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Of all the games ever played in a sporting competition, never has an event been so bizarre and yet so fitting for its historical moment: the 1968 Masters.
Anger gripped America's heart in April 1968. Vietnam and a bitter presidential contest sharpened the divides between races and generations, while protests and violence poisened the air. Then an assassin's bullet took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ...
Of all the games ever played in a sporting competition, never has an event been so bizarre and yet so fitting for its historical moment: the 1968 Masters.
Anger gripped America's heart in April 1968. Vietnam and a bitter presidential contest sharpened the divides between races and generations, while protests and violence poisened the air. Then an assassin's bullet took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cities burned.
The smoke had barely cleared when the Masters began.
Never was the country more ready for distraction and escape—but could the orderly annual excitement of Palmer versus Nicklaus provide it? For a while, it could and it did—except that instead of a duel between golf's superstars, several unlikely members of the chorus stepped forward with once-in-a-lifetime performances. There was blunt-talking Bob Goalby, a truck driver's son from Illinois and former star football player; loveable Roberto De Vicenzo from Argentina, who charmed the galleries and media all week; and Bert Yancey, a Floridian who'd dropped out of West Point to face his private demons of mental illness.
Just as the competition reached a thrilling crescendo, it all fell apart. The Masters, the best-run tournament in the world, devolved into a heart-wrenching tangle of rules, responsibility, and technicality. In a fascinating narrative that stops in Augusta, Buenos Aires, and Belleville, Illinois, bestselling author Curt Sampson finds the truth behind The Lost Masters. It's a story you'll never forget.
Chapter One: Mr. Jones
Golf is not fair. Neither is birth.
— Jack Burke, Jr.
Mr. Jones waited for his company.
He sat in a light green cloth-covered chair in a tiny room on the second floor of a big house on Tuxedo Road in Druid Hills, Atlanta's wealthiest neighborhood. Over his pajamas he wore a bathrobe of dark silk, a garment long enough to cover his swollen, useless legs and billowy enough to hide the plastic tube of a catheter and its collection bag. Across the arms of the chair rested a bean-shaped hospital tray, made of a shiny metal. On the tray someone had placed five cigarettes in holders, a bulky silver lighter, and two cups with straws, one containing water, the other, bourbon. He didn't touch any of it.
The next few hours would relieve the pain and thinking about pain that consumed most of his day. He had a withering disease of the spinal cord no one knew much about. Each day syringomyelia consumed a little more of him, until he couldn't walk, couldn't grasp, couldn't even pee. In his waking rigor mortis, Jones's torso and limbs atrophied and his hands curled into claws that twisted inward toward his forearms. His agony could be masked a bit by codeine or whiskey but it never really left. He was sixty-six and had been slowly dying for twenty years. He didn't have much time left.
It was the first week of May 1968. Jones had returned from Augusta two weeks earlier, where he'd attended both the best and the worst Masters ever. The best because of its fantastic finish and the worst because of, well, that's a long story. He'd been ill during the week with something like flu, an almost intolerable addition to his usual burden. He had decided — with help (or pushing, depending on who's telling the story) from Masters and Augusta National cofounder Cliff Roberts — to forgo his traditional interview of the winner for television. Influenza or not, the TV thing might have been scotched anyway, since Jones looked like hell and, worse, often drooled when he spoke.
All tournament week Jones lay in bed or sat by a curtained window in his house by the tenth tee, swallowing antibiotics and watching the passing parade. Small groups came by to chat, including Herbert Warren Wind, a man with elephant ears and a lyrical pen who wrote golf essays for The New Yorker. Wind listened, rapt, as Jones talked happily about the superiority of very hard and fast golf surfaces, in particular the Old Course at St. Andrews, and a match he had there with Cyril Tolley in 1927. "I could listen to Jones all day," Wind would write. But he couldn't, because Jones couldn't talk very long. Fatigue rolled in like fog and the visits ended. He would never see most of these friends again. None of them knew but all might have suspected that this would be the last Masters for Bobby Jones.
Once he'd been a hero big enough to close down lower Manhattan. After winning the first two legs of the Grand Slam in July 1930, Jones looked up from the rear deck of a black convertible into a snowstorm of ticker tape, his hair parted down the center as if by a laser beam, his manner modest, though not entirely happy, and a look about him much older than his twenty-eight years. The motorcade passed beneath the office window of Charles de Clifford Roberts, a broker of stocks and a student of wealth and power. The attentive veteran of World War I and Wall Street had been friends with Jones for several years and had found out what the man of the hour really wanted: privacy in combination with a place to play golf. Only two years later, Augusta National opened, delivering both.
Augusta National arrived with a wondrous network of rich and powerful new friends, many of whom — especially Roberts — wanted to increase Jones's wealth. They succeeded with all of it. The club became a kind of heaven on earth for the power elite; the club's annual Masters Tournament soon stood with the World Series as an event; and Jones did well enough with his investment in an Atlanta member's company — Coca-Cola — to reside in a Venetian Gothic mansion grand enough to have a name: Whitehall.
