April 9, 2024



Masters 2024: On the eve of the Masters, this famous amateur’s invitation was revoked. Why?

figuring out why a Stanford golfer was declared disqualified at the last minute.


Even though the 1973 Masters isn’t among the most well-known, it nonetheless has its own personality and is noteworthy for a number of reasons, just like all Masters. Tommy Aaron won his only major championship.


He was most renowned for mismarking Roberto De Vicenzo’s scorecard in the 1968 Masters. Over a 53-year period, from 1957 to 2009, Ironman Gary Player missed his only Masters event while he recovered from surgery (he returned a year later and won the second of three Masters championships). For the second year in a row, Ben Crenshaw ended as the lowest amateur, indicating a career that will go down in history and earn him two green jackets.


However, if you look a little closer, you might find an amateur’s performance from that week that is even more fascinating than any of those unforgettable experiences. since only one swing was needed. In fact, some concerned might want to forget it ever happened.


Bruce Robertson was one of the top amateur players in the nation at the time, a brilliant sophomore on the Stanford golf team. His resume boasts medalist honors from the 1971 Trans-Mississippi Amateur and 1972 Northern California Amateur, a Northern Cal Junior title from 1970, and three straight Mid-Peninsula League victories in high school, the last of which he won by an amazing 28 shots. He hails from the San Francisco Bay Area.


Following his freshman year, Robertson placed sixth at the U.S. Amateur behind winner Vinny Giles—during an eight-year span in which the Masters was held in April and the top eight finishers received spots—to get an invitation to Augusta National. He was considered to be one of the sport’s rising stars by many.


Tom Keelin, the captain of the Stanford golf team at the time, recalls that “he had one of the nicest golf swings I’ve ever seen.” “Excellent timing and stunning ball striking.”


When Robertson played for the winning Cardinal at the Pacific Coast Invitational the week before the 1973 Masters, the lanky six-footer expressed his excitement about what might be his first of many journeys down Magnolia Lane. Playing in the Masters means a lot to me, Robertson stated in an interview. “It ought to be an amazing experience.”


But it never actually did.


Bruce Robertson lost his amateur status, the United States Golf Association revealed in a news statement on April 2, 1973, the Monday of the Masters. The cause? A “substantial amount” of golf equipment is being sold.


The regulating body concluded that Robertson’s participation in the Stanford golf team and his violation of Rule 1-7 of the Rules of Amateur Status had contributed to the transactions. The 20-year-old Californian had acknowledged selling clubs and golf balls to people other than his buddies. Remember, this was well before NIL, and Robertson had profited from the game in direct violation of amateur golf rules. Despite this, he chose not to challenge the USGA’s ruling.


According to the verdict, Robertson would have to wait two years—from January of the year it was discovered he made his last transaction, to January of 1975—before he could submit an application to be admitted back as an amateur. Although it was a common penalty at the time, the Associated Press’s account of the incident caused a stir in the golf community and was printed in newspapers across the nation.


An article from the Stanford Daily’s main page on April 3, 1973.


Robertson’s bright collegiate golf career was effectively halted by the stunning announcement. Joseph Ruetz, Stanford’s athletic director, made the following offer to the Stanford Daily in an article published on April 3, 1973, to forfeit the team’s victory the following week:


Bruce clearly would not have been entered in that tournament if we had been informed of his amateur status issues, Ruetz continued. “His issues are entirely private and intimate in nature. Whether or if he will be able to restore his amateur status or intercollegiate playing abilities before the 1973 season ends is still too early to tell.


Not only did Robertson’s tenure with the Cardinal end, but he was also disqualified from participating in the Masters competition, for which he had qualified. Sometime during the weekend preceding that fatal Monday, Robertson sent a wire to Clifford Roberts, the chairman of Augusta National, announcing his withdrawal from the competition. The player never arrived at the property, but Robertson’s message did reach the club.


“He just got caught up in something he thought was OK and wasn’t.”

