Until Bob Goalby became golf's leading bookkeeper at the Masters, he was a touring professional whom the world could casually take or let be, one of those hordes of consistently decent players in brown slacks, knit shirt and baseball cap who occasionally win a Motor Rubber Coral Festival Open Classic. He was a guy who really attracted no more attention to himself than the average banana-ball hitter on your nearest public driving range. He was simply hard-working, durable, unpretentious Bob Goalby from Belleville, Ill. Fore, please.
To insiders, however, Goalby did have a few distinctions. He was so opinionated in matters dealing with the game, rules, regulations and PGA bylaws that he bore the underground nickname of "the bulldog," a stand-up guy. As a shot-maker, he also struggled with the best-known hook on the tour. At times Goalby could hit balls that curved like the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, he could get very angry, which normally resulted in talking out loud to himself as he trudged over the fairways. "There goes Goalby," a fellow pro once said, "playing his usual onesome." As a matter of fact, he did play a onesome at this year's L.A. Open. Angered by the slow play of the other two members of his threesome, Goalby moved on ahead and finished the round by himself. Some of his pals say he once threw himself in a water hazard because of a wild hook. Just grabbed himself around the chest and hurled himself in, as Ky Laffoon once held his putter by the neck under a pond and furiously stuttered, "D-drown, y-you, d-dirty...." Bob Goalby says he's tenacious, all right, but he never threw anyone in the water, least of all himself, and that, in fact, he is more normal than most of his contemporaries, although it is getting hard to stay that way because of all this Augusta business. For example, almost every day now for more than a month somebody has come up to Goalby and offered seven hundred million dollars for him to play Roberto De Vicenzo down the main street of, oh, Juneau, Alaska for the real Masters championship.
The year 1968 has emerged as the looniest ever in sports. It could already be stamped as the year of the nonwin. Just consider: two world heavyweight champions have been crowned, neither of whom could whip the real champion, Muhammad Ali, if they drove tractors into the ring. Jean-Claude Killy won the biggest Olympic ski race after two men were disqualified on a fogbound day when no one could see what happened. Forward Pass won a Kentucky Derby three days after it was run because the announced winner, Dancer's Image, turned out to be a barnyard hippie. And in the midst of all this, Bob Goalby won the Masters because the man who apparently tied with him, Roberto De Vicenzo, approved a scorecard that had more mistakes on it than a map of Italy. It is enough to make you think that there is sure to be another Black Sox scandal in baseball this year and that the Super Bowl will be played at a Supreme Court hearing.
Precisely because Bob Goalby is made up the way he is, which is tough and realistic, he has proved to be a lot less bothered by the Masters debacle than most people might think. Not once has it entered his mind to rip the green blazer from his athletic, 195-pound frame and give a pocket and a sleeve to Roberto. He wouldn't even approve an asterisk by the confused Latin's name in the record book. Goalby played hard and beautifully at Augusta that week, the best golf of his 11-year pro career. Down the stretch on Sunday afternoon, talking to himself as always, he hit clutch long irons that amazed him and he was practically destroyed emotionally before he was even told about De Vicenzo's mistake.
May 26, 1968
"Of course, I would rather win it another way," he says. "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."
Goalby also says, "Only the golfer knows how well he's really playing. You know when you've got a pattern going, when you've got the rhythm. I felt it early in the week. I was playing really good in practice rounds, four and five under every day. For seven rounds, in fact, including three practice rounds, I was 24 under par, which is pretty good, and I holed every putt because, well, in practice we had a little action going and I had to."
As for the rule that cost Roberto a tie and resulted in various storms of outrage around the country, Goalby is even more brutally realistic. He doesn't believe anything can be changed that would help, other than a quiet place to go over the card at the end of a round. "That's when you can think about what you shot," he says. "Hell, you can't walk off a green, fired up about what you're doing and concentrating on the next hole, and stop to fill in a score-card. Most of us, I'd guess, write down the scores after about eight holes and then after 17. You're really the only person who knows what you're shooting. I put down the wrong score for Al Balding once and he got disqualified, but he didn't blame me. You're the one who knows whether you've soled your club in a bunker or if a ball has moved on you and you deserve a penalty. And after a round is when you have time to think about your score."
For the benefit of those who have been walking in space or Montana, Goalby won the Masters—his first major championship—when De Vicenzo approved a scorecard that had three mistakes on it after he had shot 65 in the final round to tie Goalby at 277. He approved a 4 instead of a birdie 3 on the 17th hole, a 35 instead of a 34 on the back nine, and a 66 instead of a 65. While it was Roberto's playing companion, Tommy Aaron, who had marked down the wrong numbers accidentally, it was Roberto who hastily okayed the card and left the scorer's table. There was no alternative under the rules but to let the score stand.
