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Golf Australia Express : GA Express 244
And, in the process, make me a fan of his forever. All these years later, I remain impressed by this tiny and, to everyone else, insignificant gesture. But, judging by everything I have read in the wake of Roberto’s passing, it was typical of the man. He might have been a major champion. He might have won nearly 300 events big and small around the world. He might have been the winner of the inaugural US Senior Open. He might have been (in)famous for the clerical oversight that (ridiculously) cost him a playoff with Bob Goalby in the 1968 Masters. But more than any of that inherently pointless nonsense, he was simply a warm and generous human being. Proof of Roberto’s character came in the wake of that pompous debacle at Augusta National 49-years ago. Did he jump up and down, screaming at the unfairness of it all? Did he moan and groan about the fact that the birdie the world saw him make on the 17th hole had, courtesy of his hapless playing partner, Tommy Aaron, been recorded as a par? Did he attempt to embarrass Goalby in any way? He did not. Instead, Roberto blamed himself rather than the stupidity of the rule he had so unfortunately broken. And in doing so he uttered - in his fractured English - the phrase that is surely one of the top-five greatest golf-quotes of all- time: “what a stupid I am.” In passing, it must be said that Goalby missed an opportunity that day, one he sadly did not have the imagination of gumption to grasp. Had he refused to accept his “victory” and insist on playing-off with Roberto the next day (as was the way of things back then), there were only two possibilities for the then 39-year old American. Either he was going to be the Masters champion and the sportsman of the century, or “just” the sportsman of the century. Both have to be better than his ultimate fate - being the only Masters winner with an asterisk next to his name. Anyway, I like to think Roberto would have chosen to do the right thing and give Goalby his deserved shot had their roles been reversed. I like to think that would have appealed to Roberto’s sense of fair play. One last thing. Roberto was possessed of a sense of humour as well as being one of the best ball-strikers golf has ever seen (his putting was another story). A journalist tells the tale of waiting in line outside the “Green Jacket” restaurant in Augusta during a now far-off Masters week. As the scribe neared the door, Roberto was leaving. “Hey, Roberto, how was it?” “It was like Jack Nicklaus.” “Like Jack Nicklaus?” “Yes. Very good but very slow.” What a great he was. E obituary
GA Express 243
GA Express 245