Senior Director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status at the USGA, Craig Winter

Even though this is such a bizarre tale, once the competition started, it was all but forgotten. The great Michael Bamberger mentioned Robertson’s ordeal briefly in his 2023 book, “The Ball in the Air,” but oddly, not much has been written about it in the fifty years that have passed. That’s where this investigation started, as I happened upon those two paragraphs this winter while reading up on some reading while recovering from knee surgery. The brief and illogical chapter is ended by Bamberger with the words,

“Bruce Robertson, as a national golf figure, was never heard from again.”


At the 1973 Masters, defending champion Jack Nicklaus and victor Tommy Aaron with chairman of Augusta National Clifford Roberts.


National Augusta

It made me pause and reflect. According to history, Aaron won the green jacket in 1973, and Crenshaw won the silver cup in the competition before moving on to bigger and better things. However, what became to Bruce Robertson?


Other than Robertson’s brief tenure on the PGA Tour, I had discovered nothing more after conducting a lot of generally futile research and newspaper searches. And due to the USGA’s Craig Winter, I was able to finally get in touch with Robertson after making fruitless attempts to reach him through the tour, Stanford, and his previous teammates. While he was unable to unearth any fresh material, the senior director of rules of golf and amateur status combed through the organization’s archives and helped make clear what Robertson had done incorrectly, how the rules had changed since then, and how such a determination was made. It’s unclear who reported Robertson or if their intention was to prevent him from competing at Augusta National, but in the months preceding the 1973 Masters, the USGA was obviously made aware of someone.


Regarding the USGA’s overall stance on these issues, Winter stated, “We’re not actively out policing the amateur space.” Everything about this is reported to us. In many ways, we are also forced to investigate. In his instance, too, he simply became entangled in what he believed to be acceptable but wasn’t.


Winter likened these reports to calls made by viewers of golf broadcasts reporting possible infractions of the rules they saw on television. However, he acknowledged that this was a blatant disregard for Rule 1-7 and that, at the time, Robertson had received equipment directly from a manufacturer, which was against Rule 1-8 as well.


Ben Crenshaw at the 1973 Masters, when he took home low amateur honors for the second year running.


National Augusta

“What we have today in the game, where manufacturers are heavily involved with juniors and providing equipment, is still completely foreign to amateur golf for the majority of the century and even into the early 2000s,” Winter stated. “And in the last three years, the amateur game has advanced significantly here as well.”


Since 1973, the USGA’s regulations pertaining to amateur status have significantly relaxed. Winter noted that, despite the fact that Roberts’ actions would only have been legal until 2022, there have been prior instances that are comparable and have escaped a similarly severe punishment.


Winter stated, “I’m not questioning it because I just don’t know all the specifics of what happened back then, but it’s evident that this had a pretty big impact on his life.” However, we have made a lot of effort over the years to address the circumstances in which I have been involved. What was the goal? How did it happen? Is there a way for us to put things right? Can we donate the funds to a worthy cause? And was it possible for us to reverse some of the previous events? Furthermore, not everyone in the public sphere may find that to be a satisfactory response. Thus, the kind of space we occupy on our committee is attempting to offer solutions that eventually serve the interests of the game of golf.


Many excellent golfers never get to play in the Masters. There are many stories of people getting near. However, there is a very uncommon instance of someone who made it and then was prohibited from playing because he had violated his amateur status. That’s actually rather uncommon for tournament golf in general.


Winter remarked, “I don’t know of any in my time over the last 10, 15 years.” “That would be really huge news, even with the state golf association side of things.”


It should be mentioned that Mark Hayes, another amateur, lost his Masters exemption in 1973 because he chose to become a professional. Hayes would earn his way back to Augusta National in 1977 and play there five more times from 1980 to 1984, including a T-10 in 1982. Hayes would go on to win three times on the PGA Tour and win the Ryder Cup in 1979. Robertson ended up playing alongside Hayes on the PGA Tour, but he was never able to make it to the Masters.


