'I'D BE A LIAR IF I SAID I WASN'T HAPPY'
It was a Masters finish they will still talk about when Arnold Palmer's grandsons are wearing the green jackets of champions. Eleven players started the final round within three strokes of the lead, and six of them still were in contention through the last nine holes. Not till the final two holes did the tournament distill into a contest between Roberto de Vicenzo, the gay and charming Argentine, and Bob Goalby (see cover), a big, handsome onetime football player from Illinois who has been laboring fitfully on the golf tour for 11 years. When Goalby sank a sticky four-foot putt for a par at the 72nd with de Vicenzo pulling at his lower lip as he watched apprehensively from a chair at the scorer's table alongside the green, a big cheer went up for the tie. Both were in at 277, 11 strokes under par and the fourth best score in the 32-year history of golf's spring classic.
As everyone started replanning his schedule for the playoff on Monday, de Vicenzo was led off to the television room for the ersatz presentation ceremony that is broadcast prior to the real thing. It was only after Roberto had left the scorer's table that Tommy Aaron looked at de Vicenzo's scorecard and noticed something odd. The final total read 66 instead of 65, which was the remarkable score Roberto had shot. Aaron called it to the scorer's attention, and that green-coated gentleman snatched up the card and rushed off with it to a nearby cottage where the ailing Bobby Jones, president of the Augusta National Golf Club and co-host of the Masters, was watching the tournament on television.
Clifford Roberts and several other officials got wind of the trouble and also hurried over to Jones's cottage. At this brief meeting in Jones's bedroom it was agreed that nothing could be done, that the harsh rules of golf must apply. De Vicenzo had signed and thereby verified the wrong score, and the rules say that in such a case the score he signed must stand. So Roberto was credited with 278 and Bob Goalby became the 1968 Masters champion on a scorekeeping error.
The first that de Vicenzo knew of the trouble was when a tournament official appeared in the television room and summoned him back to the 18th green. He was shown the card and he acknowledged the error—three errors, in fact. Aaron, who had been keeping his playing partner's score, as is the custom in tournament golf, had written in a 4 instead of a 3 for the birdie Roberto had made at the 17th hole. He had also totaled the second nine holes at 35 and the 18 holes at 66, both wrong, although the totals are not considered part of the error. The fact that Roberto had checked the figures for each hole, signed the card and handed it in to the scorer as correct meant that it was official. (If the erroneous figure had been lower than the actual score, instead of higher, Roberto would have been disqualified).
"I am so unhappy to make 5 on the last hole, and Bob, he gave me so much pressure on the last hole that I lose my brain," Roberto said sadly in his broken English when it was all over. "I play golf all over the world for 30 years, and now all I can think of is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful tournament. Never have I ever done such a thing before. Maybe I am too old to win." It was Roberto's 45th birthday—galleries along the course had sung, "Happy birthday, Roberto, happy birthday to you"—and what a miserable present it was.
It was certainly a most depressing climax to a thrilling Masters. All afternoon the pressure had been building. De Vicenzo, who had started the final round on this beautiful Easter Sunday in a tie for seventh, two strokes behind Gary Player's lead, set the tone of the day by sinking a nine-iron approach shot at the first hole for an eagle 2 and followed that with birdies at the 2nd, 3rd and 8th for an outgoing 31.
One after another they came to challenge him. First it was Bruce Devlin, the Australian, who birdied the first three holes to draw even. Then came Goalby with birdies at 5, 6 and 8. Then Player himself with birdies at 7 and 8 after an unsteady start.
Roberto was well into the back nine and still getting birdies before he could shake all but Goalby, playing two holes to the rear and matching him birdie for birdie. Going down the 15th fairway, a par-5, Goalby hit an absolutely classic three-iron over the pond that fronts the green, and the ball settled softly eight feet from the pin. Almost simultaneously Roberto lofted an approach shot off the 17th fairway, going in the opposite direction, and his ball, too, was no more than eight feet from the hole.
It was at exactly 23 minutes past 4 that the roar went up from the great gallery banked around the 17th green, a roar that started rolling across the Augusta countryside carrying the news that Roberto had dropped his birdie putt to go 12 under par and lead the tournament by two strokes. But even as the cheer for Roberto was in the air, an answering roar came from the 15th green, where Goalby had sunk his putt for an eagle 3 that brought him to 12 under, too.
It was on the 18th hole that Roberto hit his only poor shot of the day, a four-iron that hooked into the spectators alongside the left of the green and trickled down the hill in front of the press tower, coming to rest on the matted brown grass trampled by the gallery throughout the week. The only safe shot from there was a putt, which he played a bit too cautiously with his mallet-headed putter, leaving him some seven sloping feet from the cup. When Roberto's putt lipped the cup for a bogey, he lost his lead for the first time that day.