But God is a comedian playing to an audience that's afraid to laugh. Just when the middle-aged Jones should have been enjoying things most, with his three children grown and his fortune secure, that seven-syllable disease invaded his body. Jones did not complain in public or talk much about his illness with his peers or the press. Those who knew him were awed by the courage he showed in the things he didn't say.
But now, after twenty years of compounding misery, Jones had had just about enough. "My life day and night is about as nearly miserable as one could imagine," he would write to Dr.
H. Houston Merritt at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center on September 10, 1968. "I am sixty-six years old. I have wasted away to a bare skeleton and keep going only with the aid of three or four devoted people. I have chronic asthmatic bronchitis, a low blood pressure, and for several years have been wearing a permanent catheter because of a slight prostate enlargement."
Two days later, Jones wrote another note, this one to his own doctor, Ralph Murphy: "I have a very real horror of spending my final years lying paralyzed or in twisted agony. Any other way out, no matter how quickly it comes, would be better. I am sure you will agree." He wanted to die.
But he didn't die. Until the day in 1970 when he absolutely couldn't, he still went to his law office, still played his role as golf's gray eminence. He signed his dictated letters by gripping a tennis ball punctured with a pen, unembarrassed that the outsized letters of his "Bob" wandered like a child's first attempt at cursive. His mind was still sharp, those who knew him say, but his stamina was obviously shot to hell. In the eleventh hour of the '68 Masters, with the world waiting (at least some of it) outside his door, he'd been called on to make a momentous decision.
Had he been up to it? Which had been stronger in him, his intellect or his disease?
Now, in the gentle May evening, at his home in Atlanta, Jones waited in his little room at the top of the stairs. He listened for the doorbell's three-part chime.
Out in the street, a college student named John Lambert slowed his car at the wrought-iron fence and turned right, into the Joneses' driveway. He'd left the Sigma Chi house at Georgia Tech ten minutes before and had driven carefully for his first day on an odd job. His route took him from the fraternity house on Techwood Road north to Hemphill, to Northside Drive, then over the expressway, past Bobby Jones Municipal Golf Course, right on West Paces Ferry, left on Tuxedo. He paused for a moment as he got out of the car, looking at the nice-enough-to-live-in garage/maintenance building to the right, at the two-story white stone mansion with its porte cochere to the left, and at the flagstick and immaculate putting green in the front yard. With gracefully trimmed shrubs accenting tall white columns, the house looked as though it belonged to a Renaissance count. Lambert hadn't realized the Joneses were so wealthy.
A nurse led him up a winding marble staircase. A door opened at the top of the stairs and out of it came billows of smoke and Mrs. Mary Jones, a statuesque woman with short dark hair and Lauren Bacall's voice. "It's nice to meet you, John," she said in a two-pack-a-day contralto. "We're so glad you're here." She'd been treated for cancer of the larynx a few years
Mrs. Jones took the college boy across the carpeted hall to meet Mr. Jones, a gaunt, twisted figure in a dimly lit eight-by-twelve-foot room. He greeted the young man warmly and invited him to sit but to turn on the TV first. Jones bent his head down to the tray and took one of the holdered cigarettes in his mouth. Then he punched the button on the heavy silver lighter with his right thumb and lit the tip of the cigarette to show his guest that he was not quite helpless.
For most of the next three years, from 1968 to 1971, Lambert visited the dying golf hero two, three, or four evenings a week, one of several brothers of Sigma Chi who sat with Jones for a couple of hours every night. The job required a polite but unintimidated young man with conversational skill and physical strength. "In '67 or early '68 Mr. Jones had an operation to relieve the pressure in his sinus cavity and that seemed to be pretty much the end," Lambert explains. "He lost the strength to get from a chair to his wheelchair or to get from the wheelchair to bed. That's why he needed big guys, athletes. You'd pick him up under the armpits to move him. He wasn't heavy, of course, but he was deadweight, and you'd have your arms extended." Lambert played a year of basketball for Tech. He stood six-one and weighed 205.
The college kids and the dying hero would chat about Tech football and basketball. Jones still loved the place; he'd been a Sigma Chi himself and a mechanical engineering major there sixty-something years before. Mostly, they watched television. But never the news; the news during the Vietnam era was invariably bad and Jones wanted above all to laugh. Once he almost fell out of his chair chortling at The Bill Cosby Show, as the star picked up a date in a garbage dump truck and then activated the dump when trying to turn on the windshield wipers. "You know what time it is, John?" Jones would ask Lambert on Wednesday nights. "It's Al Mundy time." And he'd grin, exposing tobacco-browned teeth and a remarkable determination to fight despair. Alexander Mundy didn't seem to be much of a weapon in his battle. In It Takes a Thief, Mundy — played by the ultra-suave Robert Wagner — was a former second-story man now stealing for the government. ABC ran sixty-six episodes of the series and sixty-six times Wagner kissed the girl, recovered the microfilm, and wore a tuxedo.
