13 April 2019: The outcome of the 83rd Masters won’t exactly be official when the last putt is holed in the final round. To be crowned Masters Tournament champion, the golfer who has shot the lowest score over 72 holes must rein in his exuberance long enough to verify his score for the day and sign his card.
“That finishes the Tournament,” said Ian Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champion.
In no other major professional sport are athletes responsible for keeping their own scores. Bowlers do not sit down at the end of a tournament and add up the scores from all of their frames. Tennis players may keep the score of each game in their heads, but they’re not responsible for maintaining the tally of games and sets and writing their signatures on a scorecard to make it official.
If a golfer signs for a score higher than he shot, the signed-for score becomes official. If he signs for a lower score, he is disqualified.
“I suppose there are people who say, ‘Why in the world would you do this?’” said Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion. “It’s part of being a player, though, because you’re supposed to keep the other player’s score and he’s supposed to keep yours.”
There has been one instance in Masters history when the signing of an incorrect scorecard affected the outcome of the Tournament. In 1968, Roberto De Vicenzo of Argentina inadvertently signed for a final-round 66, despite having shot 65. The error prevented him from tying Bob Goalby after 72 holes and qualifying for an 18-hole playoff.
De Vicenzo’s card had been kept by Tommy Aaron, with whom he’d been paired that day. Aaron mistakenly wrote down a par 4 for the Argentine on the 17th hole, after countless people, attending the Tournament and watching on television around the world, had seen him make a birdie 3.
Golfers have long felt that the sport’s unwritten honor code, in which players must call penalties on themselves as well as mark and attest their fellow competitors’ scorecards and sign their own, upholds the values of the game.
“Relative to all the other sports, that’s what kind of sets this game apart,” said Mark O’Meara, who won a Green Jacket in 1998. “There’s so much integrity that comes on board – keeping score, keep the correct score.
Several Masters champions, including Jack Nicklaus, said this week that the tradition need not be changed. “It’s what the game has always been,” the six-time Green Jacket winner said.
Woosnam said lessons of 1968 come to players’ minds as they walk off the 18th green after completing their final rounds and head to the scoring center in a wing of the Clubhouse. “I think everybody knows what happened to De Vicenzo,” he said.
“You’ve got to know your own mind when you get into the scorer’s tent,” said Woosnam. “You don’t walk out of there until everything’s completely checked.”
The 61-year-old Welshman was speaking from experience. On one occasion, at a tournament other than the Masters, he said, in a fit of temper he inadvertently wrote down a second-nine total score – 36, say – in the box on the scorecard reserved for the 18th hole. The error affected the 36-hole cut. “I let about 20 more people into the tournament,” Woosnam said with a laugh.
Perhaps with just such an error in mind, since at least the mid-1980s the official Masters scorecard has featured shaded boxes at the end of each row of hole-by-hole scores. Boxes immediately below are provided for the first- and second-nine scores and the 18-hole total.
The official scorecards from over the years at the Masters provide pocket-sized repositories of the Tournament’s history. From the Masters’ inception in 1934 through 1947, competitors used the member’s scorecard of Augusta National Golf Club.
Ralph Guldahl’s scorecard, marked down by Walter Hagen, in the second round of the 1939 Masters lists a “caddy fee” of 75 cents. The card shows two yardages for the course: “regular distances,” which totaled exactly 6,400 yards, and “championship distances,” which came to 6,800 yards. All Masters yardages, back then and today, are multiples of five.
Today’s Masters official scorecard bears the hole-by-hole distances of a 7,475-yard course. The foldable card measures 9½ by 4¼ inches and is printed in Masters green ink. A perforated strip along the bottom allows a player to mark his own score and tear it off in a strip before submitting his fellow competitor’s card.
For Masters champions, their winning scorecards are cherished mementos. O’Meara has preserved his final-round scorecard as part of a collage of artifacts from his historic week. Woosnam had copies of his scorecards done over in silver.
Crenshaw has not held onto the scorecards documenting his victories in 1984 and 1995, but to his surprise he was reacquainted with some of them this week. In a corner of the Champions Locker Room, he came across a display of his four scorecards from ’84, along with a note that his father, Charlie, wrote to Hord Hardin, then the Chairman of the Club. “It’s a neat letter,” Crenshaw said.
Players have had varying routines for marking or certifying scores on the card. Nicklaus’ final-round scorecards from 1975, when he won his fifth Masters, and 1986, when he captured his sixth, bear neat, purposeful check marks where he verified his score for every hole. When he kept Nick Price’s record-setting score of 63 in the third round in 1986, Bruce Lietzke made markings in the boxes that listed the par for each hole: a slash for Price’s lone bogey (at No. 1) and circles for his 10 birdies.
For years, official scorecard reckoning at the Masters was done at a table placed near the 18th green. The year after De Vicenzo’s error, the Club erected a scoring tent behind the green to shield players from inclement weather and reduce distractions. The tent was later replaced by a wooden shed that stood through 2011. The next year the scoring was moved to a room inside the Clubhouse.
After completing each round, players now follow a path from the 18th green to a short flight of steps that leads down to the scoring room, where a pair of Tournament officials await, each with a computer database showing the day’s scores.
As for whether professional golfers should one day be relieved of their duties as official scorers, at least one Masters champion, Gary Player, considered it a “very debatable issue.” Player recalled signing for a lower score than he shot in the Greater Greensboro Open after the first of two rounds played in a single day. He realized his error as soon as he was one yard out of the scorer’s tent. He called over the tournament chairman, Jack Tuthill, who was unsympathetic. “I said, ‘Jack, I walked out of the tent by one yard. What’s the deal?’ He says, ‘Pack your bags.’”
“You come to your own conclusion what is right and what is not,” Player said. “But there will be changes, like everything, in the scoring in some time to come.”