Nothing about the question was out of the ordinary: “How would you like your steak?”
Everything about Bob Goalby’s answer was extraordinary: “I never had steak growing up, so whatever way you serve it, I’ll like it just fine.”
It is a story from many decades ago, after Goalby had served military time during the Korean War, but before he had carved out a successful PGA Tour career. Yet there is another story involving Goalby that is told ... and told ... and told – so often devoid of any personal context.
“I mean, no one ever talks about even one shot in the round that day,” said Bill Harmon, youngest son of 1948 Masters champ Claude Harmon who knows Goalby well. “They talk about a clerical error, not the golf. And how many times have guys finishing 1-2 in a major championship shot those types of scores in Sunday of a major?”
Ah, good question, and the answer provides Harmon with proof that it was brilliant golf at Augusta National on Sunday, April 14, 1968. The combined aggregate score of 132 – 66 for Goalby, 66 for Roberto DeVicenzo – is the best fourth-round total for the first two finishers in Masters history. It is surpassed only by three other major Sundays: 128 for Henrik Stenson (63) and Phil Mickelson (65) at the 2016 Open Championship, 129 for Steve Elkington (64) and Colin Montgomerie (65) at the 1995 PGA Championship and 131 at the famed “Duel in the Sun” with Tom Watson (65) and Jack Nicklaus (66) at the 1977 Open Championship.
Historic stuff, that Sunday golf by Goalby and DeVicenzo – a combined two eagles, 11 birdies and just two bogeys. “It should be celebrated,” Harmon said.
Instead, the golf is overshadowed by the infamous “clerical error” by DeVicenzo. He made birdie at the par-4 17th, but he carelessly signed a scorecard that reflected a par. So rather than get credit for the 65 he shot, the Argentine went into the record books for 66. Rather than 11-under 277 and an 18-hole playoff Monday, the man who that day was celebrating his 45th birthday was at 278.
For that day. Forever.
You don’t ever hear Bob boast about his 66 that day, or boast about his 11 PGA Tour wins. Strong people, good genes.Jay Haas, nephew of Bob Goalby
But for the love of Goalby, his friends and fans invite you to put a different light on this story, one that doesn’t so much dwell on the sympathetic flavor of DeVicenzo but reflects more on the man who won and the dignity with which he has carried himself all these years.
“It’s just who he is,” said Jay Haas, the nine-time PGA Tour winner who is Goalby’s nephew. “It’s in keeping with the way he and my father taught me, to let your clubs do the talking.”
Haas suggests Goalby’s humility is tied to his background.
“He was born in 1929 and spent much of his youth growing up in the Depression,” Haas said. “Life couldn’t have been easy. We used to kid Bob all the time about never throwing things away, but it was in his DNA. You just didn’t throw out stuff. Everything had value.”
Truth, of course, is our most valuable commodity and all Haas and Harmon have asked is that people get a firm grasp of Goalby, now 89. Too many people, even all these years later, don’t embrace the golf that was played that day; whereas DeVicenzo started that final round with a hole-out eagle at No. 1 and birdies at Nos. 2 and 3, Goalby caught fire late and with a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch at Nos. 13, 14, 15.
In other words, the golf was superb, though Goalby rarely has been asked about it. Not that he would have any disparaging words or a “look at me” attitude.
“You don’t ever hear Bob boast about his 66 that day, or boast about his 11 PGA Tour wins,” said Haas, whose mother Shirley, 91, is Goalby’s sister. “Strong people, good genes.”
Their strength, of course, was a natural byproduct of the era.
“He grew up poor,” Haas said. “Not dirt poor, but his dad was a coal-miner and families didn’t have much.”
The story told by Harmon, how Goalby’s first time ever going to a restaurant was when he was in his 20s, after a stint in the service? The 1968 Masters champ confirmed it, but no regrets. “We just didn’t have enough money, but it was all right,” Goalby said.
What helped make it OK was his family home in Belleville, Ill., a short walk to St. Claire Country Club.
“I loved golf more than anything,” he said. “I couldn’t afford (to play). We just didn’t have the money. But I would sneak over the fence every night.”
Few major champions came from more meager means than Goalby, nor could you find many who worked any harder to achieve their careers. That’s the side of his uncle that Haas cherishes.
“Yes, he was poor, but there’s no pity party for Bob,” Haas said. “He picked himself up and made something of it. He can be hard, but inside, he has a huge heart and is a big teddy bear.”
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.Bob Goalby
What happened on April 14, 1968 is a big part of his life, so Goalby understands “why every time a year ends with the number 8” – like 2018 – “people call and talk to me.” So, recollections pour forth.
He started that final round in a five-way tie for second at 5-under, one behind Gary Player. DeVicenzo was 4-under, tied for seventh. The third-from-last pairing was Goalby and Raymond Floyd and “when we finished, we noticed that Roberto and Tommy Aaron (two groups ahead) were still sitting there at the scorer’s table, but I didn’t know what was going on.”
Fresh on Goalby’s mind was his only bogey of the day, “on my only three-putt of the tournament, at the 17th,” so he had a bad taste in his mouth. “But I turned to Roberto and said, ‘I guess we’ll be here in the morning.’ He didn’t respond. He just kept looking toward the sky.”
They wouldn’t meet that Monday morning, of course, but Goalby and DeVicenzo crossed paths countless times in ensuing years.
“I liked him and thought he was a good player,” Goalby told a reporter last year when DeVicenzo died. “It was unfortunate for him, but I think he knew it was unfortunate for me, too.”
When the Masters Club gathers Tuesday for the annual Champions Dinner at Augusta National, Goalby will be the oldest former champion to attend that most elite gathering.
No one traveled a tougher road or deserves that seat more than he.
Watch the complete1968 final-round broadcast on the official Masters YouTube channel.