Night after night, Jones would sip and smoke and hope for a laugh. Then a sturdy college kid would pick him up and put him in his wheelchair, roll him to his bedroom, lift him again, and put him into bed. Lambert stepped on the catheter once, which must have been painful, but the old man didn't make a sound. Another time, the maid's TV caught fire, but Jones's son Robert T. III was there. He picked up his father, cradling him in his arms like a baby, and carried him out into the front yard. Other than that, the evening ritual never varied. The visits began at 7:00 p.m. and were as short as two hours or as long as three — it depended on Mr. Jones's strength and what was on the tube.
"We all knew who he was — Bobby Jones was a household name in Atlanta, like Coca-Cola," Lambert says. "We knew he founded Augusta National and the Masters, that he won the Grand Slam. But we never asked too many questions. Mary had cautioned us about talking about the past. And no pictures. 'He doesn't want anyone to see what he looks like,' she told us."
On those warm nights in the spring of 1968 Lambert wondered what had really happened at the just-completed Masters, but of course, he dare not ask. And Mr. Jones never volunteered. There were no laughs in that subject.
Three weeks before, Hoyt had docked Jones's yacht-like Cadillac Fleetwood under the canopy outside the front door. Hoyt — no one ever used his first name, George — had for years worked as the family's servant and driver. Weekdays, he shaved and dressed Mr. Jones and drove him to work at the law office on Poplar Street in downtown Atlanta. He'd been a janitor at the gym at Emory University, and had recruited the first college kid to come sit with his boss, a swimmer named Jack Schroeder. Now the black man loaded luggage and Mr. and Mrs. Jones into the big blue car and drove it slowly out of Atlanta's mansion district, dense with trees with new leaves and blooming shrubs of red, white, and pink. In ten minutes the waxed Caddy glided onto Interstate 20, heading east, toward Augusta. The car thumped gently over the seams in the concrete.
Swords, Siloam, Norwood...the little East Georgia towns stood as still as hitchhikers as the big car rushed past. What kept Jones from telling Hoyt to exit up in Mesena and just turn the damn car around? Jones carried on because he loved the Masters as a parent loves a child and he knew the end was near. Besides, Augusta in April was as close to a gentleman's paradise as anyone could hope — the scents of springtime flowers in bloom, the sounds and smell of bourbon poured over ice, reunion with dear friends, and an air on Sunday as electric as a heavyweight title fight. That was Masters fever. Jones wanted to catch it one more time.
Actual competitors felt the fever all the more acutely, of course. The 1965 PGA champion, Dave Marr, commented famously that he began to choke the moment he drove up Magnolia Drive, Augusta National's driveway, and that he felt as if he wouldn't get to heaven if he didn't play well. A redheaded law student from the University of Virginia felt the same anxiety.
The dreaming man is a haunted man, so they say, and Marvin McCrary "Vinny" Giles's dreams would not stop. For weeks before the tournament, he tossed and turned at night and kept to himself during the day. Such behavior was completely outside the norm for Giles, who was normally cheerful to the point of goofiness. He was twenty-two, married, and a hell of a golfer, having merited an invitation to the '68 Masters because of his runner-up finish in the 1967 U.S. Amateur. His number-one goal in golf since the first time he picked up a club had been to compete at Augusta National, but at night it seemed to him that the day would never come.
During the day, he fondled the little square of paper he'd wanted so long.
The Board of Governors
Augusta National Golf Club
cordially invites you to participate in the
Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Eight
to be held at
the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth of April
Robert Tyre Jones, Jr.
"My plan had been to drive to Augusta after my classes on Saturday morning," Giles recalls. "But when I woke up on Thursday morning, I said to my wife, 'I don't think I can wait.' "
So a full week before the competition was to start, Giles packed his black '65 Mustang with clubs and clothes and kissed his wife, Key, goodbye. Deep shadows crisscrossed Magnolia Lane when he pulled into Augusta National's driveway. At about that time, Martin Luther King fell bleeding with a hole in his neck, sending the nation into shock and violence. "He died that week?" Giles says now. "Until you told me, I didn't know."
Vinny bunked in the attic at the club, in a little five-bed dormitory called the Crow's Nest. All amateur participants were invited to stay there for a token charge. "It was really spartan then," Giles says. "They didn't even have doors on the rooms, just curtains." The room's main feature was overhead, a four-sided cupola. At daybreak, Giles got out of bed and climbed the twelve steps to the top of the Nest, the morning sunlight illuminating the hair on his naked legs. Observing the world through a window in the little dome made it easy to pretend it was a hundred years ago. Those men mowing and raking the golf course would have been slaves tending the indigo plants that once grew on this august patch of Georgia. Modernity lurked two miles to the north, as cars droned past on Interstate 20, but Giles could not see or hear them.
