‘A Towering Inferno’—that’s how most players and fans in the 1970s referred to the 16-time PGA Tour winner, Tom Weiskopf. The tall American player certainly had a towering golf swing: fashioned, as most golf swings in the day were, on Jack Nicklaus’s action, Weiskopf’s swing was an upright, high-hands—a thing of beauty.
By Meraj Shah
‘A Towering Inferno’—that’s how most players and fans in the 1970s referred to the 16-time PGA Tour winner, Tom Weiskopf. The tall American player certainly had a towering golf swing: fashioned, as most golf swings in the day were, on Jack Nicklaus’s action, Weiskopf’s swing was an upright, high-hands—a thing of beauty. And much like Nicklaus, or for that matter Tom Watson, Weiskopf hit the ball very high, and very long but also managed to keep it straight most of the time.
But his nickname, has little to do with this swing, and more to do with his temperament. In an era of limited live broadcasting and certainly no live mics, Weiskopf regularly blew his fuse on the course. He got things a bit under control only after realising that he risked becoming a caricature of his own weakness: galleries would follow Weiskopfnot just to get a ringside view of his golf swing, but also in the hope of witnessing one of his famous shows of rage. Most golf commentators maintain that, given his talent, this lack of mental strength was why Weiskopf did not achieve more in his playing career—a telling statement for someone who won the British Open and finished runner-up at The Masters Tournament an agonizing than four times.
Cal Simmons, who caddied for Weiskopf at the 1970 Phoenix Open recounts an interesting tale from the event. On the final day Weiskopf and Simmons were in the second to last pairing trailing by one shot to Homero Blancas and Paul Harney. With three holes left to play it was clear that Weiskopf needed to do something special to make a run for the title. “He drove it long and straight down the fairway leaving himself 105 yards to a very accessible hole location. Making a beautiful swing, he hit a wedge that landed some 10 feet behind the hole and spun to three feet. He then slammed the club back in the bag in anger,” writes Simmons. When asked about his outburst, the mercurial player responded that he had been trying to sink the shot, and that, “…it (the ball) should have spun more.” From 105 feet no less.
Why am I writing about Weiskopf? Recently news came out that the veteran is battling with pancreatic cancer and preparing to go in for chemotherapy. Weiskopf’s story did not fade away after his playing career ended. He conquered his demons and used his exceptional talent and understanding of the game to power a hugely successful post-tour career as a golf course architect. Today no one remembers the ‘towering inferno’: Weiskopf’s name is, instead, synonymous with some of the finest championship layouts in the world including the legendary Loch Lomond GC in Scotland. I have no doubt that he’s going to prove to be a worthy adversary to the dastardly disease in the big fight ahead.
The World Hall of Fame ceremony, slated to be held in 2022 will be held this month. “Given the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, moving the ceremony back a year will give us a better opportunity to properly recognise and honour this important class,” said Greg McLaughlin, chief executive officer of the World Golf Foundation. “We look forward to shining a light on their achievements and inspiring future golfers around the world through this ceremony and celebration.” The inductees, will be enshrined at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on the sidelines of the PGA TOUR’s flagship event—The Players’ Championship.
What makes this particular ceremony extra special is the inclusion of one particular gent. Equalled only by Sam Snead in his tally of 82 PGA Tour victories that include 15 Major Championships, and a three-time winner of the career Grand Slam, this man has has competed on eight Ryder Cup and nine Presidents Cup teams and won the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year Award no less than 11 times. Those of us lucky enough to have witnessed his career and travails in our time have become somewhat inured to his extraordinary achievements, but there’s never been another player in the history of the game quite like Tiger Woods. Take a moment folks, and raise a toast to, arguably, the greatest player of all time, and unquestioningly the man whose impact in popularising golf across the world is unrivalled in history.
Another inductee, the erstwhile commissioner of the PGA Tour—Tim Finchem—is being recognised, ostensibly, for his efforts in increasing the PGA Tour’s prize money from under $100 million on three tours in 1994 (when he took over) to more than $400 million on six tours when he retired in 2017. Finchem is also credited with the creation of the FedExCup Playoffs, the Presidents Cup, the World Golf Championships and re-induction of golf in the Olympics. Impressive as that list of achievements is, he next generation is unlikely to remember any of Finchem’s career highlights. The ex-commissioner’s true legacy, one that will endure the test of time, is his founding the First Tee programme in 1997.
This extraordinary initiative that has given thousands of youngsters the chance to play golf, get an education, and achieve success on- and, off the golf course, is the shiniest example of how a sport can be leveraged to make a real difference in people’s lives. That, in my book, is why Finchem truly deserves a seat at the high table of the World Golf of Fame.
(A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game)