Weiskopf waits. Why?

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World Golf Hall of Fame inclusion long overdue
Posted on
September 8, 2022
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The tussle between the PGA Tour and LIV has been an ongoing and steady drumbeat of news and it appears the level of discourse will only intensify. As a byproduct that feud has also caused other golf related issues to be pushed aside into the shadows -- getting less attention than they rightly deserve.

The same can be said for a golfer who achieved much but could not break through and bask in the broader sunlight of personal achievement and recognition in his lifetime.

Just a few weeks ago on August 20, Tom Weiskopf passed away at the age of 79. Weiskopf's golf talents were duly noted by his chief rival and fellow Ohioan Jack Nicklaus who stated the 6-foot 3-inch golfer was among the five best ball strikers he ever witnessed. The Golden Bear went further in adding Weiskopf possessed as much talent as any player he had ever seen play on the PGA Tour.

Yet, that platform for greatness would not materialize to the fullest extent and often served as a weighted anchor around his neck.

Nonetheless, Weiskopf had a stellar competitive career -- winning 16 times on the PGA Tour as well as internationally with the World Match Play title in 1972 among his notable triumphs. The 1973 Open Championship marked his lone major -- the win at Royal Troon equaled the low-72-hole record at that time for the championship. There were other close calls -- a record tying four-time runner-up finish at the Masters and five top-5 finishes in the U.S. Open -- including four consecutive top-4s from 1976 to 1979, highlighted by a tie for second in 1976 at Atlanta Athletic Club. He also had five top-10 finishes in the PGA Championship. In 71 major starts -- Weiskopf posted 21 top-10 finishes and 12 in the top-five.

When the last induction class for the World Golf Hall of Fame was honored March 9, 2022 -- Weiskopf's name was missing. He was a nominee but, in a mirror-like manner similar to his career -- Tom's name was left out. Once again -- in the shadows.

That failure by selectors to place his name among the greatest to have played golf could have been rightly done while Weiskopf was alive. Sadly, the clock ran out when he passed away after courageously battling pancreatic cancer. Weiskopf lived his life in the shadows and the failure to be placed in such distinguished company is a memory he sadly had to carry to his grave. Words alone cannot measure the indignity he endured as others of lesser overall impact were voted in -- stranding him on the sidelines.

Watching Weiskopf play when in top form was a marvel to behold. His lean tall frame served as the prototype for what one sees with players today. His swing showcased magical synergy -- intersecting masterful technique in combination with awesome power. He was the forerunner to the modem golf athlete one sees today. Lanny Wadkins, a rival to Weiskopf and a World Golf Hall of Fame member said it succinctly -- "he (Weiskopf) made the game look easy."

Weiskopf understood early on the competitive mountain he needed to climb in facing off against the ascending greatness of Nicklaus. The two went to Ohio State at different intervals and the formidable Nicklaus started cementing his promise early on winning at 22 the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont over Arnold Palmer in a playoff. The rest from that point is duly noted in golf's record books.

Weiskopf was destined by the golf cognoscenti to be a consummate talent and active rival for Jack. The promise was delivered in small dosages through his competitive years, but the pathway to Nicklaus proved to be a mountain peak Tom never fully climbed. And, in fairness, no one until Tiger Woods provided a complete body of work rivaling that of the Golden Bear.

Various episodes in Weiskopf's life caused concern about his wherewithal to show a real sense of maturity. At the 1966 Canadian Open, Weiskopf played the 18th hole by backhanding his golf ball up the fairway before withdrawing. The tagline "Towering Inferno" became a permanent fixture wrapped around Tom's neck. How ironic that Weiskopf admired Tommy Bolt -- a man who could at any moment lose the needed composure that elite level golf fundamentally requires.

Tom showed a pattern in getting in his own way that even his prodigious talents could not rescue.

The bar for golf greatness was always very high and the expectations of others only caused Weiskopf more anguish when unrealized. Times of petulance occurred. Walking off a golf course when his play floundered only cemented the impression that Weiskopf was immature and lacking committed professionalism. Five times in a 20-year career he simply walked off the golf course. In the years to follow -- Weiskopf would look back at those moments and be his harshest critic -- saying in an interview with Golf Channel's Rich Lerner -- "You should never quit."

In 1977 Weiskopf skipped an opportunity to play in that year's Ryder Cup matches. Why? Tom had a lifelong penchant for hunting and opted out from playing. The choice left many scratching their heads and wondering if Tom was thinking clearly.