Goalby, too, had one bogey left, and that came when he three-putted the 17th green moments later. So it was after Goalby had made his par at the 72nd that the nerve-racking finish arrived at its dreary, technical climax.
There is no part of tournament golf that creates more controversy than the signing and attesting of scorecards. Even tournament players, those most familiar with the game, find it incongruous that players who are under all the stress of competition must be responsible for the bookkeeping aspects of a match. Back in 1957 Jackie Pung suffered an even worse fate than de Vicenzo when she turned in an erroneous card after bringing home the lowest score of the U.S. Women's Open at Winged Foot. In her case a score lower than she had taken had been marked down for a hole, although the totals were correct. So she was disqualified and received not a penny in prize money. Two years ago Doug Sanders was disqualified from the Pensacola Open for failing to sign his scorecard. Through the years there have been other, less conspicuous misfortunes.
Everyone in golf, including the USGA, which makes the rules, is aware of the problem, but no one yet has come up with a satisfactory solution. Unlike baseball or basketball, where everyone can see what happens within a confined area, golf is played over several hundred acres by a hundred or more players, so the logistics of supplying a scorekeeper for each of some 20,000 shots during a four-day period would be more than slightly prohibitive. It is the position of the USGA, moreover, that this is a gentleman's game; when a player attests to his score, his word as a gentleman should be final. Under such circumstances the penalties for errors, intended or otherwise, must necessarily be severe.
It was this point of view alone that prevailed in the de Vicenzo case, for there is no more popular or upright competitor in sport. For Bob Goalby, a man who has hoed a very long and trying row to his big triumph, it was a particularly ugly way to win. Bob's father drove trucks for Swift & Co. most of his life in Belleville, Ill. and sometimes caddied at the nearby St. Clair Country Club in his spare time. Young Bob, big and strong, also caddied, but his sports were baseball and football, and he went to the University of Illinois in the late '40s on a football scholarship. After college and the service, he worked as an assistant pro in such scattered enclaves of luxury as Darien, Conn. and Palm Springs, Calif. It was uphill all the way.
As an assistant pro at Tamarisk, Goalby came under the coaching of Johnny Revolta, for whom he was working, and there he built the kind of golf game that was good enough to take on the tour and win him Rookie of the Year honors in 1958. Like most big, strong young pros, Bob could hit the ball a mile, but he had to fight a duck hook that often sent him into the woods. The more he hooked the madder he got, and he soon developed a reputation as the wildest, angriest pro on the tour.
Sam Snead, a man who will never be remembered for his docile disposition, was largely responsible for showing Goalby how to curb his temper in the last couple of years, but the hook stayed with him until he decided to remake his game last winter. In the process he had what he frankly admits is his "worst start in 12 years." His best showing was a 17th at Palm Springs. Doggedly he stuck with the rebuilding program, and when he arrived at Augusta he was playing as well as he could remember.
"I had this mental picture on my downswing as if I was cutting the ball a little," he explains, "and I began to figure I had finally caught on to something." Practicing with Snead, Doug Ford and Gene Littler, he shot a 66 and a 67, and they said if he kept on playing like that he could win. Bob phoned his wife Sarah, who had taken their two sons to Little Rock to visit her parents, and told her what Snead and the others had said. The word was not around the course, however. At one private Calcutta pool, where the players like Nicklaus and Palmer were auctioned for $350 or more, Bob went for $5.
After his two opening rounds of 70, everyone just took it for granted that Goalby would sooner or later start to hook. "I've always played terrible here," Bob kept repeating, as if he, too, were surprised, but he kept cutting the ball with that new downswing and was never more than two strokes off the lead until that eagle putt on the 69th hole on Sunday when he finally caught de Vicenzo.
"I'm very happy I won the tournament," he said afterward, "and I'd be a liar if I told you I wasn't. But I'm really sorry I won it the way I did. I'd much rather have done it in a playoff. Roberto has been one of my good friends for 12 years, and there has never been a nicer fellow."
Four days earlier the 1968 Masters had come to order on a somber, if not subdued, note. Only 150 miles away Martin Luther King had just been laid to rest, and there was no mistaking the sobriety of the mood across the state of Georgia, of which Augusta was once the capital.
You could feel this atmosphere around the Augusta National course, where the galleries seemed smaller and far less exuberant than in years past (official attendance figures are always the Masters' own well-kept secret). Coming into the clubhouse after their opening rounds on Thursday, the players, one after another, said the same thing. "How was it out there?" they would be asked. "Quiet," they would answer.
