Bob Goalby asks that you speak up a bit. At 89, his mind remains sharp and his body still allows him to play golf every week near his home in Belleville, Ill. But his hearing aids give him fits.
We find a couch in a quiet spot in the Augusta National clubhouse and huddle close as he talks about how he won the Masters 50 years ago — but was made to feel second-rate.
“To never get credit for winning the Masters …” he says.
You likely recall the circumstances: Roberto De Vicenzo made a birdie 3 on No. 17, but playing partner Tommy Aaron recorded it as a 4. De Vicenzo neglected to check his scorecard, turning in a 66 rather than the 65 that would have forced a playoff.
“What a stupid I am,” the native of Argentina famously commented.
OK, now how about the other guy?
You probably do not recall that Goalby birdied Nos. 13 and 14 and eagled No. 15. After three-putting the 17th, he cursed himself out but showed enough resolve to drain a 4-footer on the final green for a 66.
His four-round total of 277 bested those of Jack Nicklaus (281), Gary Player (282), Lee Trevino (292) and, as it turned out, De Vicenzo (278).
It was the greatest moment in his golf career, yet it led people to send vicious, threatening letters to downstate Illinois. Goalby keeps them all in a shoebox.
“Some thought I’d played with Roberto, that I did it on purpose,” he says. “A couple say: ‘We’ll put you and Sonny Liston in a cement stack and bury you in the ocean. You’re the two worst Americans ever.’ “
The 1960s trolls likely took their cue from CBS’ coverage of the Masters. Just last week, tournament officials put the final-round broadcasts of the last 50 Masters on YouTube. They include the traditional post-tournament interview in Butler Cabin.
“How brutal it must have been to be sitting there,” says Kel Goalby, a Chicagoan who now understands why his father used to tell him he never got the credit he deserved.
Some snippets from the broadcast:
Pat Summerall: “We have a tie between Roberto De Vicenzo and Bob Goalby. … We will broadcast tomorrow the 18-hole playoff.”
Summerall: “We may have something of tremendous importance to report. … It may be the manner in which Roberto De Vicenzo signed his scorecard. He does not look happy.”
Augusta National member John Winters (in Butler Cabin): “It brings great distress to me. We thought at first that we had a tie in the tournament. … We can’t do anything but accept that (score on No. 17) as a 4. … Therefore instead of a tie, Bob Goalby is the winner. … It’s a thing we regret, but when we say we’re going to play under the rules of golf, we have no choice.”
Augusta National Chairman Clifford Roberts: “I imagine Bob Jones and I will be busy trying to figure out some way to have two winners in place of our winner and runner-up. In our hearts we will always regard you as one of the two winners … without taking anything away from the new Masters champion.”
Right. The new Masters champion whom Roberts did not even mention by name.
Says Bob Goalby: “It was a fiasco. The scoring committee didn’t know what to do. They didn’t make a decision right away. They tried to figure out a way to have a playoff. They went to Jones’ cottage; he was sick that weekend. When they opened the door, he said: ‘Boys, you know the answer. We play by the rules here at Augusta. Goalby wins the tournament.’ That’s when it became official.
“It was more than awkward for me. No matter what I said, I was wrong.”
De Vicenzo finished several groups ahead of Goalby, who initially figured the two would meet in a Monday playoff.
“For 20 minutes, I didn’t know,” he recalls. “When I went to the scorer’s table, Roberto and Tommy Aaron were there. They’d gone to the locker room but came back. They were both looking into the sky like a fog. They were told it was a big problem. Once you turn it over to the official scorekeeper and leave the site, that’s what you sign for. If you sign for one higher than you shot, you keep it. If you sign for one lower than you shot, you are disqualified.
“Lots of people don’t know that golf is played strictly by the rules. If you’re out of bounds by an inch, it’s the same as 10 inches. Gary Player may have put it best: ‘We spend 10 hours a day practicing and playing golf; we should be able to spend two minutes making sure your card is correct.’ “
Goalby attended the University of Illinois on a football scholarship, played baseball at Southern Illinois and served in the Korean War. He won 14 times as a professional golfer and tied for second in the 1961 U.S. Open. He shot a 66 to win the Masters. He might have won it in a Monday playoff had De Vicenzo turned in the proper score. He’s the patriarch of a golf family that includes nephew Jay Haas and great-nephew Bill Haas.
A story on Masters.com on Tuesday carried this headline: “Goalby’s Superb Play Often Overlooked.”
People have caught on to the unfairness.
Three-time U.S Open champion Hale Irwin, strolling through the clubhouse Wednesday, put it like this: “As a player, we don’t look at it as any kind of asterisk. He was the winner and deservedly so.”
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