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Tom Weiskopf, 1973 Open champion, dies after battle with pancreatic cancer

Tom Weiskopf’s golf skill went far beyond his 16 victories on the PGA Tour and his lone major at Royal Troon in The Open Championship. He was outspoken and accurate in the television booth and found 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.

Laurie Weiskopf said Tom was working last week at The Club at Spanish Peaks and attended a legacy luncheon at a club where he is designing 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.

Pure contact was his hallmark at Ohio State and then his career on tour. At 6-foot-3 — tall for golf in that era — Weiskopf had a swing that was powerful and rhythmic. 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 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 2007 and considered it one of his great victories.

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 2005 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 U.S. Senior Open by four shots over Nicklaus.

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

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

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.

“I should have done more,” Weiskopf once told Golf Digest of his career. “But I don’t dwell on it anymore. I will say this, though: If it wasn’t for the fact that I love so much what I’m doing now (golf course design), I would probably be a very unhappy person.”