The bio of Bruce Robertson from the media guide for the 1979 PGA Tour. In 1978, after 11 starts, he never played again.


Robertson eventually became a club pro, obtained his PGA certification, and turned pro after losing his berth on the Stanford golf team. Before making his breakthrough in the fall of 1977 with a T-6 at Pinehurst to gain PGA Tour status, he attempted Q School multiple times. The winner of that competition was Ed Fiori, who went on to win four times on the PGA circuit, most notably defeating Tiger Woods, a rookie on the circuit, in the 1996 Quad City Classic.


However, obtaining your card back when Robertson did still required Monday qualification in most weeks, with the exception of major winners and the top 60 from the previous year’s money list. The San Mateo Times, Robertson’s hometown newspaper, published an item on November 24, 1977, titled “Bruce Robertson Joins the ‘Rabbits,'” which hinted at his precarious situation (a phrase for tour pros jumping from event to tournament pursuing slots).


The account, which is the only one we could locate that concentrated on Robertson after April 1973, highlights Robertson’s exceptional junior and amateur career, his two years of playing at Stanford, his appointment as an assistant pro at Menlo Park’s Sharon Heights Country Club, and his 1976 Northern California Apprentice Championship victory. However, there’s no mention of his having to withdraw from the 1973 Masters due to losing his amateur status.


Before the 1978 PGA Tour season, a 24-year-old Robertson told The Times, “If I don’t make it, at least I can say I tried.”


During the 1978 PGA Tour season, Robertson participated in 11 events, making six cuts and earning $1,294. His Hawaiian Open T-49 finish was his best result. His last competition was the American Optical Classic in August, where he withdrew following an opening 80. It turned out that Robertson’s first tour season was his last.


Robertson submitted a request to be reinstated as an amateur in 1979, according to the USGA. He was informed that he would have to wait three years due to his advanced professional status. He is on file with the USGA as a participant in the 1982 U.S. Unprofessional and the 1985 U.S. In between amateurs. After that, little is known of his career, on or off the course.


“He had one of the nicest golf swings I’ve ever seen. Great rhythm and beautiful ball-striking.”

Tom Keelin, the captain of Stanford golf in 1973, on former teammate Bruce Robertson.

“I played with Bruce a lot and knew him well,” Keelin continued. But following the aforementioned event, he simply vanished from the Stanford golf community. Most of us former members of the Stanford golf team have remained in contact over time. Bruce was one of the top players, and most of them can still find each other. Bruce is not like the others.


The PGA Tour’s latest phone number for him was disconnected, and no one I could identify at Stanford seemed to have any contact information, despite the school’s alumni association confirming he graduated in 1975 with a degree in political science. A search through the White Pages yielded a few more disconnected numbers, and messages sent to Facebook groups at Stanford proved to be unsuccessful. I was putting the last touches on what I knew to be an incomplete tale on Friday afternoon before the 2024 Masters, feeling dissatisfied and upset, when an unexpected email appeared in my inbox.


Bruce Robertson sent it.


“Alex, good day. I recognize your attempt to get through to me. Below is my contact information.


After trying to find Bruce, I had come to the conclusion that he was pretty much a hermit as you can see. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Bruce and I had arranged to talk over the weekend, and when we did, the pleasant voice on the other end of the line chuckled and remarked, “I’m pretty much a hermit as you can see.”


Robertson is a happily married guy with three adult stepchildren and four grandchildren, but he is not on any kind of social media and hasn’t spoken to his former teammates in over forty years. He hasn’t even had a formal media interview in even longer. Additionally, he regularly hangs out with his golf mates at Pinewild Country Club in Pinehurst, where he resides off of two of the facility’s 48 holes. However, he will be moving to Columbus this spring, the hometown of his second wife, Sue. The soon-to-be 71-year-old is doing well in life. He retired in 2019 after working 40 years in the mortgage industry and used his Stanford degree. He can only play two or three rounds a week because to a back problem, but he still plays to a handicap of roughly five.


