It might have come 20 years after a prime filled with more
frustration than fulfillment, but what finally happened at last
week's U.S. Senior Open at the Congressional Country Club in
Bethesda, Md., was still a blessed sight. Tom Weiskopf set
The last time he did that was in 1973. Weiskopf won five
tournaments in eight weeks that summer, including the crowning
glory of his star-crossed career--the British Open at Troon. Last
Sunday, after a near decade-long sabbatical from competitive
golf and an ambivalent approach to the Senior tour, Weiskopf
found himself liberated again.
Playing with rediscovered physical and mental control, Weiskopf
put together rounds of 69-69-69 and a closing 68 for a 13-under
total of 275. In doing so, he overcame, by four strokes,
second-place finisher Jack Nicklaus, the man who has cast a
shadow over his career. He also overcame the kind of tight
fairways and difficult, sloping greens that had stymied him in
the past. Most of all, he overcame himself.
"I had tremendous concentration this week," said Weiskopf after
clinching his victory with four birdies on Sunday. "Just
everything was in slow motion for me. Never did I get mad, which
is unusual. Never lost my determination to play the next shot
and forget the last shot."
Few players in history have had a mind that was more confining
than Tom Weiskopf's. First, there was the tyranny of all that
talent--the powerful, near-perfect swing, made more majestic by
the massive arc produced by his 6'3" frame. Worse, there were
the comparisons with Nicklaus, generated by their shared Ohio
and Ohio State backgrounds, by their length off the tee and by
their closeness in age--Nicklaus is not quite three years older.
But Weiskopf was nothing like Nicklaus inside. Both are
perfectionists, but Weiskopf could not tolerate his own
failings. While Nicklaus's response to adversity was to try
harder, Weiskopf would react with temper, becoming Terrible Tom,
or with torpor, becoming the man who stopped playing the PGA
Tour after 1984. "I could not accept failure when it was my
fault," he said. "It just used to tear me up.''
But with time and a fulfilling new career as a golf course
designer, Weiskopf has escaped the forces that often defeated
him. "I don't know,'' he mused. "Maybe it is because I am older.
I just don't think that way anymore.''
Since joining the Senior tour in 1993, Weiskopf has played
because he wants to, not because he feels he has to. In three
seasons on the 50-and-over tour he has never competed in more
than 16 events a year, preferring to focus on his design
business rather than ride around some inferior course for three
days in a golf cart. But there are no carts at the Senior Open,
nor are the courses beneath Weiskopf's standards. The Senior
Open appeals to his sense of history and his appreciation of the
best players against whom he competed in his prime.
These days, when Weiskopf is motivated, he is dangerous. Last
August, Weiskopf saw one of his best friends, Bert Yancey,
stricken by a fatal heart attack on the practice tee of the
Franklin Quest Championship in Park City, Utah. Weiskopf was
able to channel his grief into a steely competitiveness and win
his first Senior tournament.
At Congressional, Weiskopf had another bittersweet inspiration,
his wife of 28 years, Jeanne, and her recovery from breast
cancer. Her illness was diagnosed a week after Yancey's death,
and she has endured a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy
with a calm courage that gave her husband a profound lesson. "I
just know it helped, just to watch this person who is always on
this level," he said, indicating with a sweep of his hand an
even plane. "I am peaks and valleys.''
But it was a symbol that provided Weiskopf with strength on
Sunday. Like many Senior competitors, Weiskopf pins somewhere on
his clothing a pink ribbon emblematic of a fund-raising effort
for breast cancer research run by the wives of players. Before
teeing off for the final round, he noticed that he was not
wearing a ribbon and quickly pinned one on his cap. "I could
feel it,'' he said. "I am a sentimental guy, and it was just a
reminder that this one was for her.''
It was, but not without a challenge from Nicklaus, who shot a
final 67. "I kept hearing those roars all day,'' said Weiskopf,
the biggest one of which was for a Nicklaus hole in one on the
par-3 7th. Weiskopf responded by birdieing the 5th, 8th, 11th
and 13th holes. By the time he hit his six-iron to 25 feet on
the 18th, the title was in hand.
Waiting for him was Nicklaus. "Jack told me, 'That was just
phenomenal playing,''' said Weiskopf. "He said, 'I played good,
but what you did was something else.' That means a lot because
you don't beat that guy very often."
He had done more than beat the greatest player who ever lived.
He had beaten Tom Weiskopf.
COLOR PHOTO:JIM GUND [Tom Weiskopf]