The thing about Masters champion Bob Goalby, who died Thursday at age 92 in Belleville, Ill., was that he knew things. A lot of things. He had been around.
He was five months older than Arnold Palmer, and never really warmed to the game’s most popular player—though for reasons that had nothing to do with envy. He played plenty of golf with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead and got an inside look at their rivalry. He was amused by the antics of Tommy Bolt, knew who the cheaters were, and cringed at the idea of he and his peers being looked upon as “spoiled brats” when the players broke from the PGA of America and formed the PGA Tour in 1968, the year of his controversial win at Augusta National Golf Club.
He didn’t know of all the skeletons in golf’s closet. But he was one of the last who knew where the closet was.
Golf’s history is a bit sketchy before the creation of the PGA Tour. Records were poorly kept, and there still is considerable debate about which tournaments qualified as official tour events. It took grizzled men like Goalby, knowledgeable about all of the important things that happened that never made it into newspaper headlines, to fill you in. If you wanted the story, he would give you the story.
Goalby was a tremendous source for this writer the way Byron Nelson was once a wonderful person to dial up from time to time. He loved to talk about golf. They were both of an era when athletes trusted writers, so they talked plainly, without qualifiers or filters.
While he wasn’t one of the four players on the Tournament Committee negotiating the break-up of the Tournament Players Division of the PGA—Jack Nicklaus, Gardner Dickinson, Frank Beard and Doug Ford fulfilled that role—Goalby was a strong advocate for the players having a greater say in how the tour was run. It irked him that Palmer wavered between the two sides behind the scenes while Nicklaus and Dickinson took the heat publicly. It didn’t matter that Palmer’s father, Deacon, was a golf pro and that Arnie thought it best to tread lightly.
“I understood his position,” Goalby once said, “but the fact was Arnold was good at playing the middle in most every circumstance. It was smart of him to do, but we [players] thought he could have used his influence more in certain situations.”
At the same time, the players also considered making their own set of rules separate from the USGA, a topic revisited just a few years ago on the PGA Tour. Goalby said it was only lightly discussed, though 10 years earlier there was considerable momentum toward a separate set of rules until Snead and Palmer, among others, quashed the idea.
More importantly, Goalby was a key figure seated at the table when the senior golf circuit now known as the PGA Tour Champions was created in 1980—the tour in which his nephew, Jay Haas, still competes at age 68. There were six players who worked with Deane Beman, then commissioner of the PGA Tour, to lay the groundwork for a new tour—Goalby, Snead, Dickinson, Don January, Dan Sikes and Julius Boros.
Boros, Goalby said, spoke for the contingent when he remarked, “I don’t care how bad I play, and I don’t care how much we play for. I just want to get out of the house 10-12 times a year.” Such were the modest goals at that time.
The topic that seldom came up was his victory in the 1968 Masters, when Goalby was declared the winner after it was discovered that Roberto De Vicenzo had signed for an incorrect score, one that was a stroke higher than what he actually shot. On one occasion, however, the conversation veered in that direction, and Goalby, who came from humble means, had struck upon a compromise position.
The slings and arrows—hate mail, snide remarks and constant questions about the legitimacy of his green jacket—had long since lost their sting. His 11 PGA Tour titles included one major that deep down he felt he had earned. There was nothing he could do about De Vicenzo’s error. It was out of his hands.
But his own scorecard, the one he signed at the end of regulation 72 holes, told a story that was good enough for him, and that was all that mattered.
“I shot 277,” he said. “I shot the lowest score, whether or not Roberto had that penalty. I finished first.”