I-20 and the rest of the interstate highway system had been the brainchild and perhaps the greatest legacy of an Augusta National member. As he toured conquered Germany, General Dwight Eisenhower had been greatly impressed with Hitler's broad four-lane autobahns. Such highways would simplify the evacuation of major cities in case of nuclear attack, a point President Eisenhower made when selling the idea to Congress. The American autobahn transformed the landscape and the culture, speeding up the lives of people in a thousand different professions, including the original kings of the road, touring golf professionals.
Flying would come later. In the sixties, for most of the players most of the time, the end of one tournament meant a long drive to the next one. The straight lines and engineered blandness of the interstate highway system made contemplation almost unavoidable between Jacksonville and Greensboro, Greensboro and Augusta, Augusta and Dallas, Dallas and Houston, and Houston and New Orleans. But more chances to think were unwelcome in a game in which the noise in your head was really the only thing that prevented the perfect execution of every shot. Thinking led to ambiguity, which led to doubt, sometimes even to fear. Thinking was the enemy.
Popular culture romanticized car travel — especially Route 66, an early sixties TV show about two young guys and their Corvette convertible. The road was the destination, as various books and songs and films told us, and rootlessness was cool. But the reality for the touring pro on a never-ending loop between distant Holiday Inns was that too much time in a Buick could just about drive you crazy.
At least they got nowhere fast; back then you could go eighty legally on some stretches of interstate. The golf pro's cars had long wheelbases, bench seats, and big engines that burned a lot of thirty-four-cents-a-gallon gas; five years before the Arab oil embargo, no one talked mpg. Their vehicles were made in Detroit and didn't always have seat belts or air conditioners. No recorded music — bulky eight-track tape players didn't become available in cars until the early seventies, and, of course, no cell phones. So the long-haul drivers twirled the dials on the radio. The Beatles were still in business; "Lady Madonna" was their hit. Black stations across the country played a new song — an anthem, really — performed by Augusta, Georgia's own James Brown: "Say It Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud." The four most popular songs in April 1968 were wistful — "The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding and "Cry Like a Baby" by the Box Tops — or so sweet they could induce coma: "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and Bobby Goldsboro's cloying "Honey." When the music and commercials stopped at the top of the hour the news gave the latest body count from the war in Vietnam.
The golfers gripped their steering wheels and listened to Goldsboro's whiney composition for the hundredth time and, inevitably, they thought about money, not "Honey." On his drive to Augusta, Don January chewed on the 73 he shot in the final round of the Greater Greensboro Open, an expensive finish to a tournament he'd begun with rounds of 68-67-66. He finished tied for eighth and won $3,895.84, when a mere 70 would have given him a tie for second and about $10,000. "That was about a four- or five-hour drive," January recalls. "I didn't dwell on it. At times like that, you just had to regroup and forget it. If you let something like that stick in your craw, you'd go nuts." Only Palmer and a few others made significant endorsement money; tournament winnings were vital to everyone else.
While the Jones party rolled east, January's was one of a score of cars with clubs in the trunk approaching Augusta from the north. About a third of the seventy-six golfers who'd made the cut at the Greater Greensboro Open owned invitations to the Masters. The drive from Greensboro to Augusta took a tolerable amount of time, and the Carolinas looked gorgeous in April sunshine. But the golfers were tired. And they were late — twice the GGO had come to a complete halt. When rain washed out the Friday round, the best game in town became watching National Guard troops march through the drizzle into downtown Greensboro. The mayor, hoping to prevent a riot following the sniper murder of Dr. King in Memphis on Thursday, imposed a 7:00 p.m. curfew and a temporary ban on liquor sales. The golf resumed on Saturday — Billy Casper shot 67 and led by two — but President Johnson declared Sunday a national day of mourning and the tournament shut down again. Julius Boros, a relaxed man, went bass fishing. Casper, a religious man, spoke at a worship service at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And Palmer, a driven man, got into his jet, flew to Augusta, and played a practice round. He shot 68 and jetted back to Greensboro.
The prelude finally concluded at dawn on Monday, thirty-six holes on a soggy golf course. Casper won and Palmer finished tied for fifth, good omens for taciturn Billy, the most boring great player in golf history, and for Arnie, the most exciting. Tommy Bolt observed a little cruelly that Casper was the only guy who played the tour for twenty-five years and never made a friend. Palmer, on the other hand, had thousands of best friends. Off the course he had an about-to-burst-out-laughing manner that suggested you and he were in on the same joke. In competition, he cared so passionately about the outcome of each of his shots that spectators became participants in his drama, not just observers. Casper treated his golf like a day at the office, refusing to emote. "I was trying to be like Hogan," he said. "A lot of us were."
