British Open champ, former Ohio State golfer Tom Weiskopf dies of pancreatic cancer

Former Ohio State golfer Tom Weiskopf, who won the 1973 British Open and finished second five times in other major championships, passed away Saturday after a year-and-a-half fight against pancreatic cancer. He was 79.

Weiskopf, from Massillon, won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1973 Open Championship at Royal Troon. He also won the 1995 U.S. Senior Open at Congressional Country Club, one of the few times he one-upped another former Ohio State player, Jack Nicklaus.

Weiskopf, who also found a career as a TV broadcaster and respected golf course designer, was an ultra-talented player whose resume was hindered by unfortunate timing. He probably would have won more majors if not for Nicklaus, who still dominated the tour when Weiskopf hit his prime in the early 1970s.

He also represented the U.S. on two winning Ryder Cup teams and famously turned down being selected for a third. He memorably battled his temper on the golf course, earning him the nickname “The Towering Inferno.”

Rob Oller:Jack Nicklaus is the Golden Bear but not the only Ohio-born golden golfer

At OSU, Tom Weiskopf was considered the next Jack Nicklaus

When he played at Ohio State, he was considered to be “the next Nicklaus,” to be produced from that state and golf program. He turned professional in 1964.

“He had a helluva career,” said his good friend Tony Jacklin. “He was unfortunate that he ran into Nicklaus so often. He held Jack in such high regard.”

Weiskopf had a career year in 1973, when he won seven tournaments around the world, including his lone major at Royal Troon. He was blessed with so much talent and had so much ability that he often has been considered an underachiever for his victory total, a topic he discussed with Golfweek in a 2020 interview.

“I didn’t really have the passion or the effort that I wanted to put into it and everyone kept pushing me to put into it. Golf was more a means to an end for me. It was a way to give my family the best possible life they could have. Hunting and fishing and the outdoors was more important to me. Getting the grand slam of sheep was more important. That’s why I gave up a Ryder Cup one year so I could get my grand slam,” he explained.

Tom Weiskopf's career in photos

But in retrospect Weiskopf had regrets for failing to realize his full potential: “I challenge myself all the time: Why couldn’t I have done that? Why couldn’t I have worked out? Why did I drink? Well, I’m 20 years sober. It’s my greatest accomplishment. Because I was a partier, a good time guy. I had so much talent that I could turn it on at times when I wanted to, when I needed to, but it wasn’t important to me,” he said.

Weiskopf’s Hall of Fame credentials have been discussed for years, with several of his contemporaries supporting his candidacy.

“Definitely,” Johnny Miller said when asked if Weiskopf deserved to be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. “A lot of guys get into the Hall but they were never the best, just the body of work was Hall of Fame worthy. But when you have a run like Tom had (in 1973), there’s two ways of looking at greatness, it’s not just always being consistently good but there’s some point in your career where you might have been the best in the world. That’s big to me.”

Weiskopf later worked in television at both CBS and ABC/ESPN as a golf analyst. He enjoyed his most fruitful second act in the golf course design business, initially with Jay Morrish and later with Phil Smith as a partner. He credited Nicklaus for giving him the idea that he might be good at it.

Tom Weiskopf tees off during practice for the 2004 British Open at Royal Troon.
Tom Weiskopf tees off during practice for the 2004 British Open at Royal Troon.

“I got invited by Jack Nicklaus to go on some site visits with him,” he recalled of his introduction into the design side of the game. “As architects, we’re not always sure of the strategy on a hole at the outset and I kept getting asked, ‘Tom, what do you think?’ One or two my suggestions got used and it gave me confidence that an opportunity might happen for me someday, and it did.”

Weiskopf’s design credits include TPC Scottsdale, home of the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open and renovating Torrey Pines (North), which co-hosts the Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open. He is often credited with bringing the drivable par-4, which he tried to incorporate into many of his designs, back into vogue.

“I go back to the first time I played St. Andrews. I think it was 1970 and I drove the ball on the green at 9, 10, 12 and 18. I never did it on the same day because they were all at different directions. I think it should be no different than a reachable par 5. I told (Jay Morrish) I want to put a reachable par 4 on all of our golf courses. He said it was a great idea,” Weiskopf recalled. “I’ve put at least one if not two at all of the 73 golf courses I’ve done. I think it works best at the 16th or 17th hole. You don’t always pull them off. I would say three-fourths of them are in the 300-330 yard range. It just hit me when I played St. Andrews. These days, it seems to be the flavor of the month. But it’s a hard hole to do right and to make it exciting.”

Weiskopf was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2020 after experiencing sharp pain in his stomach during the re-opening of Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. He underwent a CT Scan back home in Montana as soon as he returned there, which revealed a lesion in his pancreas. He fought hard to the bitter end, following the advice of his doctor.

“He said, ‘Let’s start with your attitude. You need to compete against this cancer. You’re going to have some difficult days. You can’t let this chemo get you down. You have to keep fighting. I’ve seen it in some cases where I didn’t know if the person was going to survive but they had such a positive attitude that they prevailed.’ I said, ‘I think I can do that,’ ” Weiskopf recounted in December 2020. “The second thing I need from you is communication. You need to call your loved ones, call your friendships because they are good people to talk to when you’re down and out and someone will say something that resonates with you and changes your thinking in that moment and gets you through those tough days. You can’t shelter yourself away from this situation. You’ve got to be open and you need help.’

“The last and most important thing he said is, ‘Do you believe in God?’

“I said, ‘Of course, I do.’ He said, ‘Well, give Him a ring every once in a while.’ ”

Golfweek contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Major winner Tom Weiskopf, a former Ohio State golfer, dies at age 79