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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Roberto De Vicenzo Award goes north

By David Mackintosh
Golfing Traveller

As 30-year old Ryan Blaum, leading player PGA’s Latinoamérica Tour, flew home to Florida with the Roberto De Vicenzo Award, I got to wondering how much he might know of the career of the man whose name was synonymous with world championship golf for four decades.

The late great sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote: “Powerful yet gentle Roberto De Vicenzo has won tournaments from Peru to the Pyrenees, from Germany to Texas, and in the opinion of experts, is a mixture of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Such is his popularity in Santander or St. Cloud, if one happens to mention Arnold Palmer, someone might say “Arnold who?” But say Roberto and there is but one!”

Even that hardly scratches the surface of a career so astounding it reads more like a Hollywood script. Over their respective careers, Palmer notched up 95 professional wins, Jack Nicklaus 116, while around-the-world traveller Gary Player claimed 178. In this all-wins category Golf’s Hall of Fame De Vicenzo virtually laps the field with 231 victories, 127 second place finishes, 82 thirds and almost as astonishingly, 490 top-fives.

De Vicenzo’s record would be truly remarkable if achieved into today’s world of fast airplanes and comfort travel. But to do so when to play in Europe involved a 10-day journey by sea is an entirely different proposition.

Moreover, with multi-million dollar purses where a few wins can bring riches something in the future, then each year’s objective was to generate sufficient income to provide for his wife and two sons, an added pressure that probably contributed to De Vicenzo’s noteworthy capacity as a closer.

Equally hard to imagine is when the 26-year old De Vicenzo received his first invite to the Masters in 1950, although already the winner of 40 tournaments, the cost of the trip meant taking a loan, with his home as collateral.

Naturally Roberto is best remembered for the Masters that “escaped,” when in 1968 he mistakenly signed for 4 at the 71st hole while millions of television viewers had seen him make birdie-three, the added stroke that cost him a playoff with Bob Goalby and where even in most terrible anguish, blamed nobody but himself.

The year before, in July at Hoylake, he’d finally claimed the Open Championship, after twenty-plus years of trying, so much the perennial favourite that most spectators applauding around the final green shared his tears of joy.

Maybe less recalled is De Vicenzo won the inaugural editions of both the US Senior Open and the PGA Seniors Championship, and it was his dashing 1979 victory with Julius Boros in The Legends that led to the formation of the Champions Tour.

Ryan, there’s far too much for a brief column to tell the entire story but let me take you back to 1930, where a 7-year old boy still considered too small to caddie augments the family income as a pond-boy, retrieving errant balls while dreaming of a better future. Now, in his name, your role is to keep that dream alive!

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