'Orville Who?' Every time them TV folks play my Metropolitan Life ad I make 120 bucks."

Probably more people are acquainted with Moody through his insurance commercial (it runs periodically on the Huntley-Brinkley show) than saw him win the Open. In the commercial Moody's anonymity is played against the fame of "one of America's real heroes, Arnie." The Arnie in question is Arnie Ferber, a Houston insurance man who is an old friend of Moody's from his days in Killeen. The commercial is only one of several lucrative business sidelines that have grown out of his Open victory and have contributed to changing his life, if not his life-style.

With his considerable financial advancement, Moody is building a four-bedroom home outside Killeen for Doris and their three children, as well as dabbling in assorted other real estate, including a barbecue stand outside Fort Sill, Okla. that is already, in his words, "a gold mine." He flies, rather than drives, to most tournaments now, stays in the best hotel suites and receives the full hospitality treatment at country clubs along the tour. With it all, Orville and Doris are a silent minority in golf's social circles. Accompanied by his touring caddie and appointments man, Mike Giccatti, and his wife Flo, the Moodys on a normal day will go to the course for Orville's round, leave immediately afterward, return to the hotel, eat, go to a movie and turn in. The Sarge has few close friends on the tour, preferring the company of Giccatti, himself a 20-year military man who ran the Fort Hood course before Orville took over.

Since he became a celebrity almost simultaneously with the arrival of the military-as-ultimate-evil thesis, Moody frequently finds himself having to justify his initial enlistment and 14 years in uniform. In retrospect, however, it is easy to see how in that day—with a war ending, a military hero in the White House and the country in a state of social somnambulance—a young dropout might turn to the security of the armed forces. And how, in a cushy golf course operator's job, he might stay there. Indeed, Moody's existence still has much of the flavor of the Army about it. His wife was an Army brat, his caddie is a retired Army sergeant, a couple of his backers are former sergeants. Even his TV foil, Arnie Ferber, is from his Army days and, of course, at every tournament there are always retired officers and noncoms whom Orville once knew somewhere ("Was it Yang San, buddy? Heilbronn? Fort Carson? Camp Zama?") who have come out to see one of their own hustle the pros.

"He sure brings some salty-looking guys out here," says one well-known golfer. "They're all old military honchos who pack the gallery and whoop it up with a six-pack and some stompin'." Perhaps Moody's biggest fan is retired Army Major Fred Goodenough, a gnarled bear of a man who is called the Gray Ghost of Killeen because, as any Fort Hood man will tell you, Ghost lives on Gray Street in a gray house next to a funeral parlor. "Moody's the best bleeping Army man who ever played this bleeping game," says Ghost.

By background and belief, professional golfers have been nurtured politically to the right of Louis XIV, but Moody—having made his giant stride from one insular world to another and combined the essential characteristics of both—brings an extra dimension to the scene. He is, for instance, critical of the present-day Army for coddling "pussyfootin' young punks" who "git 12 push-ups and run to mommy and their Senator so's a congressional investigation can begin. Why, in my day," says Moody, "I used to walk five miles to school. Now kids get in a car and drive three blocks. Progress is what's ruined this generation."

He is also violently opposed to student demonstrations. "Tell you one thing," he says. "Kent State and the rest. I'm gettin' sick of it. Next time they try somethin', might save more lives in the long run if we get out the machine guns and shoot 'bout 50 of them fools. That'll stop 'em hollerin'. I wish the President would make an amendment to the Constitution to say, all right, you can demonstrate, but we're gonna shoot you if you do. That'd stop them pussyfooters."

What if the demonstrators tried to shoot back?

"Well, dammit," says Ole Sarge, "they wouldn't win!"

In those periods when he is not talking golf, Moody usually is not this loquacious. It is only at mealtime, when he is sitting and eating, that he opens up. Which, again, is a habit that doubtless was ripened in the Army, where a man keeps his mouth shut everywhere but the mess hall.

During a pause at a meal the other day Moody thought about the old days. "Bein' a tour celebrity is all very nice," he said, "but I don't like people callin' me all the time and me always goin' here and there and where I don't want to and me bein' pressured to do things I don't like to do. We had more fun in the Army. You don't realize the security there. I always had a place to sleep, a place to eat and I always got paid.

"The money is too good now to go back," he said. "But I was happier then. I know that. I was E-6, though, and I couldn't be that. I'd have to start all over again. Wouldn't that really be somethin'? It isn't often that an E-6 who won the U.S. Open reenlists as a private."

Any President could have told Orville Moody that no, sir, it would be the first time.