Cancer claims former OSU golfer Tom Weiskopf, once dubbed 'the next Nicklaus' | Rob Oller

Tom Weiskopf, winner of the 1973 British Open and the most accomplished Ohio-born golfer not named Jack Nicklaus, died Saturday at age 79. The former Ohio State player and renowned course designer had been dealing with pancreatic cancer since late 2020.

Born in Massillon, Weiskopf won 16 times on the PGA Tour between 1968 and 1982, including the ‘73 Open Championship at Royal Troon. He also was a four-time runner-up at the Masters and tied for second at the 1976 U.S. Open, as well as winning the 1995 U.S. Senior Open at Congressional Country Club.

Gifted with one of the most pure and powerful swings of his era, Weiskopf’s resume likely would have been even more impressive if not for Nicklaus, who dominated the tour in the early-to-mid 1970s when Weiskopf was in his prime.

“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 toiled in Nicklaus’ shadow through much of his career, after being dubbed "the next Nicklaus” upon turning pro in 1964. Taller (6 feet 3) and more volatile than the Golden Bear, Weiskopf famously finished one stroke behind Nicklaus at the 1975 Masters, but got some payback at the Canadian Open later that year, outdueling his nemesis in a one-hole playoff.

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

“Going head-to-head against Nicklaus in a major was like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean with a teacup,” Weiskopf once said. “You stand on the first tee knowing that your very best golf might not be good enough.”

Weiskopf went even deeper on what separated him from Nicklaus, telling Golf Digest, “First let me say that he couldn’t drive the ball better than I could, nor could he hit his long, middle or short irons as well. He putted better, but he had three things I didn't have, and they made a huge difference. I didn't have Jack's concentration ... I couldn't form a game plan and stick to it the way he could ... and he had tremendous patience.”

Former Ohio State golf coach Jim Brown once compared the two former Buckeyes: “Jack probably had a lot more confidence (than Weiskopf) back then, because he won so much. But Weiskopf probably is among the top five of people swinging the club, ever.”

Weiskopf also owned a top-five temper and sometimes went against the flow, which sometimes drew criticism. He played on two Ryder Cup teams and qualified for a third, but opted to go hunting instead, which caused a stir.

That may be why he once told The Dispatch he understood how Phil Mickelson felt, always being compared unfavorably to Tiger Woods.

“I certainly can relate to what (Mickelson) is going through, at least with some aspects of it,” Weiskopf said. “It becomes a little bit frustrating to continuously read things that are written about you that, some aspects you know that’s not the way I am or that’s not where I’m coming from. That’s a pill that's tough to swallow.”

Still, Weiskopf knew his reputation as “The Towering Inferno” was not completely undeserved.

After winning the 1995 U.S. Senior Open by four shots over Nicklaus, a more contented Weiskopf explained, “Most people mellow. I wish I had this attitude 20 years ago. … I could not accept failure when it was my fault. It just used to tear me up.”

Weiskopf’s willingness to speak his mind and think on his feet proved effective in the broadcast booth, where for parts of two decades he worked as a golf analyst for CBS and ABC/ESPN.

During the 1986 Masters, as Nicklaus was on his way to winning a sixth green jacket, CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz asked Weiskopf, “What is going through Jack’s mind right now?”

Without missing a beat, Weiskopf quipped, “If I knew the way he thought, I would have won this tournament.”

And probably a few more, at least. For all his talent, Weiskopf conceded he lacked the fire to go full-bore. He considered golf an occupation more than an obsession.

In an interview with Golfweek in 2020, he explained, “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, 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 the Ryder Cup one year, so I could get my grand slam.”

Besides playing golf and speaking into a microphone for a living, Weiskopf found a third career as a golf course architect, partnering with Jay Moorish and later with Phil Smith to build top-rated courses, including Double Eagle in Galena.

Even in course design he was linked to Nicklaus.

Tom Weiskopf holds up his trophy after winning the U.S. Senior Open in 1995.
Tom Weiskopf holds up his trophy after winning the U.S. Senior Open in 1995.

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

Weiskopf, who retired from the PGA Tour in 1983, was never inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, which some of his peers consider an oversight.

“Definitely,” Johnny Miller said when asked if Weiskopf deserved to be enshrined.. “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, winning seven times), 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 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,’ ” Weiskopf explained in 2020.

“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 article.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Tom Weiskopf, former Ohio State golfer and major winner, passes at 79