In a day or two they would all stand together. The confluence of Arnie, Vinny Giles, and Bobby Jones symbolized the magnetic pull of the Masters, the only event that attempted a reunion of champions from earlier eras within a big-time competition. Add the magnolia-lined driveway, southern hospitality, spring in east Georgia, flawless tournament administration, and a golf course as thrilling as a roller-coaster ride, and you had a thing pleasing in all its proportions.
Except that in 1968, nothing flowed smoothly, everything was an argument, and no one gave an inch. This Masters would be like a soap opera on Telemundo, an overwrought thing with tears and passion and close-up reaction shots of each of the leading men after each crazy twist in the plot. The drama played out against a background of war — not just Vietnam, but a vicious little fight for the control of professional golf. Fed up with being a mere adjunct to the parent organization (the PGA of America), and sensing that money could be made, the tour players had threatened secession. Lawyers were hired. Feelings ran high. The media sided with the club pros. Some, like Gardner Dickinson, were firebrands for severing the union, some were opposed, and to the frank disappointment of both sides, Palmer sat on the fence. He proposed a compromise that went nowhere.
Anyway, Arnie had his own conflict. He wouldn't admit it, but he'd been recently deposed as the best player in the world by a farctate blond from Ohio. He did not like it. The new best player had a logo, a yellow bear in profile. "Why do you have a pig on your chest?" Arnie would ask when he saw it on someone's shirt, and then he might excuse himself to "go take a Nicklaus."
Nicklaus's big problem was not acknowledging his big problem. He was blameless compared to the chest-thumping dumbasses who now populate a lot of spectator sports, but he and they had the same blind spot: they were entertainers who didn't care enough about what people thought of them. Jack played golf like a god, but his too-tight clothes on his too-heavy body made him look like a sausage with arms. "Nicklaus looks like a good golfer," Snead said. "A couple of good golfers." While many of the other fellas were allowing their hair to grow away from 1955, Jack kept his locks short and immobilized with Vitalis.
He took too long to do what he did. With eyebrows knit, and standing over putts like a bird waiting for a worm, Big Jack played the calculating technician to Palmer's inspirational, improvisational hero. "The race is not always to the swift," wrote Jim Murray in the Los Angeles Times. "Just look at Jack Nicklaus."
All of this took the best player in golf downmarket. During the '68 Masters, Jack Nicklaus Autograph Model golf balls were available at area Firestone Tire dealers, three for a buck thirty-three; pro shop brands like Wilson Staff, Dot, and Maxfli cost $1.25 each. You could get an entire set of Jack Nicklaus clubs, with a bag, for $99.95.
Jack's greatest sin wasn't too much fat or not enough hair, however, it was beating Arnie in Augusta, the epicenter of his popularity. Palmer won the Masters in '58, '60, '62, and '64. Nicklaus barged in with far less popular wins in '63, '65 and '66. After one of these victories, probably the '66, a spectator from Augusta remembers being stuck for almost an hour in traffic outside the club on Washington Road. He decided to bail out at a McDonald's. And there in one of the three-deep lines stood Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and their three children. No one approached him with congratulations or a request for an autograph. If it had been Palmer ordering Happy Meals and Big Macs, they'd have had a riot.
In this era of bad feeling, pros from Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia competed for the first time on the U.S. tour in significant numbers. Bruce Devlin, for example, moved to Florida in '68 after six years of grueling commutes from his home near Sydney. His next-door neighbor in Pompano Beach, Bert Yancey, seemed pleasant enough, but Devlin found that some of his new peers "just had a red ass for anybody who wasn't from the United States. 'This is our tour' they said." Which American pros welcomed him least? "Dickinson," Devlin says. "Dan Sikes. Bob Goalby."
Independently, incredibly, English professional Tony Jacklin names the same three names. "Goalby was a hard case," Jacklin says. "I played a round of golf with him at the Tournament of Champions and he didn't say a word to me. Gardner was bloody awful, mean-spirited. And Dan Sikes....They resented you, like you were stealing their money. An unpleasant experience, being around those guys. Thank God that group was the end of it."
Professional golfers not from the United States were called "foreign," a term Devlin particularly disliked. But nothing seemed to bother the two best "internationals" (the modern term). Gary Player, in fact, was more likely to do the bothering than to let anything or anyone put him off his game. A five-foot-seven-inch pro from South Africa, Player possessed a Hogan-like work ethic and a somewhat off-putting intensity. So great was his enthusiasm for Gary Player that early in his career he had trouble getting anyone to play a practice round with him. In an older man, his demeanor might be described as extreme heartiness; in a thirty-three-year-old it looked like something else. Perhaps his unswerving, occasionally laughable positivism was a shield — against bigger, stronger, opponents — or to ward off his poor boy's perpetual insecurity. And another thing: Unlike any other player on the tour, Player was under attack. As the most visible South African in the United States, and probably the world, he was targeted by antiapartheid demonstrators. One of them would scream as Player putted from a foot in the 1969 PGA Championship. He missed and lost by one — and somehow kept his positive attitude.
