Tom Weiskopf, winner of 16 PGA Tour titles, including the 1973 British Open, has died. He was 79 and had been battling pancreatic cancer since late 2020.
Weiskopf has experienced all corners of the game, from his time as a PGA Tour player to his work as a golf commentator as well as a noted golf course designer.
With a remarkably high ball flight and tremendous power for timing and control, he won 16 PGA Tour titles between 1968 and 1982, and four more times on the PGA Tour Champions, most notably at the US Senior Open in 1995. But unforgettably he struggled his composure on the golf course, earning him the nickname ‘The Towering Inferno’.
A son of the Buckeye state, Weiskopf was born on November 9, 1942 in Masillon, Ohio. He played golf for Ohio State University and was considered to be “the next Nicklaus,” to be produced by that state and golf program. Turned pro in 1964.
“He had an awful career,” said his good friend Tony Jacklin. “He was unlucky to run with Nicklaus so often. He held Jack in such high regard.”
04/08/1982; Augusta, Georgia, USA Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf at Augusta National Golf Course during the 1982 Masters. Mandatory Credit: Stock Photo -The Augusta Chronicle via USA TODAY NETWORK
Weiskopf had a career year in 1973 when he won seven tournaments around the world, including his lone championship at Royal Troon. He was blessed with so much talent and had so much ability that he was often underestimated for his win total, a matter he discussed with Golf week in a 2020 interview.
“I didn’t really have the passion or drive that I wanted to do and everyone was pushing me to do it. Golf was more of a medium for me. It was a way to give my family the best possible life they could have. Hunting and fishing and the outdoors were more important to me. Getting the sheep Grand Slam was more important. That’s why I gave up a Ryder Cup one year so I could get my grand slam,” he explained.
But in retrospect Weiskopf regretted failing to reach his full potential: “I challenge myself all the time: Why couldn’t I do this? Why couldn’t I have worked out? Why did I drink? Well, I’m 20 years sober. It is my greatest achievement. Because I was a party, good guy. I had so much talent that I could turn it on when I wanted it, when I needed it, but it wasn’t important to me,” he said.
Weiskopf’s Hall of Fame credentials have been debated for years, with several of his contemporaries supporting his candidacy.
“Sure,” Johnny Miller said when asked if Weiskopf deserved to be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. “A lot of guys get in the Hall, but they were never the best, just the body of work was Hall of Fame worthy. But when you have a run like Tom had (in 1973), there are two ways to look at greatness, it’s not just consistently good, but there’s a point in your career where you might have been the best in the world. That’s big for me.”
Weiskopf later worked in television for both CBS and ABC/ESPN as a golf analyst. He enjoyed his most prolific second act in golf course design, first with Jay Morrish and later with Phil Smith as a partner. He credited Nicklaus with giving him the idea that he might be good at it.
“I was invited by Jack Nicklaus to go on some site visits with him,” he recalled of his introduction to the design side of the game. “As architects, we’re not always sure of the strategy in a hole from the start, and I was constantly asked, ‘Tom, what do you think?’ A sentence or two was used on me and gave me confidence that at some point an opportunity might happen to me, and it did.”
Weiskopf’s design credits include TPC Scottsdale, home of the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open, and the renovation of Torrey Pines (North), which co-hosts the Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open. He is often credited with bringing the drivable par-4 back into vogue, which he tried to incorporate into many of his designs.
“I go back to the first time I played St. Andrews. I think it was 1970 and I drove the ball to the green on 9, 10, 12 and 18. I never did it on the same day because they were all in different directions. I think it should be no different than an accessible par 5. I told (Jay Morrish) I want to put an accessible par 4 on all of our golf courses. He said it was a great idea,” Weiskopf recalled. “I’ve putt at least one, if not two, out of the 73 rounds of golf I’ve played. I think it works best on the 16th or 17th hole. You don’t always get it right. I’d say three-quarters of them are in the 300-330 yard range. It just hit me when I played St. Andrews. These days, it seems to be the flavor of the month. But it’s hard to get it right and make it exciting.”
Weiskopf was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2020 after experiencing severe stomach pain during the reopening of Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Once back there, he underwent a CT scan at his home in Montana, which revealed a lesion in his pancreas. He fought hard to the end, following his doctor’s advice.
He said, “Let’s start with your attitude. You have to fight this cancer. You will have difficult days. You can’t let this chemo get you down. You have to keep fighting. I’ve seen it in some cases where I didn’t know if the person was going to survive, but they had such a positive attitude that they prevailed.’ I said, ‘I think I can do this,'” Weiskopf said in December 2020. “The second thing I need from you is communication. You have to call your loved ones, call your friendships because they are good people to talk to when you are down and out and someone will say something that resonates with you and will change your thinking in that moment and get you through them the hard days. You can’t protect yourself away from this situation. You have to be open and you need help.”
“The last and most important thing he said is, ‘Do you believe in God?’
“I said, ‘Of course I do.’ He said, “Well, give him a ring every now and then.” “
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek