Loran Smith’s Column: Masters for Thursday
Published 4:20 pm Thursday, April 6, 2023
AUGUSTA – With every official, competitor and patron maintaining a
hopeful eye on the weather while basking in the golden rays of sunshine, it
was fun taking in the Par 3 tournament Wednesday which allowed for
flashing back a half century in the past.
In 1973, nobody gave Georgian Tommy Aaron much chance of
winning the Masters and many, not understanding the rules of golf, blamed
him for the scoring error that caused Roberto deVicenzo to miss out on an
opportunity to enter into a playoff with Bob Goalby in 1968.
Lately, Aaron, who is from Gainesville, has not been playing much
golf. He was emotionally burdened with the loss of his wife, Jimmye, last
year and the effects of neuropathy which makes him uncomfortable on the
golf course. With neuropathy compromising his balance, he doesn’t play
the Par 3 tournament anymore.
Always accompanied with a dry sense of humor, he cracked. “I’m
afraid I might stumble and fall into one of those ponds and they would have
to get help to fish me out.”
However, he won’t let his illness keep him down. “I enjoy being out
on the golf course,” he said Wednesday following the annual Masters
Champions dinner on Tuesday night. “It is always good to be outside.” He
was in a reflective mood about his signature moment at the Augusta
National Golf Club in 1973, fifty years ago.
“Winning the Masters means more to you as you get older,” Aaron
said. “I walk by that big trophy and reflect that my name is etched on it with
players like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack
Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. That’s forever, and I am quite humbled to be
in that group and enjoy that status. I feel blessed.”
The weather then was about as bad as it has ever been in Augusta,
which is why officials are cautious about the ominous forecasts this
weekend. Following a 75-minute delay in 1973, the third round was
canceled bringing about a two tee start on Sunday with the final round
being played on Monday. Back home in Hall County they called such a
deluge a “gulley washer.”
Aaron realized that he was hitting the ball solidly and making putts
but there was a turning point in the third round when he shot 40 on the front
and realized he might be heading to a high score that would eliminate him
Literally, giving himself a pep talk, he “sucked it up,” and made critical
putts on the back nine to finish with a 74. That is when he realized that he
could win the tournament. Nonetheless, he trailed J. C. Snead by four
strokes when the final round began Monday morning.
He played well starting out on the back nine, but bogeyed No. 10 and
No.11, but he moved through Amen Corner unscathed and birdied the
thirteenth. The turning point in the tournament came at No., 15. He hit a
decent drive but knew there was risk in trying to hit his three-wood second
shot to the Par 5 green which is pretty much surrounded by water.
A very conservative player, he disdained all negatives and hit his best
three wood ever, with so much on the line. The ball carried to the right of
the green about eight feet, leaving him with his second greatest challenge
of the day. Hit his chip too strong and it likely would roll downhill past the
green and into the pond in front. Hit it too weakly and it likely would trickle
downhill to the front of the green where he would have an impossibly long
He hit a near perfect chip, the ball hitting the green and coming to
rest just past the pin where he made a five-foot uphill birdie putt to open the
door for the Green Jacket to be placed around his shoulders three holes
After all these years, he has become comfortable talking about the
deVicenzo incident. “He never checked his card,” Aaron said of the
Argentine from Buenos Aires. “At No. 17 he hit his approach shot to within
two feet and my second shot was to the back edge. I was working like hell
for a three-footer for a four. I made it. I knew he had to make four to win,
but he made five and was sorely disappointed. I signed his card and said,
‘Here Roberto, check your card.’ He signed it and left it lying there. Then,
he went to the press tent.
“For some unknown reason, I stayed in there (scorer’s tent) and
began looking at his card. I remember his first hole where he made an
eagle and then got around to No. 17 and said, ‘Oh my goodness, he had a
3 there and saw that I had written down 4. I asked an official where
Roberto was and he said he had gone to the press tent and asked, ‘What’s
the matter?’ I said, ‘There is an error on his card. Maybe you better get
him back over here.’
Roberto came in and I said, to him, ‘I’m sorry but I gave you a 4 on
No. 17. I was thinking about your needing a four to win the tournament.
Roberto said, ‘Let’s change it.’ I told him, ‘No we can’t do that because that
would be wrong. He would have been disqualified and I would have too.
The official overhearing all this said, ‘No Roberto, you can’t change it now.’
That led to Roberto, now ashen and an emotional wreck, going into
the locker room where he put his head in his hands and exclaimed one of
the most unforgettable comments in history of sports, “Oh what a stupid I
Many writers who did not know the rules of golf, were poised to make
a villain out of Aaron, but across the room, Jack Nicklaus was changing into
street shoes and declared emphatically, “It is not Tommy Aaron’s fault.”
Tommy was labeled a “bridesmaid,” for his runner-up finishes on the
tour, something which became a deep-seated irritation. He beat Sam
Snead for the Canadian Open title in 1969 but the PGA tour, at that time,
did not count the tournament as official.
He finally broke through, by winning the 1970 Atlanta Golf Classic
although he had to overcome a two-stroke penalty, which he called on
himself, for lifting and cleaning his ball in an unmarked area of one hole.
In 1972, Aaron finished ninth on the PGA Tour money list and had
success throughout his career, “finishing in the money.” He has enjoyed a
good life in Gainesville, never out of the spotlight but never linked with
controversy except for the deVincenzo incident which was not his fault.