Defining moments do not always involve triumph, as Roberto De Vicenzo would have attested.
For the past half-century, De Vicenzo, who died Thursday at age 94 in his native Argentina, lived with a mistake that didn’t define him but made his name synonymous with signing an incorrect scorecard.
In the final round of the 1968 Masters, De Vicenzo was waiting to find out his fate after shooting a final-round 65 to share the lead with Bob Goalby, who was playing the last hole.
Sometime between when De Vicenzo signed his scorecard and Goalby’s finish, Tommy Aaron, De Vicenzo’s playing competitor, noticed that he had written a 4 instead of a 3 for De Vicenzo’s score at the par-4 17th. That made De Vicenzo’s total score 66, not 65.
The Masters committee ruled that De Vicenzo would not be in a playoff and thus finished second to Goalby.
As history would record, De Vicenzo said, “What a stupid I am.”
The quote and the incident that spawned it made De Vicenzo not only famous but, in the eyes of many in golf, a tragic figure.
“He didn't blame Tommy for it,” Jack Nicklaus said here at Muirfield Village Golf Club, site of this week’s Memorial Tournament. “I think he was so excited about how he got it done that he didn't do the most important thing of all, which is make sure he had the right number that he turned in.”
(Nicklaus’ video tribute to De Vicenzo: http://bit.ly/2suI8jj)
According to Nicklaus, De Vicenzo still talked about the scorecard incident the last time that Nicklaus saw him in Argentina, four or five years ago. David Edel, founder of Edel Golf and a good friend of De Vicenzo’s, said the Argentine wrote a letter to the R&A in 2010 in which he seemingly made peace with the incident.
“I signed a million scorecards in my life, and I did it wrong once, but I take comfort in the fact that I know that due to my error I protected a lot of players from making the same mistake,” De Vicenzo wrote, according to Edel. “And with that, I can live with it.”
De Vicenzo, who learned the game as a caddie’s assistant in Argentina and turned pro at age 15, won more than 230 tournaments worldwide, according to his biography at the World Golf Hall of Fame, which enshrined him in 1989.
To golf observers, the biggest victory for De Vicenzo certainly was the 1967 British Open at Royal Liverpool, when he held off Nicklaus in his prime. To De Vicenzo, according to Edel, the victory that meant the most to him was the 1953 Mexican Open. That was when De Vicenzo made a statement to the golfing public – and more importantly to himself – that he could beat the best players of his era. The field included such notable touring pros as Jack Burke Jr., Jimmy Demaret, Vic Ghezzi, Lloyd Mangrum, Cary Middlecoff, Byron Nelson, Ed “Porky” Oliver, Bob Toski, Jim Turnesa, Art Wall and Lew Worsham.“Roberto was ‘Mr. Golf’ in Argentina,” Nicklaus said. “No question about that.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli