AUGUSTA – Bob Goalby was missing from the champion’s dinner at the Augusta National Golf Club last night, an annual tradition to which he gave the highest regard.
In years past, you could spot him standing on the porch of the main clubhouse, early in the week, looking down toward Amen Corner. He loved that view, he loved being at Augusta and he appreciated what it meant to be a Master’s champion. The championship lost one of its most devoted loyalists when he died earlier this year at 92.
The Masters following his 90th birthday, I met him early in the week at the home where he was staying with his son Kel and his wife Julia, a University of Georgia graduate. I have his tape-recorded conversation in which he reflected insightfully about his time on the PGA tour as a player and later a broadcaster for NBC.
Even though the winning of his 1968 Green Jacket brought about a scoring error, a faux pas, which brought about a negative reaction, Goalby was proud to be a Masters champion. “(When you move about) they don’t introduce you as a former winner of the Los Angeles Open, they say former Masters champion and people take note.”
You may remember the scene following Roberto de Vicenzo’s final round score of 65, which included a birdie 3 at the 17th hole. Playing partner Tommy Aaron, of Gainesville, inadvertently marked Roberto’s card with a four at the 17th. Roberto signed the card without double checking his scores. His failure to correct his scorecard, cost him an opportunity to participate in a playoff for the championship on the following Monday.
I was standing about five feet from Roberto’s locker and heard him, with his head in his hands, moan dejectedly, “Oh what a stupid I am.” Many writers tried to make Aaron the villain, but I recall a few minutes later, Jack Nicklaus, at his locker, on the opposite side of the room, emphatically stressing that, “It is not Tommy Aaron’s fault.”
The rules of golf are quite simple. You sign for a higher score, then your signature makes it official. If you sign for a lower score, you are disqualified.
There were other Georgia connections in Goalby’s life. His son, Kevin, is a graduate of UGA and his daughter-in-law Julia has had a long affiliation with the University’s Alumni Society.
When Goalby came to visit Kevin while he was a student at Georgia, we often grilled him a steak. He regaled guests with his candid insights about life on the tour and the famous players he played with throughout his career—such as Sam Snead.
Growing up in austerity in West Virginia, Snead was given to suspicion when it came to business deals. He would ask Goalby for advice, making sure nobody was taking advantage of him. Sam, Bob believed, was the best ball striker who ever lived—but lacked confidence in his own game, was often curious about what club a high handicapper used on a certain hole.
In Goalby’s view, Snead was the best but lacked the mental acuity that Ben Hogan, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had. Sam was not dumb by any means but didn’t have the steel trap mind of the aforementioned threesome who were supremely confident about their game and golf course decisions.
Goalby remembered playing with Hogan 21 times. Among the things he remembered were that Hogan never asked his caddy a question in his career. “He would puff on that cigarette down to the very end and then choose his club. Once he pulled a club out of the bag, I never, in 21 rounds, ever saw him change clubs. Invariably, every approach shot was hole high. It was amazing at how solid he could hit a golf ball.”
Hogan, Goalby said, was the reason the players got television rights for playing on the tour. “He kept telling us that the rights were going to be worth something. In February 1963, we told the organizers of the Phoenix Open, that we were not going to play unless they gave us TV rights. They said, ‘no way,’ so we did not play in the pro-am but on Wednesday night before the first round on Thursday, they agreed to grant us television rights.
“In those days, when you signed an entry blank to play, the form explained, that you gave away your TV rights, photographs, articles, etc. Hogan would always cross that out before he signed the entry form.”
Reminiscing with ole timers is one of the highlights of tournament week. Only problem is that they, like the yardage totals on the Masters scorecard, don’t last forever.