This was the 12th Masters for William Earl Casper Jr., who is now in his 37th year and 15th as a professional golfer. The second-biggest money winner in the history of golf and twice the U.S. Open champion, Bill has been long overdue for his green Masters jacket. Yet he had never finished better than fourth at Augusta and never shot better than 286. People began to wonder if the Augusta National bugged Bill, and he gave his answer early on Thursday afternoon with a fine four-under-par 68 that stood up as the leading score through the rest of the day.
It was a bright sunny day with a crisp wind out of the north that made it exceptionally difficult to choose the right club, yet 16 players were under par. Either golfers were getting better or the course was getting easier with age. Among those in a five-way tie a stroke behind Casper was Tony Jacklin, the peppery young Englishman who had just become the first of his countrymen to win an American tournament since 1920. That was at Jacksonville a fortnight earlier, and the event was front-page news in The Times of London. Needless to say, the sporting press of England crossed the Atlantic Ocean in droves to await and report a possible miracle at Augusta, but Tony's game was not yet up to it. Subsequent scores of 73-74-72 dropped him well back into the pack.
Those tied with Jacklin were de Vicenzo, Aaron, Jack Nicklaus and Bruce Devlin, all destined to remain in contention for the championship until the closing holes. Not Casper, however. By the second day his old Augusta problems returned to vex him, and the 75 he shot under the most ideal conditions left him out of contention for good. Casper told the press he was feeling a little off his feed and blamed it on either some peaches or a sausage he had consumed that morning for breakfast.
Frank Beard grabbed the spotlight on Friday with a brilliant 65, just one shot over the course record that is shared by Lloyd Mangrum (1940) and Jack Nicklaus (1965). Beard's round put him in second place along with Goalby and Nicklaus, all of them a stroke behind Gary Player, who had a 67, and Don January, who shot a 68. Certainly the Masters is serious business for all the golfers and a most important victory for any of them, but to Player it seemed almost a crusade. Above all, he wanted it to vindicate his contention that he is one of the alltime greats of golf, as indeed he almost is.
Player had another incentive, as well. Golf has brought Gary security in the form of a large farm north of Johannesburg, and he is becoming increasingly unhappy about the time he must spend at golf when he could be home with his wife and children and the quarter horses he is starting to breed. If he won the Masters, Player would feel justified in taking the next flight home. Otherwise he would have to stay in the U.S. to complete the 15-tournament minimum required of a foreign player to maintain his PGA playing card.
After moving into a tie for the lead, Player made the rather rare concession (for him) that he had putted well, sinking six birdie putts at distances from 18 inches to 20 feet. Then he gave a short lecture on the importance of physical fitness and a nonfattening diet.
While all this was going on, a poignant drama was taking place in front of silent thousands as Arnold Palmer shot a 79 and missed the 36-hole cut for the first time since he made his debut at the Masters in 1955. It is one of the enigmas of golf that a player of Palmer's stature and talent could start his round on Friday in the best of spirits, feeling he was going to play well, only to have the spring in his clubs turn to lead. Palmer himself could not explain it and he made no excuses for himself as he discussed his debacle at home that evening. The Masters' only four-time winner stayed around for lunch the next day with Cliff Roberts and a tour around the course, then took off in his Lear jet for Latrobe, dipping a wing in salute over the Augusta National.
There is probably no way to recreate what happened on Saturday for those who were not there and even for those who were. The day started with Player and January holding that one-stroke lead over Goalby, Nicklaus and Beard. Another stroke back was Tommy Aaron. And then the field. At one point or another through Saturday afternoon all of these, along with de Vicenzo, Devlin, Raymond Floyd, Miller Barber, Lee Trevino and Bert Yancey, shared first or second place. Inasmuch as the leader boards around the course hold only 10 names, the gallery sometimes had no notion who was ahead.
The last pairing in the group contained Player and Yancey, who was to finish the tournament in third place. On No. 17 Player missed a short putt that dropped him back into a six-way tie for the lead with Beard, Floyd, Goalby, Devlin and January, all of whom were already in at five-under-par. Then, on the 18th green, Player faced a snaky 30-foot downhill putt, and his purpose at that point was to get it in the hole in no more than two strokes. He barely touched the ball to start it rolling, and it slowly wound its way into the cup for a birdie 3. So Player ended the day in solitary ownership of first place, albeit a most unhappy player.
Three times through the round Player had three-putted a green, but on the stretch of holes 8 through 10 he had sunk three birdie putts, one of 20 feet. "It's the best I can hit the ball from tee to green," he grumbled, "but I'm absolutely pathetic on the greens. I am going out there tomorrow and charge this course and try to make a birdie or better."
Try he did, but it was only good enough to bring him a tie for seventh. The charming de Vicenzo and the handsome Goalby settled matters between themselves in a most sadly technical way after some of the best pressure golf ever played at Augusta.