Bob Goalby, who died Wednesday at the age of 92, won 11 times on the PGA Tour in a career that stretched from 1958 to 1974, besting greats such as Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. In his lone Ryder Cup appearance, he went 3-1-1 and scored not one but two wins in Sunday singles. He was instrumental in creating both the modern tour as we know it and the senior tour.
But unfairly or not, Goalby’s biggest claim to fame — and his biggest golf victory — came about because of something someone else did, namely Roberto De Vicenzo signing an incorrect scorecard at the 1968 Masters, which gave Goalby the green jacket and his lone major victory.
Goalby entered the final round of that year’s tournament in a group of five players one stroke behind Player and a stroke ahead of three players in a tie for seventh, among them De Vicenzo. Playing about 45 minutes ahead of Goalby, the Argentine appeared to have a magnificent round, finishing in 65 strokes, which then would have tied the record for the lowest final-round score in Masters history.
But things went awry for De Vicenzo on the 17th hole, which he finished in three strokes for what should have been a birdie. Playing partner Tommy Aaron, however, marked De Vicenzo down for a par 4, and De Vicenzo failed to notice the mistake when he signed his scorecard at the end of the round. Under the Rules of Golf, he was forced to accept his higher score because he had signed off on it. The 65 became a 66.
Goalby, meanwhile, had the back nine of his life, with birdies at Nos. 13 and 14. Then, at the par-5 15th, he hit a 3-iron to eight feet — Masters co-founder Bobby Jones called it “exquisite,” the best shot he’d ever seen at the hole — and converted the eagle on his way to a 66, which he thought would mean a tie with De Vicenzo and an 18-hole playoff the following day.
“I walked directly to the scorer’s table just behind the green. It was a little chaotic. Roberto and Tommy Aaron were sitting there, as was my playing partner, Ray Floyd, and I believe an official. I vaguely wondered why Roberto was still there, when he’d been two holes ahead of me. I remember saying something to Roberto along the lines of, ‘I guess we’ll be playing together tomorrow.’ But Roberto didn’t say anything. He seemed lost in thought. I wasn’t alarmed by that. My attention was all on checking and signing my scorecard,” Goalby told Golf Digest in 2018.
“When I finished, I left the table and was lingering near the green. Sam Snead had hung around to watch me come in, and he and [former pro Cary 'Doc’ Middlecoff] approached me. Doc, who had just finished his hole coverage for CBS, said to me, ‘You just won the tournament.’ I said, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ I looked up at the scoreboard, and it showed Roberto and me both at minus-11. Then Doc, who was privy to what was being said through his TV headgear, said, ‘Roberto screwed up his scorecard.’ ”
De Vicenzo was much more succinct: “What a stupid I am,” he said.
The mistaken scorecard became part of Masters lore, though many fans felt Goalby did not deserve the victory, incorrectly thinking De Vicenzo would have won outright and not merely forced a playoff if he had signed for the correct score. Those fans did not hesitate to let Goalby know this, in a time when doing so meant a trip to the post office and not merely a click of the mouse.
“I received hate mail like you wouldn’t believe, telling me I was the worst son of a bitch who ever lived,” Goalby said in the 2018 interview. “One guy wrote, ‘They ought to put you and Sonny Liston in a sack of concrete and dump you in the ocean.’ The negative-to-positive ratio was 10-to-1 negative. The letters piled up, and every one of them hurt. For some reason, I’ve kept that hate mail. I don’t know why. Maybe to one day explain to people what the experience was like.”
But with time came acceptance, and Goalby and De Vicenzo remained friends, even playing together in team events on the senior tour, which Goalby helped create in the late 1970s as a way to help golf’s older players continue to earn money. Still, he had to defend how he won that green jacket, almost from the second he first put it on.
“Of course, I would rather win it another way,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Dan Jenkins a few weeks after his Masters triumph in 1968. “But I feel that I did win under the Rules of Golf. I think I played good enough to win. That I earned it. I think I’m the Masters champion.”