50 years later, Bob Goalby still haunted by the controversial end to his Masters win

Goalby talks Masters win

Golfer Bob Goalby of Belleville, IL, discusses his 1968 Masters Tournament win on the 50th anniversary of the championship.
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Golfer Bob Goalby of Belleville, IL, discusses his 1968 Masters Tournament win on the 50th anniversary of the championship.

In the weeks following his 1968 Masters Tournament triumph, Bob Goalby was flooded with fan mail to his Belleville home.

Many of the letters declared him a cheat and an unworthy champion.

Roberto De Vicenzo sank a two-foot birdie put on the 17th hole of his final round at Augusta National Golf Course that should have sent him to a playoff with Goalby. But Tommy Aaron, who was keeping De Vicenzo's scorecard, marked his playing partner only with a par.

De Vicenzo signed off on the mistake, making it final by United States Golf Association rules. There would be no playoff. Goalby was the champion.

Fifty years later, Goalby, now 89, still travels to Augusta each year to don his Green Jacket for dinner with other past champions.

And he still has those letters.

"I got a lot of really bad mail from people. Some of them thought I was playing with Roberto that day and wrote down the wrong score on purpose. I still have those letters," Goalby said. "It was very, very unfortunate for Roberto and I felt bad for him. But it was equally unfortunate for me because I never got the accolades and credit that the Masters Champion gets."

The 82nd Masters Championship begins Thursday. Goalby, who has made the trip annually for 60 years, was at Augusta by Saturday evening. De Vicenzo died last year at age 94 in his native Argentina.

"I still really enjoy going to see all the guys," Goalby said. "Every golf architect, every golf course designer, every salesman and every golf professional of any stature will be there. It's a good place to go and hang out for a couple days. The former champions who are there are treated very well."

A 1947 graduate of Belleville Township High School, Goalby turned professional in 1952 and won for the first time on the PGA Tour in 1958 when he scored a two-stroke win at the Greater Greensboro Open.

He won five times from 1960-62, then after a five year drought, captured the 1967 San Diego Open.

Goalby, who played in the Masters 27 straight years from 1960-86 including a sixth-place tie in 1973, was on his game in April of '68. He shot a 70 in three practice rounds at Augusta National, even as he worked to refine his swing off the tee.

Goalby Green Jacket.jpg
Bob Goalby, left, gets the traditional green coat as champion of the of the Masters Golf tournament at Augusta, Ga., April 14, 1968, from Gay Brewer. AP

"I was never one of the straightest drivers of the golf ball and when you talk about the great players of the game, I was a little wild," Goalby said. "But that week at Augusta, I hit the ball straight."

It was a well-timed word of praise from a friend and legend that put Goalby's confidence over the top as the competition began.

"Sam Snead, who was one of my best friends, was watching me practice one day and made the comment that the way I was hitting the ball that I could win the golf tournament," Goalby recalled. "That gave me a boost in confidence right there."

Goalby shot rounds of 70, 70 and 71 and was 5-under par, one stroke in back of third-round leader Gary Player. De Vicenzo, with rounds of 69, 73 and 70, was two strokes behind Player and one behind Goalby.

But De Vicenzo opened the final final round with an eagle and followed with birdies on the next two to get to 8-under par. Goalby shot 33 on the front 9 and was one shot behind De Vicenzo on the leader board at the 9-hole turn.

When Goalby teed off on hole No. 10, there were 13 players within two strokes of the lead.

"There is a saying at the Masters that the tournament begins on the back 9 on Sunday. That was the case that day," Goalby said. "With so many guys so close to the lead, anybody could win. There are lot of very difficult holes at Augusta National on the back nine — holes where you can make some big numbers and holes where you can make eagles."

Goalby parred holes 10 through 14, then scored an eagle on the par-5 hole No. 15 to move to 12-under.

He would 3-putt to bogey No. 17, but made up a stroke with a tricky 4-foot par putt on the 18th green to finish with an 11-under-par 277.

As he began to anticipate a playoff with De Vicenzo on Monday, Goalby got his first inkling that something else was brewing.

"I made a very nice 4-foot putt on the 18th hole for what I thought was a tie," he said. "When I walked in to the scorer's tent, Roberto was sitting there with Tommy Aaron with his head down. They had been there 40 minutes before but they went back down to show Roberto what he had done wrong."

"I remember he was then looking up at the sky. I said to him 'Well, Roberto I guess we'll play tomorrow.' He never even answered me. He just kept looking up at the sky. I think he was probably in a little bit of shock at that time."

Goalby, meanwhile, was still unaware of what had happened.

"I walked in and turned in my scorecard. Snead was still there and Doc (Cary Middlecoff) was working with the TV network. He came in and said to me, 'Bob, you won the golf tournament,'" Goalby recalled. "I asked him what he was talking about. He had the earpiece in and was talking to the people in the truck. They weren't talking about it on the air, so nobody really knew what was going on. It was very confusing."

Confusion turned into shock and then jubilation.

"I wasn't there but someone told me that when they told Bobby Jones what had happened he said, 'Fellas, you know what you have to do — play by the rules here, Goalby wins the tournament,'" Goalby said. "I was a little bit in shock ... but I will say that one I had gathered my wits and realized that I had the won the Masters, I was feeling pretty good about it."

Goalby collected $20,000 for his Masters triumph, a pittance compared to Sergio Garcia's $1.98 million prize last year.

"Winning the Masters, it's helped me live a good life and lifted me into that upper echelon of golf," he said. "I won 11 tournaments, I placed second in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, but I will always be a Masters Champion.

"For a guy who came from a small town with not many golf courses at that time, that was something special they can't take away."