Depending on the week, Player was the second-, third-, or fourth-best player in the world, behind Jack, but in there with Palmer and Casper. Although he hadn't won a tournament in the United States in three years, that win had been in the U.S. Open.
The most recent major-winner of the internationals was Roberto Ricardo De Vicenzo, the British Open champion of 1967. Although he'd been playing in the United States since 1947, he didn't play here much, so American fans were only dimly aware of his accomplishments. Just as much as Player, who likes to talk about the twelve million airplane miles he's flown, the man from Buenos Aires played everywhere on the globe they have a golf course. He'd eventually win one hundred relatively important international tournaments, including four on the U.S. tour. Counting all his Uruguay Opens, his career win total swells to an astounding 257, the most ever. In that sense, at least, he was the best player in the world. But he was getting old — forty-four — and his best days were behind him.
Everything about him was big — talent, strength, personality, nose, feet, and hands. Freddie Bennett, the Augusta National caddie master, liked De Vicenzo as a person but did not look forward to seeing him in April. His handshake was excruciating and he liked to shake hands every day. "A huge man, strong," says Bennett. "Man's hands were so big it gave you a headache.
"But people would con him. I heard he won a tournament and he gave all the money away."
Perhaps Roberto shook hands so hard because he felt so much love for his fellow man. His warmth and humanity couldn't be missed by golf galleries around the world or, more impressive, by his fellow competitors. "The greatest guy I ever met in my life," says Bob Rosburg, whose grim competitive demeanor was the opposite of De Vicenzo's sunny approach.
"A real gentleman," says Doug Ford. "A delight," says Jacklin. "An inspiring man. I remember playing with Roberto at Augusta in '71 or '72. I had hurried all day and it had cost me. He always called me 'Boy.' When we walk off the eighteenth green, he says, 'Boy, I'm glad I'm not you. You can't win before you play. You have to be like the boxer. Always be ready to duck.'
"When I won the U.S. Open [in '70], he says, 'Now, boy, just be nice to people and you'll make millions.' "
De Vicenzo's muscular wrists and mitts helped make him one of the longest hitters in golf, despite a rather punchy, truncated swing. But his hands didn't look that good on a putter. On the greens, with his big-headed Ray Cook mallet, he always seemed to be guessing; the great putters — like Palmer, Nicklaus, Bob Charles, and Casper — looked as though they knew. If you can't putt, you can't do squat at Augusta National no matter how well you hit it. Roberto was a case in point. They'd been inviting him to the Masters since 1950, but a tie for tenth in '67 had been his high-water mark.
A more likely foreign contender was the enigmatic George Knudson of Canada. He had won two consecutive tournaments in the desert in the winter and he ranked second on the money list with $50,655. A wraithlike figure, he liked to drink and he liked to be alone, usually a bad combination, but here he was with a better first quarter than almost anyone else in the game. The other guys didn't know what to think of him. "In Phoenix, I saw him on Saturday night, in the hotel bar," recalls Miller Barber. "I was going out to dinner. I came back a couple of hours later and he hadn't moved." Barber remembers that incident from February 1968 because Knudson was at that moment leading the Phoenix Open and the next day he would win it. Another story had Knudson waking up on a locker room bench the following week, at the Tucson Open on Sunday morning, in his Saturday clothes. True or not, he won Tucson, too.
Knudson was not the only man holding a cocktail. "We drank," says January. "Compared to the current tour, we drank heavily. Not that everyone was getting loop-legged, but some guys would have a beer just to hold 'em until they could get to the bar for a whiskey."
January shakes his head when he recalls the time he tried to keep up with Hogan and Cary Middlecoff as they drank postround martinis. Dan Sikes also set a fast pace in the nineteenth hole, January says. Doug Sanders and Raymond Floyd, the '68 tour's top two all-arounders, shared their thoughts on escaping pressure with Golf World UK in a 1972 story entitled "SEX...is it out-of-bounds?" "Let's put it this way," said Sanders, who loved to claim he spilled more booze than the other fellows drank. "I play better when I am relaxed and sex makes me relaxed. That's why I like late starting times, so I don't have to get up too early...I can relax a little more."
Floyd, a husky pro from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, whose tight pants looked all the tighter because they had no hip pockets, described his ideal tournament preparation: "A few drinks the evening before the practice rounds, and if one is available, a chick. I am an insomniac and do not like to sleep before nearly dawn. But when the tournament begins I make sure I get to bed by one."
