Weiskopf rises in major way

July 03, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

BETHESDA -- After laying there soggily and somewhat limp for days, the U.S. Senior Open reclaimed the aura long reserved for major championship competition yesterday, Tom Weiskopf once again teasing with thoughts of what might have been.

Possessed of sufficient ability for all-time great Jack Nicklaus to say of him, "I've always been in awe of his talent," Weiskopf never really fulfilled the promise of others, although you couldn't tell it by what transpired over four rounds at the Congressional Country Club.

With sub-par greens and thunderstorms showing up almost hourly to lengthen the rough and toughen playing conditions, the general consensus was that anywhere from four to six shots under par would prevail. Weiskopf went by these figures quickly and never looked back on the way to his first victory as a senior, must less a major. He had 50 pars, 18 birdies and just four bogeys.

"A whale of a score on this course," said Nicklaus of the 13-under 275, and the winner agreed: "If I ever played better, I certainly can't remember it. Maybe I made it look easy, but I was executing so well. . . ."

During his regulation round in the afternoon, Tom had four birdies, 14 pars. Saturday, he had four birdies, the rest pars.

Only problem was, rain, lightning and thunder made the area look like the scariest scene from a Frankenstein movie, which led to Weiskopf taking a few shots, waiting out a rain delay of three hours and 42 minutes, teeing it up again at 6 p.m. and trying to putt out in the dark on No. 15 at 8:24 p.m.

Up at 6 a.m. and missing a par putt at about 8:20, Weiskopf's lead was down to one shot over playing partner Isao Aoki. Worse, he had more than four hours to kill before going through another warm-up prior to his tee time at 2 p.m.

Circumstances such as these might have sent young Tom hurdling off into outer space. "Tom would get down on himself, never believing he was as good as he was or is," Nicklaus said of the fellow Ohioan's days on the regular PGA Tour.

"My 'demons' I used to call them," said Weiskopf of bygone days. "Why I did it or why I had them I don't know, but I always figure when things were going good something was bound to happen to mess things up. I couldn't stand mediocrity. I blamed myself no matter what happened, even if there was no need for blame."

What didn't help matters is constantly being compared to and playing in the shadow of Nicklaus, who, according to Weiskopf "is the most positive guy I've ever known."

Nicklaus, who started the day at 4-under, said he was hoping to knock five shots off the card, figuring a 67 would put him right in there. "I thought Tom might be going for par, playing conservatively."

But the leader never had a chance to play things safe.

"I kept hearing those roars," said Weiskopf as the who's who over the over-50 set took turns sparkling: Ray Floyd went from 5-under to 9-under with a 32 on the front nine. Lee Trevino went from -2 to -6 in eight holes. Bob Murphy had back-to-back-to-back birdies at Nos. 10-11-12.

And just when everyone figured Nicklaus had had it after starting out bogey-bogey, Jack birdied No. 6, scored a hole-in-one on No. 7 and birdied No. 8 and No. 13. Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, just turned 50, was on the leader board, too. This was a horse race.

In appearance only, though, Aoki pushed a bit at the start, climbing into a tie with Weiskopf at 10-under after seven holes. That's when Floyd was arriving at 9-under. But he backed off with three straight bogeys on the way to a back-nine 41, Weiskopf birdied half the next six holes he played and Aoki leveled off, then slumped at the end.

Nicklaus got to within three shots with five holes to play and instructed himself, "I need three more birdies." He missed birdie putts of 20, 15 and 14 feet before finishing birdie-birdie and his target of 67. "I thought I'd have a shot with that [67] unless Tom played well."

Waiting on the home hole, Nicklaus threw an arm around his friend and said, "I played well, but what you did is something else. I feel so good for you."

Weiskopf has never shared the feelings of those who felt his talents should have catapulted much higher in tournaments won, majors captured, prize money banked. "I guess I had different goals, priorities and ambitions. I wasn't obsessed," he said.

The man lit up describing a time in 1973 when "I played for five months like I did in this tournament. I won five tourneys on [PGA] tour. I won three others outside the country. All told, I won 11 tournaments that year and I was capable enough to be compared to Nicklaus."

Not bad for a kid who showed up at Ohio State as a freshman, watched Nicklaus, three years his senior, play for the first time and gulped, "If I can play half as well as him, I might be pretty good."

Mission accomplished.

U.S. SENIOR OPEN

The winner . . . .

T. Weiskopf 69-69-69-68-275

. . . . and selected followers

J. Nicklaus 71-71-70-67-279

Bob Murphy 69-70-71-70-280

Isao Aoki 70-70-68-72-280

J.C. Snead 68-73-70-71-282

Hale Irwin 72-68-71-71-282

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