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Tom Weiskopf


Emotional journey to Claret Jug glory

Tom Weiskopf kisses the Claret Jug at The Open in 1973
Tom Weiskopf lost his father in March 1973; just four months later, he lifted the Claret Jug.

Once touted as the next Jack Nicklaus – partially because of his Ohio roots, but primarily down to his natural gift with the club – it was to be his only major in a career of what-ifs.

But the now 76-year-old will always have that moment in Troon, emotionally charged with relief, joy and mourning all in one; “I wish that my father was alive to see this,” he said in his winning speech afterwards.

It was the pinnacle of a career oft-forgotten by the golfing world, with contemporaries such as Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Nicklaus himself somewhat overshadowing his name.

But for four days in 1973, there was no-one more famous in the golfing world than Tom Weiskopf.

An Open introduction

Weiskopf burst onto the golfing scene not long after turning pro, winning his first title on the PGA tour at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational in 1968.

Two years later and he made his maiden trip across the Atlantic to contest The Open, kick-starting a fruitful relationship with golf’s oldest Championship with an impressive tie for 22nd at St Andrews.

Tom Weiskopf putts during The Open at Royal Troon in 1973

He returned next year, this time making the weekend at Royal Birkdale but could only muster a T40th finish.

It was 1972, however, when Weiskopf announced himself in UK circles, finishing two shots over par for a seventh-place showing at Muirfield.

Little did he know at the time, but it was to be merely a mark on the upward curve that would find its apex the following year.

Tragic circumstances

Weiskopf had a tough upbringing, never seeing eye-to-eye with his father – a disciplinarian railroad worker in Cleveland.

There was a mutual respect, but little in the way of life advice for the youngster.

But his parents – both keen amateurs – introduced him to the game of golf, giving him the gift that came to define his life.

And, after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Weiskopf spent the last months of his father’s life rebuilding a bond.

Frustrated by his lack of major success, his inability to replicate the feats of the Ohioan spectre of Nicklaus, it was his father who calmed his fiery temper, who convinced him that he had the talent to deliver at the level he had always wanted to.

The perfect memorial

And, following on from his dad’s passing in March, Weiskopf would embark upon an unprecedented run, playing the golf of his life on the way to three titles in the first half of 1973.

Come The Open, he was the man in form, brimming with confidence and the self-assurance required to match his great rivals.

Tom Weiskopf shakes hands with John Miller at The Open in 1973

Entering Troon – for the last Open before the course was given its Royal prefix – the great Nicklaus needed just one more major victory to take Bobby Jones’ all-time record.

But Weiskopf held him at bay, carding a 68 to lead after 18 and a 67 to leave the chasing pack behind after 36.

A 71 on the Saturday saw Johnny Miller draw to within a shot of his compatriot, but this time he was to hold his nerve, banishing the demons to tie Arnold Palmer’s championship record of 276 and etch his name into history.

“I just said that nobody can beat me,” he said years later.

“I birdied four of the first five holes starting out. It was almost easy, calm. I felt like Jack Nicklaus did for 25 years – that’s the way it felt all the time!

“I made very few mistakes, and nothing bothered me, which was unusual.

“I was at the top of my game. I was so confident, everything seemed in slow motion — my thinking, my preparations. It was my greatest memory in tournament golf.”