Jack Newton: Whole Again

25 years after his horrifying accident, the Aussie holds nothing back

Jack Newton
June 2008

Jack Newton's life changed forever on July 24, 1983. Returning with friends from a rugby match in Sydney, Newton, then 33, strayed into the moving propeller of the light aircraft that would have taken him home to Newcastle, an hour to the north. The injuries were catastrophic and career-ending: Newton, runner-up in the 1975 British Open and 1980 Masters and a winner of 13 tournaments on the Australasian, European and PGA tours, lost his right arm and eye and suffered life-threatening damage to his abdomen.

Months later, Newton returned to golf, first as a one-armed player who became good enough to play to a 12-handicap and later as a course designer and television pundit, a role he has forthrightly filled on Australian television for more than 20 years. Never found wanting in the opinion department, Newton discovered the perfect niche for himself in commentary, his sartorial trademark the bow tie.

Through his many hardships, Newton has retained a positive outlook and a strong sense of humor. All of which came across during hours of discussion at last year's Australian Masters and the Australian Open.

Newton played with the game's great players and great characters, and he has plenty of stories to tell about what happened on and off the course. Sticky situations between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer? The secret to beating Lee Trevino? Practical jokes with decorative prosthetic eyes? Sit back and enjoy the tales of a master storyteller.

Golf Digest: You made a point of playing with a lot of significant players through the years. What do you remember about them?
Jack Newton: I have a theory: If you hang around with rats, you catch fleas. So it was always my intention to go up to blokes like Nicklaus and Trevino and ask them to play practice rounds. A lot of blokes were scared to do that. I wasn't, though. I did the same with Hogan.

Everyone seemed to be terrified of him. I was wondering if he had rattlesnakes hanging off him or something. I found him pleasant to talk to. And we played. I did the same with Jack and Lee because I always felt like I could learn something from them.

I remember the first time I made it to Augusta, in 1976. I played a practice round with Jack. I wasn't full-time in America at that time. I said to him, "Mate, what ball should I be using?"

So he gave me a dozen of his balls.

That's right.

They were terrible balls, weren't they?
They were -- but his weren't!

The next day I played a practice round with Tom Weiskopf, and he looked at the ball I was using. "Where did you get that?" he asked. I told him Jack gave it to me. He said, "You know, I can't even get those, and I play MacGregor." I told him to ask Jack. But Weiskopf was upset the rest of the day.

Jack was always my idol. The crowd always pulled for Arnie against Jack, but Jack put up with it.

I remember sitting in a clubhouse when Nicklaus and Palmer had a bit of a blue [argument]. I played early with Arnold. We came into the locker room, and a storm started to brew.

Anyway, the storm got worse, and the players were called in. Jack was something like eight over par playing the ninth hole. Arnold said, "You know what's going to happen here, don't you? They're going to cancel the round because Jack is eight over." And just as he said it, Jack walked in behind him and heard him say it.

Jim Thorpe, when I first met him, said to me that we "Frenchmen" had to stick together out there. He and I were on the bench as Jack walked in. I don't know if you've ever noticed, but when Jack gets nervous or angry, he has a little twitch he does with his chin, and he goes bright red. Well, he did both. And as he walked past, he said, "Yeah, Arnold, just like they did for you all those times."

At that, Jim Thorpe turned to me and said, "Newtie, this is no place for we Frenchmen. There's an argument going on between God and Jesus Christ, so we better get out of here!" [Laughs.]

There was always a bit of friction between Nicklaus and Palmer, although they managed to hide it fairly well.
Yeah, there was. Jack went about his business more quietly. He was opinionated, though. One thing Jack never liked was all the shot [chatter] Trevino used to come out with on the course. Lee was a good friend of mine, but I know Nicklaus hated all the chitchat when he was playing. Jack thought all that chat was designed to put you off. And, probably to some degree, it was. He rarely beat Lee head-to-head.

What about Lee? What was he like?
He was a bit of a loner away from the course. Nothing like he was in public. He'd been through some major dramas and had lost a lot of money. On the course he was great fun, though.

If you wanted a laugh, you played with Trevino. But if you were laughing, he was probably going to beat you. Because he controlled the conversation.

I played with him in Memphis one year. I played with him every Tuesday, so I was looking forward to it. I was on the range hitting balls when he appeared. "Newtie, I'm going to have you today, my friend," he said. When we got to the first tee, he was going non-stop at me. But I saw two gorgeous blondes standing by the tee. Lee used to love talking about sex.

I said, "You should have seen the night I had with those two blondes over there."

"Tell me about it," he answered. So I controlled the conversation for the next four hours and beat him. I knew his Achilles' heel. If only everyone else had known: Talk about sex, and he was there for the taking. I knew I couldn't beat him hitting golf balls.

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