Obituaries

Roberto De Vicenzo, 94, golf champ remembered more for gaffe

Mr. De Vicenzo held the claret jug trophy following his victory in the British Open at Hoylake, England in 1967.

Associated Press/file

Mr. De Vicenzo held the claret jug trophy following his victory in the British Open at Hoylake, England in 1967.

NEW YORK — Roberto De Vicenzo, Argentina’s finest international golfer, who won the British Open and the first US Senior Open but was remembered most for one of the game’s most storied gaffes, died Thursday in Argentina. He was 94.

The Argentina Golf Association, which confirmed his death, said he broke his hip last month at his home in Buenos Aires and had been in deteriorating health since then.

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Mr. De Vicenzo won 231 tournaments, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame, playing in South America, the United States, and Europe, but none has a more dramatic place in golf history than one he lost, the 1968 Masters.

“What a stupid I am,” he famously lamented after it was over.

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Shooting a final-round 65 at Augusta National on his 45th birthday, Mr. De Vicenzo had evidently gained a playoff for the championship with Bob Goalby, who finished moments after him with a 66, both men having completed four rounds at 277.

But the Masters officials were stunned to find that Mr. De Vicenzo’s birdie-3 on the 17th hole had been marked as a 4 by his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, who was tallying Mr. De Vicenzo’s scorecard, a customary arrangement for paired golfers. Mr. De Vicenzo had hastily signed the card without double-checking to see that Aaron’s markings matched his own, unofficial tally.

The 4 had been marked in pencil, but the tournament chairman, Clifford Roberts, and his aides, after discussing the mistake with Bobby Jones, the patriarch of Augusta National, maintained that it could not be erased, according to the Rules of Golf, since the card had been signed. That left Goalby as the champion and Mr. De Vicenzo as the runner-up by a single, if phantom, shot, giving him a total of 278.

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Forty-one years later, Ángel Cabrera became the first Argentine to capture the Masters. Mr. De Vicenzo watched him do it on television in Buenos Aires, taking in the accolades that might have once been his.

Roberto De Vicenzo was born on April 14, 1923, in Buenos Aires, where his father, Elias, worked as a house painter.

One of eight children, he began caddying at a local golf club at age 6. Captivated by the sport, he constructed makeshift clubs out of discarded shafts and heads and fished balls from water hazards for his practice rounds. When he was 12, his mother, Rosa, died in childbirth. He quit school after the sixth grade and declared himself a pro at age 15.

He won the Argentine Open and the Argentine PGA Championship in 1944, and after serving in the Argentine navy during World War II he played internationally. He finished third in his British Open debut in 1948, then won four times on the PGA Tour during the 1950s and ’60s.

Mr. De Vicenzo won the British Open at Royal Liverpool at Hoylake in 1967, besting Jack Nicklaus by two shots and becoming that major’s oldest winner in the 20th century at 44 years 93 days.

Then came Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968. Mr. De Vicenzo shot an eagle on the first hole of the Masters’ final round. A large, friendly man and a favorite of the galleries, he enjoyed chants of “Happy birthday” as he walked the course, playing a brilliant round, only to be deprived of an 18-hole playoff for the championship by the scoring error.

He went on to win the Senior PGA Championship in 1974 and the inaugural US Senior Open in 1980.

Diligent in practice sessions, Mr. De Vicenzo routinely hit 400 balls a day, and on the course he was wary of too quick a pace. “If you hurry, then nothing seems to go right,” he was quoted as saying by the World Golf Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1989.

He remained active into his 80s, tutoring young players and running a golf school at the San Eliseo club outside Buenos Aires.

Mr. De Vicenzo and his wife, Delia, had two sons, Roberto and Eduardo, according to the PGA Tour. A list of survivors was not immediately available.

For all his achievements, the 1968 Masters shadowed Mr. De Vicenzo and the two other golfers enmeshed in the improbable event. Through the years, Mr. De Vicenzo shouldered the sole blame for the incorrect scorecard.

“Roberto never looked at it,” Aaron, the playing partner who had marked the fateful 4, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2008. “He had bogeyed the last hole, and he was upset, and he was just sitting there, and I said, ‘Roberto, here’s your card.’ I was getting ready to say, ‘Take your time with it,’ when he just signed it and threw it on the scorer’s table.”

Goalby received mail from fans who accused him of being an unworthy champion.

“I’ve always felt like a victim, as much or more than Roberto,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “None of the problems with scorecards were my fault. But I have forever been singled out as the guy who won the Masters because of some damn clerical mistake. I don’t think I ever got credit for what I did that week.”

Mr. De Vicenzo told Sports Illustrated in 2008 that he had earned lucrative appearance fees as a result of the mistake. “I’ve gotten more out of signing the card wrong than if I had signed it correctly,” he said.

“Every now and then,” he added, “I will drop a tear, but I’ve moved on. I got to see the world through golf. No one should feel sorry for me.”

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