Quick Round with Tom Weiskopf


The PGA Tour’s annual return to the golf course built on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, Calif., stirs powerful emotions in Tom Weiskopf.
Weiskopf, 67, won the first PGA Tour event staged at Torrey Pines. During the Andy Williams-San Diego Open back in 1968, he showed what terrific drama the stage that is the 18th hole could offer. He made eagle at the par-5 closing hole to beat Al Geiberger and Raymond Floyd for his first PGA Tour victory.
At 6-foot-3, Weiskopf came out of Ohio State with giant expectations. He had a majestic swing and fierce competitive spirit. Inevitable comparisons to another long-hitting Buckeye, though, would prove onerous.
Weiskopf had an impressive career, winning 16 times, including a major championship, the 1973 British Open, but he wandered through the Golden Bear's formidable presence his entire career.
Nobody expected more of himself than Weiskopf. He was so demanding, so intense, and it could make him a storm of a player, frustration rolling like dark clouds over his game when he failed to meet enormous expectations. Bold, intelligent and outspoken, he was called a “Towering Inferno” by one national publication. He was dubbed “Terrible Tom” by another.  
Weiskopf was hard on himself all the way to the end of his PGA Tour career.
“If I were asked to look back at myself as a player, I think I would be remembered for having a beautiful swing, for being a complete player, a shot maker, but the negative was that I never reached my potential,” he said eight years ago.
In 1973, Weiskopf came closest, winning seven times around the world, with that British Open victory among his five PGA Tour titles that year.
Today, Weiskopf is enjoying his second career as a golf course architect with more than 40 golf course designs on his résumé around the world. His creation Loch Lomond, home to the Scottish Open, is a master work that’s received considerable acclaim over the years.
As a golf course architect, he’s a different man, more at peace with his place in the game. After his first marriage of 32 years ended in divorce in 1999, he remarried four years ago. With his new wife, Laurie, he enjoys homes in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Montana. He’s excited about the fact that he’s going to become a grandfather with his daughter, Heidi, expecting in May.
With the PGA Tour returning to Torrey Pines this week, I caught up with Weiskopf for a Quick Round:
Take us back in time. In 1968, four years after you turned pro, you broke through for your first PGA Tour victory at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open. What stands out about the victory?
When it’s the week of that tournament, or when someone asks about it, I remember it. I haven’t had any nightmares about it. I’ve certainly had nightmares about other tournaments. All kidding aside, we played at Torrey Pines, on the same 36 holes they compete on today. I’m sure it’s a much different golf course.
I remember the last hole, Raymond Floyd was in the clubhouse, I was tied with him. I was paired with Al Geiberger. I drove the ball perfectly down the fairway, and I hit a 2-iron for a second shot. The pin was in the back right corner of the green. There was no pond there at the time. There was a bunker. I hit it up about 30 feet short of the hole. I knew I had a tremendous advantage before the hole started because I knew I could reach the green in two if I hit a good drive. I knew Al Geiberger couldn’t. Raymond was finished, so I knew the tournament was pretty much in my hands, or I thought it was. It favored the advantage I had on that hole.
I had a lot of opportunities previous to that and had never won. The last putt, I was just thinking about, honestly, trying to get the ball close without doing something stupid, give myself an easy 4. If Geiberger made his, we would eliminate Floyd and be in a playoff. This putt had about a three or four foot break in it, a very difficult putt to try to make, and it went in. So that was it.
Four years after turning pro, was there relief or frustration in winning?
I’m sure I jumped about 46 or 48 inches, probably set a vertical high jump record. There was just tremendous excitement and relief. I never expected to make that putt. I felt all my past frustration of trying to win go away. I remember it well. It was one of my best accomplishments in golf. The first one is the hardest one to win.
Do you have special affection for Torrey Pines?
Yes, it was a great course. I always played well there.
How much do you play golf today, and what do you play for now?
My goal is not to lose a golf ball. If I can play a round and finish with the same golf ball, I’ve probably had a good day.
So do you usually reach that lofty goal?
Pretty much. I have my days where I hit a lot of bad shots. My goals? I do try to shoot my age. That’s always a goal.
How many times have you done that?
It’s a good a question. I didn’t do it last year. I do play all the way back. I did it when I was 65. I did not shoot any 64s. I thought about it when I got to age 63 or 64. The goal is 67 this year. I don’t play very often. I will go in spurts where I play three to five days a week, or I might go without playing for three or five weeks.
