Bob Goalby passes away at 92
January 20, 2022
By Jim McCabe , PGATOUR.COM
- Bob Goalby recorded 11 wins during his PGA TOUR career. (PGA TOUR Archive)
So much about Bob Goalby’s life deserved admiration and praise. Born into the Great Depression, he persevered and made a beautiful life. He contributed a voice in building the PGA TOUR into the mega-enterprise it is. The PGA TOUR Champions didn’t exist until he and a few friends relentlessly campaigned for it.
On so many occasions he should have heard “thank you” for being a man of strength and vision. Instead, often he was expected to say “sorry” for playing a brilliant round of golf on April 14, 1968.
Then again, don’t bother. Goalby, who died yesterday at age 92, certainly didn’t. He was presented with one of golf’s most prestigious prizes, the Masters-winning green jacket, and it fit well. But the dignity with which he handled the controversy surrounding that year’s Masters was more resplendent on him and grew even more so with every passing year.
Wrote Dan Jenkins in Sports Illustrated: “Precisely because Bob Goalby is made up the way he is, which is tough and realistic, he has proved to be a lot less bothered by the Masters debacle than most people might think.”
Ah, yes, the 1968 “Masters debacle.” Arguably one of golf’s most iconic championships, it is cemented into the record books as one of Goalby’s 11 PGA TOUR wins and his only major. The thing is, too many people for too many years overlooked the man’s epic performance that day—after birdies at the par-5 13th and par-4 14th—Goalby hit a 3-iron to six feet to eagle the par-5 15th and shoot 6-under 66, finishing at 11-under 277. Instead, the focus was put squarely on a “clerical” error that cast a shadow over the proceedings at Augusta National Golf Club.
That day, Roberto DeVicenzo made a birdie-3 at the 71st hole to shoot 65. The Argentine, however, signed his card reflecting a “4” at 17 and a round of 66—278, one behind Goalby. Yes, it should have been a playoff, but the Rules of Golf mandated that DeVicenzo accept his higher scores. Repeat, “the Rules of Golf” offered guidance, not Goalby.
“I had no say in it,” said Goalby. “I told Roberto, ‘I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.’ But it wasn’t up to me to change the rules.”
Thus, while Goalby was draped in a green jacket, DeVicenzo—who that day was celebrating his 45th birthday—was enveloped in sympathy, famously uttering, “What a stupid I am.”
To some, the storyline that endured, that Goalby didn’t win that Masters, DeVicenzo lost it, was unfair and disrespectful. Goalby, however, quietly embraced humility.
“More people outside of golf got upset about it and pointed the finger at me, but he didn’t,” Goalby said in 2017, reacting to DeVicenzo’s death. “I liked (DeVicenzo) and thought he was a good player. It was unfortunate for him, but I think he knew it was unfortunate for me, too.”
If it rated as a tough way to go into the record books, it was in tune with Goalby’s life, as nothing was easy for this son of a coal miner.
Born March 14, 1929, in Belleville, Illinois, Goalby “grew up pretty poor,” said nine-time PGA TOUR winner Jay Haas, whose mother, Shirley, was Goalby’s older sister. “Not dirt poor, but it was the Depression and families didn’t have much.”Bob Goalby (left), Ben Crenshaw (middle) and Jay Haas (right) talk before the second round of the 2015 Masters. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Even when he had been afforded some of the conveniences of life, Goalby was a product of his upbringing.
“We used to kid Bob all the time about never throwing things away,” said Haas. “But it was in his DNA. You just didn’t throw out stuff. Everything had value.”
Haas was introduced to golf by his father and his “Uncle Bob,” who was 24 years older and a mentor. But beyond how to grip a golf club and nuances of the swing, Haas said the most important thing he learned from his uncle was to “be humble, let your clubs do your talking.”
Goalby never bemoaned what he didn’t have as a kid; instead, he cherished what he did have – chief among them, a short walk to St. Claire Country Club.
“I would sneak over the fence every night,” said Goalby, who was passionate about golf, even when football and baseball seemed to be his tickets to college.
He received a football scholarship and attended the University of Illinois only to lose it when he played in some baseball games for Southern Illinois. Goalby quit college and was drafted into the military during the Korean War, but never did he regret the loss of his football scholarship.
“Golf is what I wanted,” he said. “I just loved golf.”
After winning some local amateur tournaments, Goalby turned pro at 23 and accepted a job working at a club in Darien, Connecticut. But at the 1957 Mayfair Inn Open in Sanford, Florida, Goalby closed with a torrid 64, finished 30th and received a whopping $20 check.
“I called the shop at Darien and said, ‘Thank you very much, but I’m not coming back,’” he reminisced.