In the 1980 Masters, Weiskopf suffered the indignity of scoring a 13 on the famed par-3 12th hole. One golf ball followed the same fate as the previous one -- splashing into the fronting Rae's Creek and resulting in an 18-hole score of 85.

But Weiskopf did have his share of successes -- the most notable coming late in his career -- vanquishing Nicklaus at the 1995 U.S. Senior Open at Congressional CC.

And just when it seemed a fruitful Champions Tour career was at hand came another incident nearly a year to the time of his most noted win as a senior player.

In 1996, with Tom the defending U.S. Senior Open champion, the event was held in the Buckeye State at Canterbury. Weiskopf was irate when playing partner -- James Stahl, Jr, the defending U.S. Senior Amateur -- committed two transgressions. The first in Tom's mind was the USGA opting to pair him with the amateur and the second being how Stahl marked his golf ball with a quarter coin. Weiskopf claimed the marking was inappropriate given the coin's size near to the hole. Tom's verbal tirade only further brandished the opinions of Weiskopf detractors. The feeling was that once again Tom's behavior overshadowed whatever golf form he could demonstrate.

Compounding Tom's life was an addiction to alcohol that only fueled more moments of anguish. Under the spell of booze, he would be prone to saying the most hurtful things at the most inopportune moments to various people. Reinforcing for many that Weiskopf's behavior was off the charts. Finally coming to terms Weiskopf was finally able to put alcohol in his rear-view mirror when on January 2, 2000 -- he quit alcohol for good.

In the years that followed Weiskopf rightly celebrated that accomplishment because of the peace it provided him - mentally and physically.

Weiskopf told Golf Digest in a 2008 interview -- "I should have won twice that many, (tour wins) easy. I wasted my potential. I didn't utilize the talent God gave me."

Weiskopf's connection to golf went far beyond his actual playing career. For a period of years, he provided television commentary on the best players competing at the biggest events. Much of that came with his connection to CBS-Sports and in particular the telecasting of the Masters each spring in Augusta (1981 and 1985 thru 1995). Tom would also do similarly for ESPN's coverage of The Open Championship after 2008.

His lucid comments provided real insights. None more so than his telling comments at the 1986 Masters when Nicklaus was preparing to play his tee shot at the par-3 16th enroute to winning his record 6th green jacket.

Weiskopf then opted to get thoroughly involved with golf architecture. Yes, his name was front and center -- as a number of other tour players of prominence tried their hand in course design. Tom's approach was far deeper than just being a mouthpiece and cutting the ribbon when the project was completed.

In 1983 Weiskopf formed a partnership with the talented Jay Moorish and the duo flourished.

Weiskopf was fond of including a driveable par-4 in his efforts with Moorish and the concept took hold with other architects as well. The range of course offerings were duly noted with various awards. Weiskopf stated his fondness for his partner in an interview with Golf Digest stating -- "He (Moorish) was somebody special. I learned so much from him."

When other course designers were pursuing highly penal courses -- Weiskopf / Moorish went in a different direction. "My courses do not intimidate. Instead, they encourage the player to play well and becomes more open to the enjoyable aspects of the game."

Playability became a central focal point. The designs were based on critical thinking and engaged a broader swath of players. The partnership lasted 12 years with over two dozen courses created. Weiskopf then continued with his name alone leading a most successful design business.

It's unfathomable how Weiskopf remains on the outside for membership in the World Golf Hall of Fame. While Tom strove for perfection -- especially in his golf game and in life generally -- he was flawed as all humans are. The stage he commanded only provided more eyeballs to watch each and every move.

The constant pressure to be "the next Nicklaus" only served to set the stage for various implosions. Weiskopf's main flaw was trying to be someone other than himself. Simply being who he was and allowing his immense talents to come forward would have been more than sufficient.

In short, it was Tom getting in the way of being Weiskopf.

On the flip side there was time to do the right thing and honor him while alive -- giving him the kind of send-off he richly deserved. Providing a posthumous award for Tom is a belated way of recognizing what he achieved in the sport through such a wide variety of ways.

Did Weiskopf have his embarrassing moments in life that were hardly flattering to him? Sure. No question. But Tom faced up to those moments with true candor and took ownership for them. Time can never be repeated. Going forward means realizing oversights and correcting them.

The wait for Weiskopf needs to end with the next class of inductees to the World Golf of Fame.

His inclusion is not done from sympathy but from a compelling record that for too long has remained in the shadows.

Let the bright light of the sun finally shine on him with the next class of inductees.

It's that simple.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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