Before every end there is a beginning, and for Tom Weiskopf, the beginning came on a gray Sunday afternoon at Royal Troon Golf Club in the summer of 1973.
It was then, under the bright lights of the Open Championship, that Weiskopf finally upended a nagging streak of runner-up finishes at the majors to claim his first of golf’s big four championships. “The Towering Inferno” — a name the 6-foot-3 Weiskopf had earned for his temper — meant something else that week. Four days as the hottest putter in golf resulted in a three-stroke, wire-to-wire win at the Open. Weiskopf would total 11 more top-5s in majors, including five runner-up finishes, but when it was all over, ’73 in Troon was his only major championship victory.
“That’s the only time I ever really putted good,” Weiskopf told the legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins years later. “In ’73 I guess you can say I was looking like whatever it is that Tom Watson has become.”
It was fitting, then, that his former competitor and good friend Tom Watson was the first member of the golf world to share the news on Sunday morning. Weiskopf, a 28-time professional winner and renowned course architect, has died. Pancreatic cancer, which Wieskopf revealed he had been diagnosed with in January, is believed to be the cause. He was 79.
“I sent my deepest sympathies to the family of Tom Weiskopf,” Watson shared in a social media post early Sunday morning. “Will miss you and your stories. RIP my friend. PC has struck again..”
In his death, Weiskopf leaves behind a legacy as one of the most purely talented (and enigmatic) golfers ever, and in later years, as a course architect whose designs helped to usher in a new era of golf focused on playability and accessibility.
Weiskopf was blessed with natural ability from a young age, starring on his high school team at Benedictine High School in Cleveland, where he is from, and later at Ohio State, where he followed the path set by his future sparring partner, Jack Nicklaus. He turned professional in 1964 and waited four more years for his first professional victory at the 1968 San Diego Open. Weiskopf’s game was a modern marvel, a blend of otherworldly ball-striking ability and impressively soft touch. His problems, however, came around the greens, where he was a notoriously inconsistent (and often visibly discontented) putter.
On the weeks the flatstick came around, there were few players in the world who could match Weiskopf’s blend of size and skill. He would win 16 times on the PGA Tour between ’68 and ’82, but no season featured more success than that of his major championship-winning 1973. He won seven times that year, including the victory at Royal Troon that served as his pronouncement to the world of professional golf.
“Maybe I let up after ’73, I don’t know,” Weiskopf later said. “But I’ll tell you one thing about chasing the little white ball. Make what you want to out of it, but it’s all on the greens—and half of that’s in your head.”
In 1984, he retired officially from the PGA Tour, though his playing career continued on the Senior Tour well into the ’90s. By then, however, a new passion had absorbed his time: course design. Weiskopf had a natural eye for architecture. His designs, much like his personality, will be remembered for being both gentle and unabashed. He is largely credited with revitalizing the drivable par-4, a style that he included in nearly all his designs. In all, he built more than 40 courses worldwide, including former Scottish Open host Loch Lomond, the Olympic Club’s Ocean Course, and the North Course at Torrey Pines.
Towards the end, Tom and his late wife, Laurie, established a scholarship fund in his name at Spanish Peaks, a course in Big Sky, Mont. he both built and lived upon. Generations to come will know that course — and countless others — for the man who designed them. With any luck, they’ll capture the same glimpse of Tom that walked off the 18th fairway at Royal Troon after the victory of his life in 1973. A glimpse of a man rooted in his humanity and tethered by something even rarer: levity.
“I’m a sentimental guy, whether anybody knows it or not,” he said. “But I still don’t like the damn golf course.”