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Arriving in Ayrshire for the 1973 Open Championship, Tom Weiskopf had a reputation. Multiple reputations, actually.  

Reputation No.1. According to Jack Nicklaus – back then, ‘just’ an 11-time major champion – his fellow ‘Buckeye’ was possessed of a talent that was the equal of anybody else in golf. His resumé backed that up. Eight times a winner on the PGA Tour, Weiskopf was a proven and prolific winner.  

Reputation No.2. He was fast earning the dubious distinction of ‘Best Golfer Yet To Win A Major’. He had played in 23 of the game’s marquee events, finishing inside the top-10 on six occasions. Four of those had come in his last six starts. In 1972, he tied for second at the Masters (won by Nicklaus), was eighth at the US Open (won by Nicklaus) and finished in a tie for seventh at the Open (won by Lee Trevino).  

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On his most recent major start, he had finished third at the 1973 US Open, won at Oakmont by Johnny Miller. For all his talent and PGA Tour titles, he was struggling to convert that into success in the events that mattered most. 

Which brings us to Reputation No.3. Weiskopf was hot-headed. Had been since college. The son of a railroad worker, there was a grim irony about his tendency to go off the rails.

His coach at Ohio State, Bob Kepler, once imposed a rule that saw a player given a two-shot penalty for throwing a club and the same sanction for using bad language.  “One day,” Weiskopf later recalled, “he got me for both of them on one hole.” 

Tom Weiskopf

When he turned pro in the summer of 1964, he quickly struck up a friendship with Tommy Bolt, whose own susceptibility to temperamental outbursts was already the stuff of legend.  

“Tommy taught me finesse,” added Weiskopf. “I idolised him. The trouble was, the more I watched him and played with him, the more I began to pick up his attitude, too.” 

He soon started to go by multiple identities, ‘Terrible Tom’ and ‘The Towering Inferno’ to name but two. Several of his closest friends on tour tried to convince Weiskopf to change his ways, lest his short fuse cut short his career. One of those pals, Frank Beard, once remarked: “We play 40 tournaments a year. That’s 160 rounds of golf, 70 shots a round. Tom used to think he should hit every shot down the flagstick, and when he didn’t, he’d lose his temper.” 

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Fortunately, Weiskopf listened. He began to study what the best players – Nicklaus, for example – did that he didn’t. He became more diligent in his preparation and learned to contextualise bad scores. “If I play well but shoot 73,” he said in a 1968 interview with Sports Illustrated, “then I figure it’s just one of those days and forget it.” As Weiskopf slowly started to mellow, he reaped the results.  

And so to Troon in the summer of 1973. Not ‘Royal Troon’. Not yet. It was still five years away from obtaining its regal suffix. 

This was the Ayrshire links’ fourth time staging the Open and its first since Arnold Palmer’s victory in 1962. Twenty Americans made the journey, with Nicklaus heavily fancied to win the Claret Jug for a third time. Lee Trevino was bidding to win the championship for the third year in a row. Johnny Miller and Lanny Wadkins were also tipped to contend, with England’s Peter Oosterhuis reckoned to be the best British hope. 

Then there was Weiskopf. In his six most recent starts on the PGA Tour, he had finished no worse than fifth, winning three times. At 30-years-old, the lanky, slender, smooth-swinging Ohioan was in the form of his life but flying somewhat under the radar at 10/1. 

He later admitted he didn’t particularly like Troon’s Old Course during his first practice round but showed no signs of that during a blustery opening round. It was only after carding a four-under 68, good enough for a one-shot lead over Nicklaus and Bert Yancey, that he articulated his feelings.  

“It’s a funny course for me,” said Weiskopf. “I can’t really figure out where to go.”  

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His opening salvo was largely overshadowed by Gene Sarazen’s hole-in-one on the infamous ‘Postage Stamp’ eighth hole. At 71, and dressed in plus-fours, the 1932 ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’ was making his penultimate appearance in the championship.  

If day one belonged to ‘The Squire’, day two was all about ‘Not So Terrible Tom’. A five-under 67 helped Weiskopf establish a three-shot lead at halfway.  

That advantage had disappeared after six holes of the third round, 26-year-old Miller eating away at Weiskopf’s lead in typically rambunctious fashion.  

“Johnny was playing great and I was fighting for my life,” Weiskopf said afterwards. “But I held on. I just kept telling myself I could do it.” 

By the end of the day, he continued to lead, albeit only by one. [Sarazen, incidentally, had holed out on the eighth once again, this time from a greenside bunker for birdie. In two rounds, he had played the hole in three shots and without touching his putter.] 

In the final round, Weiskopf was again paired with Miller but went into the last loop having received some words of wisdom from both Nicklaus – nine shots adrift and well out of contention – and 1969 champ Tony Jacklin.  

“Tony called me and said, ‘Lad, if you can keep your concentration and play your game, the greatest championship in golf will be yours,’” he said. “Later, I saw Nicklaus, and he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t play Miller. Play the course.’ That’s what I did.” 

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Seventy shots later, Weiskopf had won by three from Miller and England’s Neil Coles. The monkey was cut loose from around his neck. Tom Weiskopf, the man with the metronomic swing and the volcanic disposition, had finally come of age. A major champion at last.  

A case of Champagne was sent on the new champion’s behalf to the press tent. Speaking to the merry media a little later, he said: “Your first major is the hardest and for me to win mine here, well, I’m a sentimental guy whether anybody knows it or not, and you just can’t imagine what this means.” 

His one regret? That his father, who had passed away earlier in the year, hadn’t lived to see it. 

“He lived for golf,” said Weiskopf. “But I think he knew I’d win one of the big ones.” 

Reporting for Sports Illustrated, the late, great Dan Jenkins observed: “It is almost certain that this British Open will not be Weiskopf’s last major title. He is the hottest thing in golf right now.” 

The man in question agreed. Referencing Bobby Jones’ record of 13 major victories – at that time, the benchmark and inclusive of his British and US Amateur victories – Weiskopf said: “All I can say is, it’s one down and 13 to go.” 

As it turned out, that was as close as he got. He continued to rack up the top-10s but further glory eluded him. By the early 1980s, when even the PGA Tour titles had dried up, he embarked upon a new career in golf course design.  

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An unashamed fan of short par-4s, he worked initially with Jay Morrish before establishing his own practice, creating more than 40 tracks around the globe.  

Amongst his most famous are Loch Lomond and the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale, the iconic home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. 

In 2021, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Weiskopf reflected on his career in an interview with Golf Digest.  

“Golf, to me, was always such a great challenge of the mind, and there were times I wish I had handled it a little better,” he said. “But I love it. It is endlessly fascinating.” 

He died at the age of 79 on August 20, 2022, at his home in Big Sky, Montana.  

A man of many reputations in life, he leaves almost as many in death, in the form of his acclaimed courses and his name, engraved in perpetuity on the Claret Jug. 

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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