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There cannot be many Masters champions who are better known for a loss at Augusta National than a win. In that regard, Tommy Aaron is probably unique.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Georgia native’s career-defining Green Jacket triumph. Born just 150 miles north-west of the gates of Magnolia Lane in Gainesville – the so-called ‘Poultry Capital of the World’ – Aaron held off a chasing pack that included defending champion Jack Nicklaus to win his first and only major.

In his tournament recap for Sports Illustrated, the late great Dan Jenkins described it “the craziest Masters ever played”. A tad hyperbolic. Fact is, it wasn’t even the craziest Masters in which Aaron had a decisive role.

That happened five years earlier. Most will be aware that Roberto De Vicenzo shot the joint lowest score in the 1968 Masters, only to lose by one when it he returned an incorrect scorecard. He signed for a par-four on the 71st hole, instead of the birdie-three he had, in fact, converted. According to the rules, the higher score he had put his John Hancock against had to stand and so he lost by a shot to Bob Goalby.

The man who wrote down the erroneous score? Aaron.

Now 87, the gregarious Georgian wrote an article for LINKS Magazine in which he relived the moment he noticed his error.

“I sat there for a moment, gazing up at the big scoreboard,” he recalled. “Something was wrong. They had Roberto for a 65, one less than I did. Immediately, I saw my mistake, the four I’d given him on 17.

“‘Oh my God’, I said, loud enough for a nearby Masters official to ask what was wrong. ‘I’ve signed an incorrect scorecard,’ I said. ‘I have to talk to Roberto.’

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“Moments later, in a hushed voice, I said, ‘Roberto, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but the scorecard you signed has an error. I gave you a four on 17 instead of a three.’

“His initial reaction is something I’ve never shared publicly until now. He looked at me and said, ‘Let’s just change it.’ To this day, I’m convinced those words were totally innocent, a reflection of the shock he was in. Nonetheless, I was taken aback.

“‘Roberto,’ I said, ‘We can’t do that, it would be breaking the rules.’ He snapped to reality immediately. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said. ‘That’s right.’

“The two of us sat at the table as the last few groups finished. Goalby, despite a bogey at 17, was declared the champion, his 277 total one less than what Roberto had signed for.”

Goalby got the Green Jacket but, in truth, nobody won the ’68 Masters. De Vicenzo, who celebrated his 45th birthday that same day, accepted responsibility for signing his card in haste and later famously remarked: “What a stupid I am!” Still, that completely absolve Aaron. Not in the eyes of people who had backed the Argentine to win. For some time afterwards, both he and Goalby opened their letterbox to hate mail.

In a more recent interview with Global Golf Post ahead of the 2022 Masters, Aaron added: “If I’d had a chance, if I just stopped Roberto, but he jumped up so quick. My thought was, ‘How can you not check your scorecard? That’s so irresponsible not to check your scorecard’. He had a history of doing that, not checking his card.”

Tommy Aaron and Roberto De Vicenzo

That was Aaron’s sixth Masters. On his 11th, he left as the champion but not before almost suffering the exact same fate as befell De Vicenzo five years earlier. Paired with Johnny Miller in the final round – played on a Monday after rain washed out Saturday’s third round – Aaron carded a five-under 68 to win by one stroke from Nicklaus and JC Snead. Peter Oosterhuis and Jim Jamieson were a further shot adrift.

It was whilst he was checking his card in the scorer’s facility afterwards that Aaron noticed something amiss. Miller, making his fourth Masters appearance, had mistakenly put him down for a par-five on the 13th instead of a birdie-four. Lightning never strikes the same place twice? Had Aaron not been more alert, it absolutely would have.

“That is the reason you check those things,” he told reporters afterwards. “I know exactly what I shot. It happens quite often. I found the mistake, changed it, and signed it.”

With that, his place in Masters folklore was sealed – for the right reasons.

“I can’t tell you the demons I fought through to win a green jacket myself,” he subsequently admitted.

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For Aaron, victory at Augusta was more than just the realisation of a childhood ambition or vindication for his part in De Vicenzo’s snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory in 1968. Rather, it silenced the doubters – and there were many – who had written him off as a journeyman, a week-to-week grafter who would make a decent living, sure, but little more than that.

Not only were there perceived technical issues – according to Jenkins he had “a swing with more things that could go wrong with it under pressure than the lead car in a freeway traffic jam” – but there was scar tissue, too. Lots of it.

In more than a decade on tour up to the ’73 Masters, Aaron had finished inside the top 20 on the money list six times, including a career-high ninth in 1972. However, he had only win in the 1970 Atlanta Classic to show for his efforts, as compared with fourteen runner-up finishes. He had played in four playoffs and lost them all. All of that prompted one US golf writer to dismiss him as ‘pro golf’s most reliable choker’.

Victory at Augusta, set against the backdrop of difficult personal circumstances (both his wife and mother had been very unwell in the weeks leading up to the tournament) went some way to silencing those critics – but not completely and certainly not forever. Indeed, that was Aaron’s final PGA Tour victory. By the time he retired from professional golf in 2006, he had made 625 starts on the US-based circuit, making 480 cuts and finishing inside the top-10 106 times.

To this day, he is one of only three Georgians to have won the Masters: Claude Harmon did it first in 1948, and Larry Mize followed in 1987. Until Bernhard Langer broke it in 2020, Aaron also held the record for being the oldest man ever to make the cut at the Masters. He was 63 years, one month and 16 days old when he made it to the weekend in 2000, eclipsing the previous mark set by Gary Player. His 42 appearances – the most recent of which came in 2005 – is bettered by only nine men.

A Masters legend? That may be overstating it. Rather, Tommy Aaron is a compelling part of the tournament’s fascinating history, not to mention an evergreen reminder to always, always check your card.

This interview first appeared in issue 200 of bunkered. For more content like this, why not subscribe to the mag? View our latest offer here. International subscriptions available.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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