Weiskopf's Hard-Earned Peace
Maybe because I have a soft spot for under-celebrated brilliance, I've never been quite as curious about a single shot at the Masters as the awesome drive Tom Weiskopf unleashed on the 72nd hole of the 1975 tournament.
Needing a birdie to tie Jack Nicklaus, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Weiskopf rocked into his near-perfect motion and launched a bomb that landed so far up the hill of the then-405-yard par 4 that it felt a lot like watching the incongruous spot where Bob Beamon came down in the long-jump pit at the 1968 Olympics.
"I had this persimmon-headed PowerBilt with 10.5 degrees of loft that sat beautifully behind the ball," said Weiskopf, now 71 but still statuesque, while fondly getting into his iconic address position during a recent visit to play Pinehurst No. 2. "I made a little bigger turn, and the focus and the adrenaline did the rest. Probably the best drive of my life."
Alas, like so much of Weiskopf's star-crossed career, the greatness of the moment is largely forgotten. His approach from 100 yards stopped eight feet above the hole, and his putt to get into a playoff was hit too firmly to take the break. Nicklaus won his fifth green jacket, Weiskopf finished runner-up at Augusta for the fourth (1969, 1972, 1974, 1975) and final time.
That tournament, one of the greatest ever played, is chronicled in rich detail in a new book entitled The Magnificent Masters. Author Gil Capps provides insightful profiles of the three principals, but while there is much new material on Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, the book's most compelling figure is Weiskopf.
Central to his story is the combination of perfectionism and dissatisfaction that grows in him through the in- ability of his old-school father to convey approval. And although Weiskopf learned much in the presence of mentors like Tommy Bolt, Sam Snead and even Ben Hogan, his obsession to emulate their shotmaking virtuosity became counterproductive.
Most frustrating to Weiskopf was the vague knowledge that he was holding himself back in a fundamental way that Nicklaus, for example, never did, but he couldn't figure out the fix. "I would have benefited from a sport psychologist, or just a psychologist," he says. "I would have been open to it too. That's a regret."
He smiles ruefully when told how Gary Player will often say, "How in the hell did I ever beat Tom Weiskopf? So strong, such an incredible swing, hit the ball better than anyone -- much better than Jack." After a long pause, Weiskopf says, "Gary knows better than anybody that there is more to it than that. It's what's in the mind and what's in the heart."
Weiskopf's greatest year, 1973, came after he belatedly bonded with his father just before he died. "That year I played for him, would even talk to him on the course," he said. "I was finally patient, and it was unbelievable how well I hit the ball. At the British Open at Troon [where he won wire-to-wire] I used a 1-iron 11 times, and I never missed the fairway or the green. That year was the first time I knew what Jack felt like for 25 years."
Though Weiskopf would never really feel like that again (his last victory came in 1982, after which he essentially left the tour), it is pleasing to sense his current serenity. He stopped drinking on Jan. 2, 2000, after accepting that alcohol had cost him his marriage and friendships and hurt his game. Today he emphasizes his 16 victories with one major, which will one day get him into the World Golf Hall of Fame. As a course architect, he takes pride in revitalizing the art of the drivable par 4, of which he says he has designed 72, including the near-perfect 17th at TPC Scottsdale.
And the perfectionist has a new perspective on how he played. "To compete against Jack and Raymond Floyd and Hale Irwin and Trevino and all the rest was such a privilege," he says. "They were such an interesting group of men. All so tough, but most of all, so intelligent. They knew what was most important to winning.
"I was different than they were. I always wanted to play the proper shot, and I couldn't forget a bad shot. I'd react like an artist who had messed up his canvas and wanted to get a new one and start over. You can't do that in tournament golf."
Fortunately, you can in life. And considering the flaws that undermined Weiskopf's gifts, he'd be right to consider his four seconds at Augusta personal masterpieces.