The controversial tale of Robert George “Bob” Goalby, who celebrates his 85th birthday Friday, is one that golf historians often recite because of a costly scorekeeping error.
Very few realize, however, that Goalby, the winner of the 1968 Masters, was once a scholarship athlete at Illinois. He graduated from Belleville Township High School in 1947, where he sparkled as an 11-letter athlete. He was quarterback and captain in football, captained Belleville’s ‘47 state championship baseball squad and starred on the Panthers’ basketball team. It’s amazing to learn that he never formally played on Belleville West’s golf team, though he easily would have been his team’s best player. Goalby’s family lived near St. Clair Country Club on 78th Street in Belleville, where young Bob often caddied for $1.25 per round.
He was such a fine athlete that Illini coach Ray Eliot offered him a scholarship to play football, but Goalby actually spent little more than a year in Champaign. He got drafted into the armed forces in 1950 and served in Germany with a reconnaissance team in World War II-divided Berlin.
After two years of service, Goalby returned stateside and joined the PGA Tour. His 11 tour titles were achieved between 1958 and ’71, but his ’68 Masters championship was easily his greatest victory. Goalby tied Roberto De Vicenzo at the end of 72 holes of regulation play April 14 and would have had to face an 18-hole playoff the next day had there not been a mistake on De Vicenzo’s scorecard. In the final round, De Vicenzo’s playing partner, Tommy Aaron, marked a par 4 on the 17th hole, when De Vicenzo had in fact made a birdie 3. De Vicenzo failed to catch the mistake and signed the scorecard. The rules of golf state that the higher written score signed by a golfer on his card must stand. As a result, the error gave Goalby the championship. Goalby, playing in the group behind De Vicenzo, was not personally at fault for anything in the incident. The details of the match were recounted in a 2005 book titled, “The Lost Masters: Grace and Disgrace in ‘68,” by Curt Sampson.
Thankfully, the personal relationship between Goalby and De Vicenzo was unaffected by the difficult situation, and the two men formed a partnership years later for a team event on the Senior PGA Tour. Goalby won twice on the Seniors Tour (later known as the Champions Tour), then retired to his native Belleville, where he has designed several nearby golf courses. His nephew, Jay Haas, currently plays on the Champions Tour, and another nephew, Jerry Haas, coaches the Wake Forest golf team. His great-nephew, Bill Haas, plays on the PGA Tour and won the Tour Championship tournament and FedEx Cup in 2011. Since 1982, Goalby has annually lent his name to a charity golf tournament, the Bob Goalby Golf Open, for the benefit of Maur Hill-Mount Academy, a Catholic, international, college preparatory school in Atchison, Kan.
Sunday: Bruce Brothers, basketball (60)
Monday: Sam Carson III, football (28)
Tuesday: Justin Spring, gymnastics (30)
Wednesday: Miles Osei, football (22)
Thursday: Matt Bollant, basketball coach (43)
Friday: Ali Stark, volleyball (21)
Saturday: Ted Karras, football (21)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore
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