You had that Terrible Tom moniker in your prime. When’s the last time that guy made an appearance on a golf course?
Oh, I don’t know, I’d have to think about that.
But it’s been awhile, right? You’ve really mellowed.
It’s interesting, we all have labels. The media labels everyone. At one time, I was labeled Terrible Tom. In ’73, I was Tom Terrific. My former wife, when someone said Towering Inferno, she said, `Who is this person I’m reading about?’ I think there are players out there who could easily take that torch from me. Tiger Woods might be Terrible Tiger this year.
As someone who loves the game, what’s your take on Tiger’s saga and the impact it has on the game?
It has a tremendous impact on all of sports, especially golf. Obviously, he has some problems. That’s all I’ll say. I don’t know him at all. I played one round of golf with him. It was a great day, a practice round at Troon about six years ago. I’m a Tiger Woods fan. That won’t change. I want to see him back out there competing like everyone else.
You made a limited return to TV the last couple years with ESPN-ABC. Will we see more of you describing action this year?
I was invited last summer to be involved in the telecast at the Open Championship in Turnberry and the Senior Open at Sunningdale. It was fun, I enjoyed it. I don’t know what they thought of what I did. There might be more this year. I don’t know, we’ve been talking a little (with ESPN) about it, but there’s nothing concrete.
So what do you think of the new rules governing grooves? Will the new rules have any significant effect?
I don’t know if the V-groove definition today is identical to the V grooves I played with in the 60s, 70s and 80s. But it is a copout, in my estimation. They aren’t addressing the problem. It is a way for the USGA to get around the ball issue. They lost that groove ruling (to Ping) in court. The USGA and the R&A have a responsibility to protect the skills of the game that the players possess. It’s in their rule book. Consequently, they are definitely afraid of another lawsuit. The major issue is the golf ball. It goes too far. They won’t address that because if they go to court they’ll lose it.
Do you think the USGA and R&A are living up to their responsibilities?
No, I don’t think so. What happened was their technology wasn’t as good as the manufacturers. So the manufacturers turned the definition of rules concerning equipment to the finest line they could. It got away from the USGA and R&A. The ball got away from them. I could go on and talk about this, which I have.
The ball is still the issue. It’s the No. 1 component and element of the game that’s transformed scoring since the feathery golf ball. Go through time, it’s been the golf ball. This (new grooves rule) isn’t going to wipe the mustard off their red, white and blue ties or brush the dandruff off their navy blue sport coats. They are not living up to their responsibility. They are afraid of a lawsuit.
Let’s get a tournament ball, every manufacturer can make it and let’s go on with life. Then we won’t have to build these golf courses that are 7,500 or 7,600 yards where nobody but the best who play the game can play them. They’ve eliminated so many classic golf courses from competition.
You were so hard on yourself as a player, more than once saying you didn’t live up to your potential. Do you still feel that way?
No, I’ve gotten older. I understand what life is all about. I understand myself better. I can’t change the past. Nobody can. I don’t dwell on it like I used to. I have a new lease on life, which is design. I don’t live in the rearview mirror.
Are you a better and happier architect than you were a player?
I don’t know, I get frustrated. I’m a perfectionist. I can’t stand mediocrity, never could when I played, and as well in my design aspects. I just enjoy what I do, I love what I do. It’s different, you can’t compare the two.
How would you like to be remembered as a player and architect?
I was a very fortunate player to have played in an era with Jack Nicklaus and the other Hall of Famers that he competed against. That group of individuals may go down as the greatest group of players of all time. I could have accomplished more, anybody but Nicklaus could say that. It is what it is. It’s over and done with. I made a choice to leave it. I wasn’t happy with it. It’s why I retired very early in life. I went on to pursue something else. I didn’t know whether I would like it or not. I do. I’ve been successful with that. I will continue to be involved in golf course design until I lose interest. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.
Is the guy once tabbed Terrible Tom happy, peaceful and content in his life now?
I’m very happy, very content. I quit drinking Jan. 2, 2000. Still haven’t had a drop. That’s something I wish I could have done 20 years previous, but I didn’t. Every day is exciting to me. I have a lot of great friendships and I spend time with those people. I remarried and I’m very happy in that regard.

I’m going to become a grandfather for the first time this May. I’m very excited about that. I have a great life. I was blessed to be in golf, to have traveled the world and had a chance to meet people I never would have met. I have a terrific life.