A woman walks into a bar and sees, no joke, Ford, Art Wall, and Goalby. "So this gal comes up to Bob and says, 'I'm trying to get away from Gay Brewer,' " Ford recalls. "So we all go up to my room. Then there's a knock on the door — Brewer. So everybody runs into Frank Stranahan's room." Stranahan, a weightlifting and fitness devotee, looked at this giggling group and said, 'Jesus Christ, is this the way you guys train?' "
Golf, booze, sex...and drugs? The times, they were a-changin'. "A long time ago, a college friend came to a tournament and we went to dinner," Nicklaus recalled for Golf Digest. "He asked me if it was OK to smoke. I said, 'Of course.' He said 'No, Jack, you don't understand. I don't mean smoke what I always used to smoke.' " The Bear joined his friend in the fun, but never again, because by eight o'clock he was ready to hibernate.
In this happy atmosphere, Lonesome George doesn't look so bad. He could obviously handle his drink.
Knudson was mysterious, with his dark glasses, his solitude, and his eerie channeling of Ben Hogan, but Bert Yancey was a riddle. That he had suffered a "nervous breakdown" in his fourth and last year at West Point was no secret on the tour. But why would a kid from Florida who loved golf go to a school so rigorous, so strict, and so cold? And what the hell was a nervous breakdown anyway? How could you play golf as coolly as Yancey did and still be so nervous that you broke down? Maybe he just didn't want to be a first lieutenant on the ground in the next foreign war. But Yancey provided no answers. He seemed uninterested in being one of the boys, most of whom treated him like a contagion. His intellect and his disease isolated him.
Some years later, CBS approached Yancey about doing a movie of his life. He had other things on his mind. But one thing more than most: the Masters.
Although the weight of his preoccupations made relationships difficult, Bert Yancey had friends. He had a special bond, in fact, with the leading money winner ($67,085) going into the Masters, Tom Weiskopf, who had an obvious problem of his own. In its Masters preview, Sports Illustrated described the monkey on Tommy's back as "an almost psychotic temper," a harsh assessment but probably true. Weiskopf mixed high expectations with a low tolerance for adversity, but he had so much game he often won or came close in spite of himself. There were self-esteem issues, too. Like Nicklaus, Tom was from Ohio and had gone to Ohio State, and he hit it a mile. Everyone compared him to Jack, expected him to approach Jack's accomplishment, but the monkey wouldn't let him do it. "He couldn't drive the ball better than I could, nor could he hit his long, middle, or short irons as well," Weiskopf recalled in 1991. But: "He putted better...I didn't have Jack's concentration. I couldn't form a game plan and stick to it the way he could. He had tremendous patience. I was too emotional."
Five weeks before the Masters, at Doral, Weiskopf bogeyed four of the final five holes, allowing Dickinson to win by one. When asked to explain, he talked about the gallery marshals. "It was the worst [job] I've ever seen and you can quote me," he said. "When I was about to hit my second on eighteen the cameras were going and they sounded like machine guns....I'll never play here again...worst galleries I ever saw."
With a thin frame stretched over seventy-five inches and perfect posture, the twenty-six-year-old Weiskopf looked good in fashionably loud clothes; he could wear yellow plaid pants and still exude a vaguely military bearing. He had his hair then, two fistfuls of light brown and blond steel wool, which stood up in a breeze. But what went on in that hatless weiss kopf (German for white head)? His kopf seemed to contain so much trouble and so little peace.
"Tom was wonderful to be around," says Jacklin, "except when he was angry."
"I was sitting with [club manager] Phil Wahl in his office when Tommy just bursts in," recalls Frank Christian, Augusta National's official photographer. "Don't remember the year. All he says is, 'I'll pay for the goddamn door,' and then he's gone." In time, Wahl and Christian discovered that Weiskopf had just torn the locker-room door off its hinges in anger over an inappropriate autograph request.
Terrible Tommy's opposite in appearance and public personality may have been a short, swarthy, gum-chewing ex-Marine from Dallas playing in his first Masters. Between the gum and a constant stream of funny but nervous chit-chat, Lee Trevino's jaws never stopped moving. He'd done absolutely nothing in golf until June 1967, when he finished a shocking fifth in the U.S. Open, winning $6,000 and an invitation to Augusta in '68. Large scuba goggles obscured his face in the fourth round; they did that in dusty West Texas and he'd gotten used to it. He'd committed to play in the Cleveland Open the week after his breakthrough at the Open, but Trevino was dying to get back to his thirty-dollar-a-week job as the professional at Horizon Hills CC in El Paso to start a party with his new fortune. So he intentionally drove out of bounds at the end of his second round to keep from making the cut. An odd sight, that, the Mexican-American in his cheap high-water pants aiming for the woods, instead of the fairway, on the seventeenth hole at Aurora Country Club.
He didn't fit in. No one else dressed like him, looked like him, or hit a ball like him. Surely the college boys on the tour could not fathom the poverty of his childhood. His father split early, leaving Lee, his mother, and his grandfather, a gravedigger, in a drafty shack one hundred yards from a now-defunct golf course in northeast Dallas called Glen Lakes Country Club. Little Lee played the course over and over with the son of the greenkeeper. He thinks he met his father once, when he was very young, but he's not sure.
