Tom Weiskopf, golf champion and course designer, dies

Tom Weiskopf’s golfing skills extended well beyond his 16 wins on the PGA Tour and his lone major at Royal Troon at the British Open. In the TV booth, he was always candid, often blunt, and unerringly accurate. He had even greater success designing golf courses.

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

Laurie Weiskopf said Tom worked at The Club at Spanish Peaks last week and attended a Legacy Luncheon at Signature Club where he designs “The Legacy: Tom’s Ten,” 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.

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

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, natural and athletic. 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 known for the majors he didn’t win and the competition he faced – particularly Jack Nicklaus, the Ohio star who preceded him on tour by a few years and cast an enormous shadow over 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 would 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 knowing that your very best golf might not be good 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 great victories.

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

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 maybe it just fitted into his only major, the Senior Open, by four shots over Nicklaus.

His television commentary for CBS at the Masters and for ABC/ESPN has been about candidness.

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

“If I had known how he thinks, I would have won this championship,” Weiskopf replied, laughing.

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 golf course of 1986. He completed 25 courses with Moorish and then worked with Phil Smith.

Among the 80 courses Weiskopf designed were Loch Lomond in Scotland and a 2016 refurbishment of the north course at Torrey Pines that met his standards – challenging at the highest level, enjoyable for all.

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 that any further. I’ll say this much though, if it weren’t for the fact that I love what I do now (golf course design) so much, I would probably be a very unhappy person.”