Mario Gonzalez, 1922-2019
July 30, 2019
By Communications, PGATOURLA.COM
- July 30, 2019
- Brazilian great Mario Gonzalez passed away on Monday in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo via Marcelo Stallone, author of "Mario Gonzalez, O golfista do Brasil")
The title was unofficial and something of an honorific, but it was accurate: “The Father of Brazilian Golf.”
Everybody in the country knew Mario Gonzalez by that title, something he earned during his more than eight decades playing the game as Brazil’s first successful golfer. The legendary golf figure died on Monday, July 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 96.
Gonzalez was born in Sao Paulo on November 11, 1922, the son of the head professional at one of Sao Paulo’s golf courses.
In 1945, Gonzalez was still an amateur when the Brazil Open made its debut on the country’s golf scene. Argentina’s Martín Pose defeated fellow countryman Roberto De Vicenzo that year but Gonzalez was the low amateur. A year later, while still an amateur, it was Gonzalez who made sure De Vicenzo finished second again as he claimed the tournament title. That win was the first of eight Brazil Open trophies Gonzalez would hoist above his head. He actually won five consecutive Brazil Opens—there was no tournament in 1947—Gonzalez defeating American Frank Stranahan in 1948 and getting the better of De Vicenzo in 1949, 1950 and 1951 in his first three tournament starts as a professional. His next two titles came in 1953 and 1955—with runner-up finishes in 1954, when De Vicenzo finally beat him, and in 1959 and 1961. In 1969, at the age of 46, he edged out De Vicenzo again to win it for the last time.Roberto De Vicenzo, left, and Mario González had some great battles at the Brazil Open starting in 1949. (Photo via Marcelo Stallone, author of "Mario Gonzalez, O golfista do Brasil")
What Gonzalez called his “most important” win came in 1940 when he traveled to Buenos Aires for the Argentine Open, becoming the first amateur since 1908 to win the tournament. Among other high-profile wins was the 1947 Open de España, where he defeated hometown hero Marcelino Morcillo. Before turning professional in 1949, Gonzalez had also claimed the Brazilian Amateur Championship nine times.
“All you have to do is look at Mario’s record and the players he beat to know what kind of player he was. It was a true privilege to meet him and spend time with him,” said Jack Warfield, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica President. “Mario made a huge impact on the sport in Brazil, and his presence has been felt for decades. While we mourn his loss, his influence will continue for years and years to come.”
While still a teenager, Gonzalez made his PGA TOUR debut, playing in the 1941 U.S. Open at Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club. He missed the cut but came back six weeks later and played solid golf at the Chicago Open, entering the final round only eight shots behind Ben Hogan’s leading pace. A final-round 73 left Gonzalez tied with Clayton Heafner in sixth place. Among his 22 total PGA TOUR appearances, Gonzalez’s other top-10 came at the 1946 Pensacola Open—tying for eighth in Florida.Mario Gonzalez standing by a statue in his honor at Gavea Golf, where he was the Head Pro between 1949 and 1984. (Photo courtesy of Thais Pastor/F2 Comunicação)
One tournament where Gonzalez became a fixture—a tournament that put him on the world stage—was at the aptly named World Cup, a two-man team competition that pitted countries against countries in a goodwill tournament that helped forge lasting relationships between players. While Brazil didn’t play in the first World Cup in 1953, Gonzalez was there with teammate Ricardo Rossi representing his country in Montreal in 1954, the team finishing eighth. During his 12 consecutive appearances in the World Cup, Gonzalez joined forces with Rossi, Luis Rapisarda, Juan Querellos and Jose Maria Gonzalez, playing in far-flung locales as Canada, the U.S., England, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Argentina, France and Spain. After skipping the 1966 tournament, Gonzalez returned to the World Cup to represent Brazil four more times, between 1967 and 1971.
Not long after turning pro, Gonzalez accepted the position of head professional at Rio de Janeiro’s Gavea Country Club, a position he held until retirement (1949-1984). Yet even after he stopped working, Gonzalez was a frequent visitor to the course, still playing into his 90s.
One player who became friends with Gonzalez is Brazilian Alex Rocha, a former PGA TOUR member and current PGA TOUR Latinoamérica player.
“Mario is the beginning of it all. He was the one who went abroad before anyone else did and he brought knowledge back into the country. Without him, I’m not here. It’s just that simple,” Rocha said. “His reach is far beyond anyone else in Brazil. He was the center of anything that had to do with high performance golf in Brazil for seventy years. Basically, every good player who has ever come out of Brazil, one way or another has been touched by Mario or one of his sons. That’s how big his influence is.”
Gonzalez is survived by his wife, Pilar, and his three sons, Mario, Jaime and Rafael. Both Jaime and Rafael are among the leading teaching professionals in Brazil, with Jaime having enjoyed a fairly successful career as a professional, winning a tournament in six seasons as a European Tour member and spending a couple of seasons on the PGA TOUR in the early eighties.Gonzalez and his beloved wife Pilar. (Photo courtesy of Thais Pastor/F2 Comunicação)