Our very own Legend
Nowadays it’s known as the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Cedar Lodge but for many years the event was sponsored by the Liberty Mutual insurance company, and that’s how we all developed that shorthand “Liberty Legends” moniker.
Founded in 1978, the tournament consisted of a 54-hole two-man team better-ball event for men over 50 and in 1987 a Legendary Division was added. Which is where, if you’re lucky, this weekend you’ll be able to catch true legends Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and many more stars of yesteryear in live action.
But what many will have forgotten, or perhaps never known, is this peerless get-together was the incubator for what soon would became the Senior Tour and current-day PGA Tour Champions. And in truth, the entire experiment of providing an opportunity for older hands to demonstrate they still had game might have flopped entirely, had it not been for four extraordinarily talented pros.
In the 1979 edition tempestuous Tommy Bolt paired with mild-mannered Art Wall while genial Roberto De Vicenzo joined with longtime Tour pal and smooth-swinging Julius Boros. As fourball teams go, these were two pretty strong groups, with a Grand Slam shared between them (Boros, 2 US Opens and a PGA, Wall a Masters, Bolt a US Open and Roberto a British Open) but nothing could have prepared their fledgling television audience for the fireworks to come after Boros rolled in a five-footer at the final hole of regulation play, sending the tournament into sudden-death.
They’d go six extra holes, birdieing every hole, before De Vicenzo, with five straight birdies of his own, clinched the title. Seizing on the impetus, the Senior Tour declared itself open for business and the rest, as they say, is history.
Although De Vicenzo’s biggest win came in July in England, April always seems more like his month, probably because it’s his birthday, or that Masters scoring calamity. We all remember that one.
They sang Happy Birthday after he holed his 9-iron approach to the opening hole that Sunday, that eagle 2 good for the early lead, one he’d take again with a clutch birdie 3 at the 17th, watched by thousands around the green, millions more on television.
Possibly flustered by an untimely bogey at the 18th hole, a hooked 4-iron and the 6-foot par-save that slipped away, the 45-year old failed to see playing partner, Tommy Aaron, had incorrectly noted his score at the 17th as 4, not 3, casually signing his unchecked card. A signature that would haunt his career.
So that Sunday in April 1968, the reigning British Open Champion was charged for a final round of 66, rather than the 65 he did actually score, a crowd-stunning outcome which meant he wouldn’t play off the next day for the title with declared-winner Bob Goalby.
But here’s the thing. Had common sense ruled that Sunday evening in April 1968, and RDV had gone on to defeat Bob Goalby, his final round of 65 would have equalled the lowest-ever winning last round, tied with Jack Nicklaus (1986) and Nick Faldo (1989).
Roberto’s response to the situation was typical. He let his clubs do the talking, three weeks later beating Nicklaus and Trevino down the stretch to claim the 1968 Houston Open. Many years afterward he’d say with self-deprecating humour. “I did a stupid thing, not checking my card. But somehow it turned into a positive thing. If only every mistake could have such a positive outcome.”
Happy birthday, Don Roberto, gran maestro!