Before I revealed the true reason I’ve been so drawn to him, we spent a solid ten minutes exchanging anecdotes about our knee surgeries and talking about golf and Pinehurst. Robertson, of course, understands why.


“I’m not looking forward to seeing anything in print, you know. I’m still a little ashamed of what happened,” says Robertson, who left Stanford in December 1974 to pursue a career in professional golf despite graduating a semester early. “But I recognize that you have work to do.”


I liked Robertson’s candor about the 1973 USGA ruling, even though he seemed to enjoy talking more about other subjects during our thirty-minute chat, such as the abundance of children’s TV shows available these days (my three-year-old interrupted to ask to watch Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse instead of Gabby’s Dollhouse). Hell, I was glad he was discussing such a traumatic experience.


“I made a mistake and I paid for it. I wish I could have played the Masters, but the USGA did the right thing.”

Robertson Bruce

Robertson acknowledged he hasn’t discussed losing his amateur status in public and expressed surprise at being referenced in Bamberger’s book. At one point, he blurted, “I’m kind of surprised I’m talking to you about it.” However, he added that there is another, more straightforward explanation for it, besides his continued guilt over what transpired more than 50 years ago: “Nobody’s asked.”


Well, that was my question. Was it improper to reopen past hurts? Was I being self-centered by answering a long-standing riddle that didn’t actually need to be solved? Yes, I have a job to complete, but this article wasn’t asked for, and none of my supervisors were aware that I was working on it. I have no idea why Bruce’s story captivated me so much. Why, for weeks, I kept screenshots of old press clippings on my desktop, and I had old Stanford media guides and the 1973 Masters Wikipedia page open as tabs in my browser. Mostly, I suppose, I believed that even after all this time, Robertson should have had his side of the story heard.


When I eventually brought up the big issue, Robertson remarked, “I made a mistake and I paid for it.” “I wish I could have participated in the Masters, but the USGA made the right decision,”


Thus, the inquiries persisted. What about the USGA’s study, which stated that the amount was “substantial”?”


“That is precisely right.”


Alright, then. Robertson added that he was unaware that he was in violation of the law. And that the whole story would have been even more awful if he had known, since he “absolutely” would not have done it.


What made you do it, then?


Robertson responds, “Make money, buy some tires for my car.” “I’m not sure.”


Who do you suppose reported you?


“I’ve never tried to find out, so I have no idea.” It is irrelevant.


How did you learn that you were being investigated by the USGA?


“I’d like you to meet me in my office in San Francisco,” Sandy Tatum, a great amateur golfer, fellow Cardinal, and member of the USGA Executive Committee at the time, stated over the phone to Robertson. “I guess the best way I could put it is I was just numb,” he said after we met.


When did you learn of the decision itself?




The Saturday preceding the Masters tournament?




Hold on, what?


Robertson says, “I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but my understanding is there was a lot of talk that we do it before the Masters or after the Masters.” I see the USGA’s position, and in hindsight, I believe they handled it well.


Robertson seems to have handled everything with such grace; I only wish he didn’t have to live with the disgrace that has followed him for over 50 years. Here was a twenty-year-old college student, desperate to put some cash in his pocket, who had almost immediately lost what turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Nevertheless, he continues to accept full responsibility for his acts and doesn’t appear to be harboring any ill will against anyone as a result.


Robertson argues, “You can look back and say, I wish I’d done things differently.” “Yeah, well, it is what it is.”


Bruce Robertson in retirement at his Pinehurst residence.


Dave Shedloski wrote an article a few years back about the golfers who participated in just one Masters. Joel Beall, who recently wrote on the suffering of some nearly-champions who win a lifetime pass down Magnolia Lane, also touched on this subject. But those men all had the chance to tee it up at Augusta National by making that drive at least once. Depending on how you interpret this sad circumstance, Robertson lost or wasted his one and only opportunity.


Aside from the heartache, one of the things that draw so much attention to this story is how different the contemporary amateur golfer and collegiate athlete situation is from one another. The NCAA and USGA have significantly relaxed their amateurism regulations, allowing current student-athletes like Arch Manning and Caitlin Clark to earn millions of dollars through NIL partnerships.


For this reason, amateur golfers competing in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Masters are decked out in logos and resemble tour pros. And Sam Bennett of Texas A&M made even more money at the 2023 Masters after competing for most of the week and finishing in Butler Cabin as the low amateur alongside green jacket winner Jon Rahm. But Robertson isn’t bothered by any of it.


“You consider Reggie Bush’s football career and what transpired; those were the regulations,” Robertson remarks, referring to the former USC standout who lost the 2005 Heisman Trophy after getting illicit advantages while attending school. “Regulations are subject to change. You know, when I went on tour, it was like they had a top 60. They have an unrestricted tour now. Things shift. Thus, you are unable to turn around. It is distinct.


Robertson finds it difficult to imagine how things could have gone differently if he had been allowed to compete in the Masters that week. He underwent surgery to have the meniscus in his right knee removed a week after being accepted to the PGA Tour. Furthermore, additional swelling forced him to take a three-month vacation in 1978, which included six weeks in a full-leg cast, following his qualification for three straight early-season events. Unsuitable for someone attempting to make a living by competing against the world’s top golfers. Then there was another incident, which Robertson claims he has shared with very few individuals.


In the winter of his freshman year at Stanford, Robertson experienced his first epileptic episode following an amazing fall. With the exception of one instance while he was hitting balls at Olympic Club, they started occurring more regularly and always at night. Robertson claims that because it took some time to receive the right medication, his ailment hampered him for years and caused him to become less consistent on the course. And it wasn’t until he was given a CPAP machine and given a sleep apnea diagnosis fifteen years ago that his seizures fully ended. Still, Robertson is happy of what he did in the sport despite all the obstacles that prevented him from perhaps realizing his full potential.


Robertson remarks, “You know, it would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t made the tour,” referring to the change from being a full-time golfer to a typical desk job. “I succeeded. Though I didn’t perform quite as well as I had hoped, I succeeded.


Following the U.S. Robertson never again played competitive golf after Mid-Am. Bruce claims he hardly played in the 1990s due to his hectic job schedule, his eventual meeting Sue, and his involvement in the athletic endeavors of her three children. During this time, the self-described recluse claims to have lost contact with the majority of his contacts in the industry, while he still maintains close friendships with other former PGA Tour pros Pat McGowan and Mark Lye. He also lost contact with a particular keepsake that was bittersweet at some point.

Regarding the 1973 Masters invitation he received from Augusta National, Robertson remarks, “I don’t even know where it is, but I know I’ve got it someplace.”


Though it is a long time ago, Robertson remembers playing with Crenshaw in the U.S. Open final. amateurish the year before. He has, of course, considered what it may have been like to spend that week at Augusta National. When you had the keys to the front gate once, how could you keep your thoughts from wandering down Magnolia Lane?


Speaking about the renowned clubhouse accommodations for amateur players in the competition, Robertson remarks, “Well, I think staying in the Crow’s Nest was the first thing, obviously.” “And then, just having access to the golf course to play and observe it.”


Even though Robertson has never been fortunate enough to earn a trip to the Masters, what happened fifty years ago hasn’t stopped him from watching the event. After hearing Bruce’s narrative, it appears that he is entitled to at least that amount, therefore perhaps the augusta national authorities can rig the lottery in his favor the following year. Meanwhile, Robertson will be spending another week holed up on his couch watching the newest group of golfers compete for a silver cup or a green jacket, hoping to leave their mark on golf fans worldwide.


“How is the Masters missing for you?He queries.

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