Tom Weiskopf, Open champion and golf course architect, dies at 79

Tom Weiskopf’s golfing skills extended far beyond his 16 wins on the PGA Tour and his lone major at Royal Troon in the Open Championship. He was blunt and precise in the television booth and had even greater success designing golf courses.

Weiskopf died Saturday at his home in Big Sky, Montana, his wife said. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2020. He was 79 years old.

Laurie Weiskopf said Tom worked at The Club at Spanish Peaks last week and attended a traditional lunch at a club where he designs a collection of his favorite 10 par 3s.

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

The son of an Ohio railroad worker, 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 fascinated to see Sam Snead make such pure contact.

Pure contact was his hallmark at Ohio State and then his touring career. At 6ft 3 – big for golf at the time – Weiskopf had a swing that was powerful and rhythmic. His best year was 1973 when he won seven times around the world including the Claret Jug and the World Series of Golf at Firestone before it became an official tour event.

He was equally well known for the majors he didn’t win and the competition he faced – particularly Jack Nicklaus, the Ohio star who preceded him and cast a tremendous shadow on Weiskopf throughout his career.

Weiskopf had placed second at the Masters four times, the most of any player, without winning the Green Jacket. Most memorable was 1975 when Weiskopf and Johnny Miller stood at the 16th tee and watched Nicklaus pot a 40-foot birdie putt up the slope that carried him to another win.

He was famous for saying of Nicklaus, “Jack knew he was going to hit you. You knew Jack was going to hit you. And Jack knew you knew he was going to hit you.”

More revealing was his interview with Golf Digest in 2008, when Weiskopf said, “Facing Jack Nicklaus in a major was like trying to empty the Pacific Ocean with a teacup. You stand at the first tee and know that you may not be playing your best golf well enough.”

Weiskopf was quite good in so many areas, and yet he often said he hadn’t used his talent to the full. He attributed much of it to drinking, which he once said ruined his golf career. In 2007, he quit alcohol and considered it one of his big wins.

He also said he was never passionate enough about golf. His love was nature, 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 “Towering Inferno” and “Terrible Tom”. So much of this has been attributed to his high standards in golf.

“I couldn’t accept failure when it was my fault,” he said after winning the 2005 US Senior Open at the Congressional. “It used to tear 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 win was the Senior Open by 4 shots over Nicklaus.

Weiskopf later worked in television at CBS and ABC/ESPN.

He worked with golf course architect Jay Moorish and their first collaboration was Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dozens of other courses followed, including Loch Lomond in Scotland and a refurbishment of the North Course at Torrey Pines.

A standard of his design is the mobile par 4. Inspiration came from playing the Old Course at St Andrews where he could play four of the par 4s depending on the wind.

“I should have done more,” Weiskopf once told Golf Digest about his career. “But I won’t go into it anymore. But I’ll say this: if it weren’t for the fact that I love what I’m doing now so much [golf course design]I would probably be a very unhappy person.” Tom Weiskopf, Open champion and golf course architect, dies at 79

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