"All the fuss has come up because I won it on a rule at the end of the round instead of on a rule at the beginning," Goalby says. "Suppose Roberto had been 10 minutes late for tee-off time and had taken a two-stroke penalty, and then we had tied in score. He would have lost because of the two strokes. He would have lost under the rules but no one would have thought it was so bad." Goalby's supposition brings to mind the overlooked fact that once before at the Masters a player lost a chance at the title on a penalty. In 1960 Dow Finsterwald suffered a two-stroke penalty for practice putting on a green during the first round. He eventually finished two strokes behind Arnold Palmer, the winner, but had he not been strapped with the penalty he perhaps would have met Palmer in a playoff.
Nevertheless, this year's Masters sent everyone, including many of the players, out to search for the proper villains in the incident. Who was it, or who were they? Bob Goalby has received more than 100 letters telling him he was. That, of course, is ridiculous. Was it Tommy Aaron? Was it the Masters officials? Was it the crotchety old Scot who wrote the rule? Was it the USGA and the Royal and Ancient who have kept it? Maybe it was Ho Chi Minh. Who was it?
For three weeks afterward, at the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas, at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, at the Houston International at Champions, the players spoke of little else. Some random samples:
Frank Beard: "The guy you have to feel sorriest for is Goalby. A man gets few chances in his career to win a big one. But to win one and have it tainted like this is terrible. It wasn't as if Roberto didn't know the rules."
Jimmy Demaret: "Twenty-five million people saw Roberto birdie the 17th hole. I think it would hold up in court."
Arnold Palmer: "Every week on the tour somebody makes a scorecard mistake. Somebody gets penalized or disqualified, but you don't hear about it. Tommy probably put down a 4 because it was such a short birdie putt and because he was concentrating on his own game. No matter what you say, it always comes back to Roberto."
Bob Rosburg: "What does the scoring table have to do with your ability to hit a two-iron out of the woods? Every rule in golf has been bent double by committees all over the tour. All of a sudden they can't bend one."
Dave Marr: "You can make a small case against Tommy for not doing everything he could to help a man trying to win a major championship. But you got to put some blame on the confusion around the scoring table."
Jack Burke: "What makes it seem pretty absurd is that not too many years ago they had to chase guys down at their hotels, at airports, in the lockers and everywhere else to get 'em to correct and sign their cards."
Tommy Aaron: "Naturally, I feel bad that it happened, for Roberto and for Bob, too, but it isn't like I was the first player ever to do it. All of us are constantly correcting our cards after a round. I don't know why I put down a 4 instead of a 3. Keeping score has always been incidental, the last thing you ever thought about. You just assume that a man knows what he shoots and changes a hole if it's wrong."
And so it goes, on and on, but ultimately back to the fact that Roberto lost the Masters on a rule that is as clear as the one that says you can't step on an opponent's ball—and Bob Goalby is a deserving champion.
Actually, what bothers Goalby today more than the shadow hanging over his victory in Georgia is the fact that, suddenly, he is considered a good golfer only because he has captured a big one.
"Do you know what I'm trying to say?" Bob says earnestly. "I mean, I've been around awhile. New, I know I'm not the greatest or close to it. But I haven't been all that bad. See what I mean?"
Goalby spends a lot of time now asking writers who have "discovered" him to check the record books. Fourteenth on the alltime money list. World record holder of the most consecutive birdies—eight—at St. Petersburg back in 1961. Winner of tournaments on all types of courses—in California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Connecticut. A man who undoubtedly has played in about as many tournaments as anybody on the tour. "Until five years ago I was single and didn't have anything else to do. I played every week," he says. "See, I'm not really bragging, understand? I mean, all I want to do is make a living out here. I'm pretty much of a loner, you know. I sometimes like to eat alone and just think about my game. I've worked hard. I guess I used to practice more than anybody since Hogan. See, I've been close to winning a major championship before, but nobody remembers. See, I've been a good player but not great. Everybody thinks Dave Marr's a great player because he won the PGA a couple of years ago. I'm not knockin' Dave. It's circumstances. Now I'm a great player, I suppose, because of the Masters. Well, there haven't been very many great players, but there are a lot of good ones. See what I mean?"
Goalby has always been respected as a solid player and fierce competitor, if slightly temperamental. Goalby does, as he pleads, have a pretty good record in major championships. He was second in the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills in 1961 and came within a closing birdie of tying Gene Littler. At the 1962 PGA at Aronimink he outshot Gary Player 67 to 70 in the final round, but Gary, scrambling for his pars, nicked him by a stroke. Only last year, while winning more than $77,000, he played in two of the most important tournaments in the world like a man on the verge of winning one. He was sixth in the U.S. Open and seventh in the PGA. The reason he had been sort of forgotten before this year's Masters is that he had won only one tournament since 1962, the 1967 San Diego Open, and because he had never in his life finished in the top 24 at Augusta.
He was right out there all along, however. He was winning money, not only from the sponsors but in the practice games that he used to enjoy and learn from with the likes of Doug Ford, Art Wall and Jerry Barber. "We used to bet it up pretty good because it kept you sharp and trying," Goalby says. "With something at stake, you tend to remember the lessons of your practice round better."
Goalby was an admirer of Doug Ford, of his approach to the game, of Ford's realism. "There are swingers and there are scorers," Bob says. "Doug taught me that the scoreboard was what mattered. Get it in the hole. Grip it any way that's best for you. Go at it with whatever swing is right, but get it in the hole. And he didn't let things bother him unnecessarily. He played again next week."
It was easier for Goalby to admire this than to do it. The temper was always a problem, and he had a square-blade swing that made him hook, often at a clumsy time. Although he still lectures himself out there inside the gallery ropes, he believes that he's curbed the temper. And he likes to give the old pro, Johnny Revolta, some credit for curing the hook.
A good judge of swings, Jack Burke can best describe the change in Goalby's technique. "He's got that left arm straight and firm and the blade open and the ball sitting out there where it's supposed to be," says Burke. "He used to come into it with a square blade, and if his body didn't turn just right he'd give it a Palmer hook, only worse."
The hook, the hook. That's all Goalby could think about as he came down the pressure tunnel of Augusta's last few holes, knowing he was thick in contention for the Masters. He hit a lot of good shots, but there were two gems that won the tournament along with Roberto's pencil.
At the par-5 15th hole he was faced with a three-iron second that would have to carry the water guarding the green and yet stay near the front for a good putt at an eagle. Just anywhere on the green wouldn't do, for you can three-putt easily at Augusta. Goalby knew he had to have at least a birdie there. "In a situation like that, when you're in contention, you ask yourself if you've got any guts," Bob says. "All you want to do is make a good pass at it and give yourself a chance for the shot to work out." Goalby swung smoothly, and you knew he liked it the instant he followed through and stood there, bareheaded, leaning a little, letting the shaft gently slide down through his fingers. The ball ate up the flag and snuggled in about eight feet away, and he jammed it in the hole at the same instant (on your CBS split screen, folks) as De Vicenzo made that 3 on the 17th.
But Goalby made a better shot—the best of his career—at the 18th hole. He had committed the sin of bogeying the 17th and then giving up on the tee shot at 18. He needed to make a par 4 to tie Roberto, but he had tried to block out any chance of a hook off the tee and had sliced into a tree to the right of the fairway, the ball bounding barely back into play about 230 yards from the big, uphill green and in a spot where Goalby, the hooker in so many moments of desperation before, needed a fade of at least 15 yards. And he had a hook lie.
So there he was. Hook lie. Fade shot. A cannon away. And his best chance ever for a major title. What exactly was he saying to himself then?
"I was mad at myself," he says. "All golfers get mad. And sometimes you play better when you're mad or at least fired up. I'm one of those. Yeah, I was talking to myself. I was saying, 'You no good gutless wonder, what are you gonna do now? Are you gonna just go ahead and hook it? Are you gonna kick it away?' Then I said, 'Just give yourself a chance. Just hit the shot you know how to hit. Just have some guts and swing at it right.' "
In all of that pressure Goalby faded his two-iron perfectly from that hook lie and put it on the green 30 feet from the hole. He two-putted for his par and thought he had tied for the Masters. And he was fairly proud of himself. He should have been. It was a remarkable shot. Not a hole-out, not a lucky putt traveling over bumps and cleat marks and being drawn into the cup by the fates, and not a fortunate bounce over a bunker or across a lake. It was a golf shot. A golf shot that did what it was supposed to do, struck by a pro under the most unbearable of circumstances. This was the stroke that really won the tournament.
The people who have been aching to see Goalby and De Vicenzo play a round of golf together since then, some of whom have been promoters talking about fantastic guarantees for a television show, have probably forgotten that the two men were paired together at Augusta on Saturday in the third round. They played head to head, keeping each other's score correctly—yes, they did. And there were a few spectators around the scorer's table that day who probably witnessed something and thought nothing of it. When Bob Goalby sat down to attest his card he mopped his forehead, picked up a pencil and glanced at the score on the 1st hole, taking his time. Before Goalby got to the 2nd hole Roberto had signed his card and disappeared. Just for the slightest, most inconsequential, fleeting instant of time, it made Bob Goalby think that the carefree Latin had been a trifle too carefree.
But it was not an incident that the Masters champion ever ever—ever—thought he would remember.