"I saw where he lived," recalls January, another Dallasite. "It was a hut. Dirt floors." The four-room hut huddled between a pond and an outhouse. No electricity. Mary Kay Ash, the founder of the cosmetics company, would eventually buy the lot where Grandpa's shack once stood and build a somewhat grander edifice.
Lee quit school in eighth grade and worked at jobs that continued his exposure to golf — he swung a pick and shovel as part of the construction crew building the Columbian Country Club in North Dallas, and he helped maintain and run a combination pitch-and-putt and par-three course. His game really came together during his four years in the Marines, but no post golf course could prepare him for the white-glove atmosphere at Augusta National.
After three rounds in the '68 Masters, Trevino would be within two shots of the lead. After four rounds, well, that's another story.
The players vs. the PGA, Arnie vs. Jack, Jack vs. Arnie's gallery, homeboys vs. foreigners, Tom vs. his temper, Lee vs. the powers that be — professional golf mirrored the anger in the land. Meanwhile, inevitably, columnists wrote their first-ever negative words about the Masters. Usually the task in the standard preview story was finding a new way to describe azaleas. But recent civil-rights legislation and the emergence of black athletes in other sports caused writers and editors to ask whether something wasn't amiss. Why had a black man never been invited to compete in the Masters? A pretty good black golfer named Charlie Sifford had won the Hartford Open in '67. Why wasn't he in the field?
"The Masters golf tournament is as white as the Ku Klux Klan," wrote Jim Murray in 1969, when another Masters began without a black player. "Everybody in it can ride in the front of the bus."
Augusta National had once been a plantation, so those who accused the club of racism did so with the confidence of logic. Just look at this place, they said, look how far it hasn't come. While the country integrated, slowly, often angrily, every caddie, waiter, and locker-room attendant at the National was black and solemnly or cheerfully deferential. Every member of the host club and every tournament player — white.
But the truth of the situation was not as black-and-white as the crusaders supposed. For one thing, Sifford's win in '67 didn't result in an invitation because tournament winners didn't automatically qualify for the Masters until 1972. From 1961 through 1967, a dozen white golfers had won on the tour and not been invited. Dave Hill won twice in '61 but did not receive the wedding invitation-like card from Augusta National. Could the club have manipulated the rules to get Charlie in the field? Of course it could. But Jones and Roberts were less opposed to having a black participant in the Masters than they were to being told what to do. If this gave the world the impression that Augusta National was clinging to the South's racist past, so be it. Cliff and Bob had a lot more invested in the institution than did its critics, and they thought a hell of a lot more of their own judgment than that of the thousands of Democrats outside the gates.
They weren't deaf or stupid or oblivious to public relations, but no more self-righteous men ever walked the earth.
"Roberts would walk into the press room, the old quonset hut, for his annual meeting with the press on Wednesday morning," recalls an old newspaperman who asked not to be named. "He always looked lost in space, like he couldn't focus through those glasses he wore.
"And he'd come in the room with five other guys trailing behind him, all of them in green jackets, and all of them CEOs but acting like Cliff's lackeys. Someone would ask 'why no blacks?' and Cliff would peer out, trying to find who had asked the question. One year he's all exasperated. 'I don't know what you mean. We had that boy from Thailand last year and he was black as the ace of spades!' "
Roberts uttered that response to the annoying and by then annual question in 1972. The dark-complected Thai in question, Sukree Onsham, an amateur, shot 77-78 in '71 and missed the cut. But what Roberts couldn't or wouldn't articulate, and what the press never picked up on, was that segregation at the Masters in the late sixties had more to do with the official dislike of Sifford than with the members' supposed dislike of blacks. Jones extended an olive branch in a letter to Sifford in 1968, promising he'd be invited if he qualified. "I for one would be particularly happy to see you realize this ambition," Jones wrote. Charlie told reporters that he felt threatened by Jones's note, not such a ridiculous reaction, for the letter's clear subtext was to urge Charlie to shut the hell up. It didn't work. As he'd been doing for several years, Sifford continued to moan loudly and repeatedly about those racist bastards at Augusta National who wouldn't have him in their lily-white tournament, exactly the behavior that guaranteed he'd never be invited.
And so the varied cast rolled into Augusta in April of '68. Some were driven, some were discouraged, and some were just happy to be there. The man who started the whole thing was dying.
The smoke from guns and burning cities seemed to clear for the four-day drama but, in the end, the angry mist overtook even the Masters.
Copyright © 2005 by Curt Sampson
|Introduction : the goat song|
|4||Like a duck, like a monkey||81|
|5||Bobby Locke, international man of mystery||109|
|7||The million-dollar boner||153|
|8||The book of Bob||185|
|9||Your shadow follows you||203|
|10||No Quiero La Copa||225|