Instead, Goalby pursued the vagabond life of a touring professional in the 1950s and 1960s. If there was a tournament, he was likely going to tee it up. In a 17-year stretch from 1958 to 1974, he played in 481 tournaments, an average of about per year. His first win was the 1958 Greater Greensboro Open when he was two clear of Sam Snead and four others. His remarkable consistency was the hallmark of his career.Bob Goalby would go on to achieve 101 top-10s during his PGA TOUR career. (PGA TOUR Archive)
Snead would become a travel companion and frequent practice-round partner and opponent. Goalby cherished his friendship with Snead and said the icon was every bit the character history portrays him to be.
“If he owed you money, you had to chase him into the locker room,” laughed Goalby, “but if you owed him, he wanted you to pay him right there on the green.”
Though he entered pro golf as twilight was approaching for Ben Hogan and Snead, Goalby appreciated whatever time he had around those giants. Apparently these men saw in Goalby a bit of themselves. They were all players who had never been handed anything because they were of a time when America didn’t do handouts.
“The old pros loved Bob,” said Billy Harmon, whose father Claude Harmon won the 1948 Masters and was one of the game’s foremost instructors. “He was a pro’s pro.”
Goalby had victories in nine different seasons, also accruing 16 second-place finishes, a dozen thirds and 101 top-10s. Six times he finished top-20 on the money list, and arguably his best season was 1962 when he won the Insurance City Open and Denver Invitational, finished second four times, recorded 17 top-10s in 33 starts and was fifth on the money list, with $46,241.
That earned Goalby his only Ryder Cup appearance, in 1963 for captain Arnold Palmer at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Goalby went 3-1-1, a record that included a pair of Sunday singles wins.
But one would be treating PGA TOUR history with irreverence without noting Goalby’s involvement around two crucial junctions. He joined Doug Ford, Gardner Dickinson, Lionel Hebert and Dan Sikes to lead the way as the Tournament Players Division split from the PGA of America and called itself the PGA TOUR in late 1968. True, support from Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sealed the deal, but let history show that it was Goalby and others who initiated the move.
Twelve years later, Goalby, Dickinson and Spikes were at the heart of another pursuit, this time joined by Snead, Don January and Julius Boros, to organize PGA TOUR Champions for those 50 and older.
Significant leadership times two, but rarely did Goalby pontificate.
“He was never saying, ‘Here’s what I did,’” said Haas. “To the men of his era, Bob was a leader, but he had a lot of humility.”
It shined through in the years following the 1968 Masters, through all those times when people judged Goalby harshly without knowing the full details of the “incident.” Billy Harmon was always bothered by how many people thought DeVicenzo would have won had he signed a correct scorecard, ignorant that it would have meant a playoff.
There was also the fact that the Argentine had fumbled the basic of all responsibilities. He signed for a scorecard “that had more mistakes on it than a map of Italy,” wrote Jenkins.
Goalby, who in 1981 and 1982 played with DeVicenzo in the Legends of Golf, never judged the media harshly. “So many of them never knew the story,” he said. Nor did he feel bitter toward the public. “I’ve got all the hate mail, and someday I’ll figure out what to do with it all.”
As for golf writers who would call to pen those anniversary stories – in ’78 or ’88 or 50 years later, in 2018 – Goalby cooperated. “Happens every 10 years. You guys still remember.”
Sadly, fewer and fewer of Goalby’s peers are alive to remember his exploits in this time of celebration.
“He was a hard guy,” said Haas. “But he had a huge heart.”
“Bob Goalby loved golf and gave back to the game throughout his life. He appreciated its history as he played alongside some of the greats of the game. He was equally adept describing golf action to fans watching on TV. In whatever Bob did, whether he was swinging a club, sitting in a board room making things better for the players, walking the fairways while holding a microphone or simply spending time with his family, he was a wonderful man … one of the greatest storytellers, and we will miss him,” said former PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem.
After turning 50, Goalby played in 262 PGA TOUR Champions tournaments on the Tour he helped create. He won twice, in 1981 and 1982, while simultaneously working for NBC Sports as a commentator on PGA TOUR events, something he did for 14 years.Bob Goalby was integral in the beginning of the PGA TOUR Champions. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
In addition, Goalby supported the Bob Goalby Golf Open to raise funds for Maur Hill – Mount Academy in Atchison, Kansas. He also donated annually to his high school, Belleville West, and in 2016 he and Haas attended a fundraiser that generated $40,000 to help improve the athletic facilities there.
Goalby told Guy Yocom in Golf Digest that while winning the Masters was a thrill, it was nothing compared to what “I still dream about.” That being the game in which he was the all-state quarterback in Belleville West’s 6-0 win over archrival East St. Louis High School in 1946.
The Belleville West football field was named in Goalby’s honor in 2017. He is also enshrined in the St. Louis Hall of Fame and Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.
Goalby, who still lived in Belleville and spent his winters in Palm Springs, California, is survived by three sons, Kyle, Kel and Kevin.