Tom Weiskopf, former British Open champion, dead at 79

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Tom Weiskopf’s golfing prowess went well beyond his 16 wins on the PGA Tour and his only major at Royal Troon in the British Open. He was always forthright, often outspoken and unfailingly accurate in the television booth. He found even more success in designing golf courses.

Weiskopf died Saturday at his home in Big Sky, Montana, at the age of 79, his wife said. In December 2020 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Laurie Weiskopf said Tom worked at The Club at Spanish Peaks last week and attended a legacy lunch at the signature club where he designs “The Legacy: Tom’s Ten,” a collection of his 10 favorite par 3s.

“He worked to the end. It was great,” she said. “He had a great life.”

Tom Weiskopf wedges from the first green at the 1980 Memorial Tournament.
AP

The son of a railroad worker in Ohio, Weiskopf once said he fell in love with the game before he even started playing. His father took him to the 1957 US Open in Inverness and he was mesmerized to see Sam Snead make such pure contact.

“You ate with Tom and loved every minute of it,” Andy North said Sunday. “The sad thing that is lost is how good he was. Every time he hit a shot, it was beautiful.”

Pure contact was his hallmark at Ohio State and then his touring career. At six feet tall – long for golf at the time – Weiskopf had a swing that was powerful and rhythmic, natural and athletic. His best year was in 1973, when he won seven rounds of the world, including the claret pitcher and the World Series of Golf at Firestone before it became an official touring event.

He was known for the majors he didn’t win and the competition he faced — especially Jack Nicklaus, the Ohio star who toured several years before him and who cast a huge shadow over Weiskopf throughout his career.

Weiskopf had four runner-up finishes in the Masters, the most of any player without having won the green jacket. Most memorable was in 1975, when Weiskopf and Johnny Miller stood on the 16th tee watching Nicklaus put a 40-foot birdie on the slope that took him to another win.

He was famous for saying of Nicklaus, “Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack would beat you. And Jack knew you knew he’d beat you.’

More telling was his interview with Golf Digest in 2008 when Weiskopf said, “Tatting against Jack Nicklaus in a major was like trying to drain the Pacific with a teacup. You are on the first tee, knowing that your very best wave may not be good enough.”

Weiskopf was good enough in so many areas, and yet he often said he wasn’t making the most of his talent. He attributed much of it to drinking, which he once said ruined his golf career. He gave up alcohol in 2007 and considered it one of his great victories.

Nicklaus once said of him, “Tom Weiskopf had as much talent as any player I’ve ever seen play on the tour.”

He also said he was never passionate enough about golf. His love was the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. Weiskopf once skipped the 1977 Ryder Cup to go sheep hunting.

His free spirit and unfiltered thoughts were a big part of his personality. His temper led to nicknames like the “Towering Inferno” and “Terrible Tom.” So much of it could be traced back to his high standards when it came to golf.

“I couldn’t accept failure if it was my fault,” he said after winning the 2005 US Senior Open at Congressional. “It just tore me apart.”

Weiskopf’s last PGA Tour win was the 1982 Western Open. His last full year on the PGA Tour was a year later. He played on the PGA Tour Champions, and perhaps it was only fitting that his only major was the Senior Open with four shots over Nicklaus.

Tom Weiskopf's chip shot during the fourth round of the US Senior Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland in 1995.
Tom Weiskopf’s chip shot at the 1995 US Senior Open.
AFP via Getty Images

His commentary on TV for CBS at the Masters and for ABC/ESPN was all about candor.

He was working on the 1986 Masters when Nicklaus was on his way to victory at age 46. Nicklaus was on the 16th tee when CBS host Jim Nantz pulled in Weiskopf and asked, “What’s going through Jack’s head right now?”

“If I knew what he thought, I would have won this championship,” Weiskopf replied with a laugh.

Weiskopf worked with golf course architect Jay Moorish, and their first collaboration was Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, which was rated the best new course of 1986 by Golf Digest. He did 25 courses with Moorish and then worked with Phil Smith.

Among the 80 courses Weiskopf designed were Loch Lomond in Scotland and in 2016 a refurbishment of the North Course at Torrey Pines that lived up to its standard – challenging at the highest level, enjoyable for all.

A standard of his design is the rideable par 4. The inspiration came from playing the Old Course in St Andrews where he could ride four of the par 4s depending on the wind.

“I should have done more,” Weiskopf once told Golf Digest about his career. “But I don’t stop there anymore. However, I’ll say this: if I didn’t love what I’m doing now (golf course design), I’d probably be a very unhappy person.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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