Tom Weiskopf, Open champion and golf course architect, dies at 79
Tom Weiskopf’s golf skill went far beyond his 16 victories on the PGA Tour and his lone major at Troon in the Open Championship. He was always candid, often outspoken and unfailingly accurate in the television booth. He found even greater success designing golf courses.
Weiskopf died Saturday at his home in Big Sky, Montana, at the age of 79, his wife said. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2020.
Laurie Weiskopf said Tom was working last week at The Club at Spanish Peaks and attended a legacy luncheon at the signature club where he was designing “The Legacy: Tom’s Ten,” a collection of his 10 favorite par 3s.
“He worked to the end. It was amazing,” she said. “He had a big life.”
The son of a railroad worker in Ohio, Weiskopf once said he fell in love with the game before he even began to play. His father took him to the 1957 U.S. Open at Inverness, and he was mesmerized watching Sam Snead make such pure contact.
“You had dinner with Tom and loved every minute of it,” Andy North said Sunday. “The sad thing that gets 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 during his career on tour. At 6-foot-3 — tall for golf in that era — Weiskopf had a swing that was powerful and rhythmic, natural and athletic. His best year was in 1973, when he won seven times around the world, including the Claret Jug and the World Series of Golf at Firestone before it was an official tour event.
He was known equally for the majors he didn’t win and the competition he faced — particularly Jack Nicklaus, the star from Ohio who preceded him by a few years on tour and cast an enormous shadow over Weiskopf for his entire 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 as they watched Nicklaus hole a 40-foot birdie putt up the slope that carried him to another victory.
He was famous for saying of Nicklaus: “Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack was going to beat you. And Jack knew you knew he was going to beat you.”
More telling was his interview with Golf Digest in 2008 when Weiskopf said: “Going head-to-head against Jack Nicklaus in a major was like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean with a teacup. You stand on the first tee knowing that your very best golf might not be good enough.”
Weiskopf was plenty good in so many areas, and yet he often said he didn’t make the most out of his talent. He attributed much of that to drinking, which he once said ruined his golf career. He gave up alcohol in 2000 and considered that one of his great victories.
Nicklaus once said of him, “Tom Weiskopf had as much talent as any player I’ve ever seen play the tour.”
He also said he was never passionate enough about golf. His love was the outdoors, particularly hunting and fishing. Weiskopf once skipped the 1977 Ryder Cup so he could 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 was traced to his high standards when it came to golf.
“I could not accept failure when it was my fault,” he said after winning the U.S. Senior Open in 1995 at Congressional. “It just used to tear me up.”
Weiskopf’s last PGA Tour victory 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 his lone major was the Senior Open by 4 shots over Nicklaus.
His commentary on TV for CBS at the Masters and for ABC/ESPN was all about candor.
He was working the 1986 Masters when Nicklaus was charging his way to victory at age 46. Nicklaus was on the 16th tee when CBS host Jim Nantz brought in Weiskopf and asked, “What is going through Jack’s mind right now?”
“If I knew the way he thought, I would have won this championship,” Weiskopf replied with a laugh.
Weiskopf partnered with golf course architect Jay Moorish, and their first collaboration was Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, which Golf Digest rated as the best new course of 1986. He did 25 courses with Moorish and then worked with Phil Smith.
Among 80 courses Weiskopf designed were Loch Lomond in Scotland and in 2016 a renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines that fit his standard — challenging at the highest level, enjoyable for all.
A standard of his design is the drivable par 4. The inspiration came from playing the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he could drive four of the par 4s, depending on the wind.
Weiskopf summed up his contributions to golf last summer to Golf Digest.
“Golf, to me, was always such a great challenge of the mind, and there were times I wish I had handled that challenge a little better,” he said. “But I love the game. I love talking about it and thinking about it and to me it is endlessly fascinating.”