“I always say that knowing Roberto and spending so much time with him was one of the highlights of my life.”
Paul Morey’s eyes glisten slightly as he reflects on life with Roberto De Vicenzo: his idol, his boss, his golf partner, and, most of all, for 55 years his friend.
The 151st Open has been a celebration of golf, but Morey and his family have been celebrating the life of ‘El Maestro’ at Royal Liverpool – the place where he realised his dream of becoming Champion Golfer of the Year.
De Vicenzo died in 2017, aged 94, and, at the first Hoylake Open since his passing in what is the centenary of his birth, the great man was celebrated with a lunch hosted by Royal Liverpool and with Morey and his family as guests of honour.
Very few people can claim to know the man who won 230 tournaments worldwide quite like Morey, despite the 29-year age gap.
He caddied for him, answered correspondence for him, and travelled the world with him.
“Everybody loved him, he was kind, he mixed with the crowd. Someone once said that if Roberto walked into a cinema, nobody would care about the film, they would all stand and clap him,” Morey said.
“He was El Maestro.
“He was a character, you would see him walk through the door and you’d look up. I get emotional when talking about him.
“He was a gentleman and a funny man. He played with the presidents of the US, Reagan, Gerald Ford, Kennedy, Bob Hope. He was an extraordinary character. It was lovely to be with him, chat with him and play golf with him.”
Morey is in his third term as president of Ranelagh Golf Club, the club in Buenos Aires where De Vicenzo was a member and a frequent visitor until very late in his life.
It was there that the two first met, De Vicenzo the world-famous golfer and Morey the Buenos Aires schoolboy who idolised him.
“He used to play for Dunlop in those days and my first set of clubs were a gift from him,” he said.
“I was sent to a boarding school called St George’s on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and my father travelled to London and brought me my first set of clubs thanks to a letter signed by Roberto in about 1962 or 1963. That was my first close moment with Roberto. I even took some of my golf clubs to school and hit balls from one rugby pitch to another.”
In 1970, Morey was at university and passed De Vicenzo at the Ranelagh entrance. A quick invitation was extended, and over tea that afternoon, De Vicenzo asked his biggest fan to work as his private secretary. “I said I would be delighted,” Morey said.
De Vicenzo’s legendary status in Argentina is hard to overstate. He won his first tournament in 1948 at 19, and his last one in 1991 at a super senior event aged 62.
He won 230 times in five different continents, and the national open in 17 different countries. He won 135 tournaments in Argentina, 86 in the USA, Canada and Central & South America, and 10 in Europe.
“He was an extraordinary ball-striker, extraordinary,” Morey added. “Lee Trevino once said Roberto was one of the best three ball-strikers he had ever seen in his life.”
De Vicenzo’s Open record was exceptional. Before he won in 1967, he had recorded eight top-six finishes from 10 previous appearances, including a runner-up finish in 1950.
When he finally won, age 44, his face was a picture of delight as he walked the 18th fairway, and he remains one of the most popular Champion Golfers.
Morey was 15 and at Ranelagh when he heard the news. “It was very emotional and we all celebrated,” he said.
Though a close friend and confidant, he rarely travelled to events with De Vicenzo. He had his own career as a certified public accountant for several different petroleum companies, but he still lived and breathed every shot from his Buenos Aires home.
When De Vicenzo died, he was inspired to mark the great man’s life and earlier this year was delighted to commission a statue that sits by the Ranelagh clubhouse. He also exchanged emails with Kieran O’Brien, a member and former captain of Royal Liverpool, and the two of them arranged a lunch during The 151st Open in De Vicenzo’s honour.
Morey had never been to an Open before, and admitted it had long been his dream to attend - especially at Hoylake. He made it a family occasion, with wife Patricia, son Martin and daughter Carolina travelling with him from Argentina – Martin had even bought his dad tickets to the Masters for his 70th birthday last year, ticking off another bucket list item.
“I felt how loved he was at the lunch on Tuesday, how respected he was. It was very special,” Morey said.
“It was a lovely lunch with many members of Royal Liverpool – some of whom were there when Roberto won. Kieran Walsh and the captain of the R&A, Clive Brown, were also there.
“I was sat in the middle of them, gave a speech and briefly went through Roberto’s career. Some of the members saw him win in 1967 and were not aware of how many he won.”
Asked to summarise his memories of De Vicenzo, Morey has plenty of tales to tell.
There’s the one when Morey was driving El Maestro to a pro-am in Argentina but ran out of fuel on the way home – “I hoped he hadn’t said anything, but everybody knew the next day so I became famous,” he joked.
There’s also the one of De Vicenzo’s incredible humility with which he accepted his Masters error, when he signed an incorrect scorecard and therefore missed out on a play-off to win. “He was upset of course, but he said that’s life.”
But above all, it’s his humour, encouragement and kindness that shine through.
“We were very close, he was very friendly with my family. I used to go to his home on Christmas Eve and take a gift for his wife, and he used to have a gift for me,” he added.
“Every time he used to go to The Open, he used to bring me back a Pringle sweater. I still have most of them, and he used to come over and say ‘I have this for you’ and it would always be a Pringle Cashmere sweater.
“He had a room where he kept trophies, clubs and the likes and if I needed a club he would invite me over and tell me to take whatever I wanted. It was that sort of relationship.
“I was never paid for my work,” he added. “And I never asked to be. I did it out of love, passion and pride.”
Six years after De Vicenzo’s death, those three sentiments still burn as bright.