Imagine you’re one of the top competitors in the world at your sport and you’re on the precipice of proving it. And then, after you’ve performed brilliantly in the signature event of said sport, you end up winning partly because your main opponent marked the wrong score.
It can happen. It did happen, to Bob Goalby.
Earlier this week, at the age of 91, Goalby attended the traditional Master Champions Dinner at Augusta National. Last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson, planned a menu that included pigs in a blanket, corn fritters, filet mignon, mashed potatoes, peach cobbler and apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
The roster of former winners at the dinner included Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Freddie Couples and Danny Willett. They’re all decades younger than Bob Goalby, but every single one of them is familiar with the history that surrounds their fellow champ — and another man named Roberto Di Vicenzo.
In 1968, Goalby shot an incredible fourth round score of 66 at Augusta to put him at -11 for the tournament. Although he would go on to win many big events in his playing career, at the start of ’68, he’d still never won a “Major.”
When Goalby walked off the 18th hole, he thought that he and Di Vicenzo were headed to a playoff, tied at eleven under par. What happened next blew everyone’s mind, in real time. Here’s how Goalby described it years later:
“I walked directly to the scorer’s table just behind the green. It was a little chaotic. Roberto and Tommy Aaron were sitting there, 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.’ Sam Snead had hung around to watch me come in, and he and 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 -11. Then Doc, who was privy to what was being said through his TV headgear, said, Roberto screwed up his scorecard.”
It was a player’s worst nightmare. Di Vicenzo had made a birdie 3 on the 17th hole, but Aaron had marked it down as a par. Di Vicenzo signed the card without noticing the error. It was heart-crushing. And humiliating.
It also wasn’t the way Goalby wanted to win. And for a while, he would receive brutally ugly hate-mail about it; 10 negative messages for every one that was complimentary. Goalby remembered one jerk writing:
“They oughta put you and Sonny Liston in a sack of concrete and drop you in the ocean.”
The thing is, Di Vicenzo never said a negative word about it until the day he died at 94. At least publicly. According to Goalby:
“More people outside of golf got upset about it and pointed the finger at me, but he didn’t. It was unfortunate for him, but I think he knew it was unfortunate for me, too.”
The two men even played as partners twice in 1981-82Â in the Legends of Golf Tournament in Austin, Texas. But Goalby says they never once talked about Di Vicenzo’s fatal faux pas:
Bob Goalby and Roberto Di Vicenzo went on to play many more rounds together on the Tour. Di Vicenzo won tournaments around the world, and his final PGA victory came just a month after the 1968 Masters in the Houston Open.
The two men even played as partners twice in the early 1980s in the Legends of Golf Tournament down in Austin, Texas. But Goalby says they never once talked about Di Vicenzo’s fatal faux pas:
“It wasn’t like we said it was taboo. But it was taboo without us saying it was taboo.”
Bob Goalby went on to win 14 tournaments in his career on the PGA Tour. And then he was one of the formative leaders in developing the Champions Tour (first known as the “Senior Tour”).
Goalby now lives in Palm Desert, California. At 91, traveling to Georgia for the Masters Champions isn’t an easy. But he was there this week.
I couldn’t find a photo of all of the attendees at Tuesday’s Masters Champions Dinner. It’s a private event, and they don’t always snap an image for public consumption. But even if the PGA does release it, a posed pic tells a limited tale.
I like to imagine Goalby trading stories and laughing with all of his fellow champs. Nobody knows the true glory of Masters victory and the brutal heartbreak of defeat the way they do. Just as Di Vicenzo never brought the subject up with Goalby, I doubt these guys every] say a word either. They don’t need to.
I also don’t doubt that every one of them has great respect for the way Goalby handled himself, and for everything he’s done for the game in the half-century since he first donned a green jacket.
How you win. How you lose. In the long run, it matters. Bob Goalby and Roberto Di Vicenzo knew it. So they made an example of it.