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Did Roberto De Vicenzo lose The Masters because of an error on his scorecard?

September 21, 2011 | 12:19 pm


GOLF URBAN LEGEND: A golfer lost the Masters because of an error on his scorecard.

Roberto De Vicenzo celebrated his 45th birthday on April 14th, 1968, which also happened to be the final day of The Masters Tournament. On the first hole of the day, De Vicenzo sank a 130 foot approach shot for an eagle. As he celebrated, the packed crowd serenaded him with "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear Roberto, Happy Birthday to you." It seemed like a dream come true for De Vicenzo, the Argentinean one-time caddy who had just won his first major tournament (the British Open) the previous year. He was aiming to be the oldest man to ever wear the famous Augusta National green jacket that is given to Master's winners (not only would he be the oldest man to win it, but it would not even be close - the oldest winner at the time was 41-year-old Sam Snead in 1954, in Snead's final Masters victory) and after entering the day two strokes behind the leader, his impressive seven under par performance on that final day looked like it had secured him a spot in a one-day playoff to be played the next day. However, De Vicenzo's dream birthday quickly turned nightmarish. And it all came down to a tiny little erroneous four.

Read on to learn the whole sad story!

The first rules of golf were written down in 1744 for the Company of Gentlemen Golfers in Edinburgh, Scotland. For more than a century afterwards, golf rules would be determined on a region-by-region basis. The first universally accepted rules for golf were determined by a committee at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. Their rulings were unveiled in 1899 and while obviously a number of changes have been made over the years to these rules, these are the same basic rules that players play under to this day. Under the section for rules for competitions based on golf strokes, the fourth rules reads:

4. The scores shall be kept by a special marker or by the competitors noting each other’s scores. The scores marked shall be checked after each hole. On completion of the round, the score of the competitor shall be signed by the marker, counter-signed by the competitor, and handed to the Secretary or his deputy, after which, unless it be found that a card returned shows a score below that actually played (in which case the competitor shall be disqualified), no correction or alteration can be made.

This rule came into play on the back nine at Augusta when De Vicenzo, who had surged to the top of the leader board with a flurry of early birdies after his opening eagle, began to field off an equally impressive surge by American Bob Goalby, no spring chicken himself at the age of 39. Goalby birdied the 13th and 14th holes and shot an eagle on the 15th. The drama got to De Vicenzo's playing partner, Tommy Aaron. The two competitors were keeping score for each other (as allowed in the rules above). On the 17th hole, De Vicenzo birdied it for a score of a 3 on the par 4 hole. Aaron, though, wrote down 4.

On the 18th and last hole, clinging to a lead, De Vicenzo bogied the hole. His second shot hit the gallery and he missed a 10-foot putt that would have (he thought) sealed the tournament victory for him. As you might imagine, De Vicenzo was quite distracted after the 17th hole and certainly after the 18th hole, so when it came time to sign the scorecard to affirm the score (as the rules state above), he did so, not noticing Aaron's error.

Preparations began for the one-day playoff the next day between De Vicenzo and Goalby. That's when the error was discovered. As the rules state, if you put down a lower score than you actually shot, you are disqualified. However, if you put down a higher score (as was the case here), you are just stuck with the higher score. Thus, instead of the 65 he (and everyone else around him) thought that he had shot, De Vicenzo was actually credited with a 66.

De Vicenzo was incredibly gracious in defeat. He told reporters (in his not-so-perfect English), "It was my fault. I play golf maybe 30 years all over the world and never be wrong on my card. What a stupid I am to sign score card wrong in this wonderful tournament. I congratulate Bob Goalby. He give me so much pressure I loose my brains - I forget everything." The specific quote "What a stupid I am" was picked up by news wires all over the world (which, honestly, I think is a bit on the mean side of things, in a sort of "Yes we have no bananas" sort of way). Aaron, as well, blamed the general state of confusion for the error.

Golf officials felt horrible about the ruling (as you would expect) and Masters' chairman Clifford Roberts later sent De Vicenzo a sterling silver cigarette box engraved with the signatures of the previous winners (the only time during Roberts' time as chairman that it was sent to anyone other than the winner of the Masters). Goalby was suitably rueful, as well, stating at the time, "I deeply regret Roberto's misfortune. I wish we could have played Monday, and I could have won it outright."

De Vicenzo and Goalby stayed friendly after the tournament. Neither of the two men ever won another Major (although De Vicenzo had a strong career in the newly formed Senior golf circuit, winning the first-ever Senior Open in 1980). De Vicenzo is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, though, so I think that mollifies the monumental error somewhat!

The legend, though, is bizarrely...


--Brian Cronin

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Photo: The infamous scorecard. Credit: Associated Press.