Tom Weiskopf won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1973 British Open at Royal Troon. At 78, he’s still active as a course designer, a subject we delve into in Part II of this Q&A (coming Friday!).
Weiskopf has seen all parts of the industry and has no shortage of tales from every part of a golf life well lived in golf. Before revealing his thoughts about designing golf courses and how he transitioned into that business, Weiskopf shared thoughts on the Masters, Dustin Johnson and Rory, playing with Ben Hogan and how he lost his gig broadcasting the Masters on CBS.
Golfweek: What did you make of Dustin Johnson’s performance at the Masters?
Tom Weiskopf: I watched him disseminate and take apart the great Augusta National. It’s the greatest risk-reward, hole-after-hole, championship course I’ve ever played. The greens were soft but he was so much better, smarter, his ability shined. He had the power and control off the tee, his short game was awesome, his putting and wedge game, his demeanor and intelligence and plan of playing. The guy is unbelievable. He had it going that week, no doubt about it. There are others who would challenge him if they got it going, but they didn’t. They couldn’t. He did.
GW: You mentioned that he played “smartly.” He’s often been criticized for doing just the opposite. What stood out as DJ playing strategically?
TW: I think he finally figured it out. When Amanda [Balionis of CBS] tried to interview him, he was so emotional. I think it finally came to him that all this hard work that he’s put into it, all the experience by those that helped him, that have been telling him this forever, all of this became self-evident to him and he proved to himself that he finally understands how to play this game.
GW: DJ was labeled an underachiever because he only had one major until winning the Masters. What do you think a second major does for him?
TW: It’s far from over for him. He’s a physical specimen, too. Look at his power and the shape he’s in. He’s trained his body and put a lot of effort into it. I heard him say he wants to play real hard for the next 8-10 years. I think he could win a major every year until he stops playing. I don’t know him at all, but he impressed the hell out of me.
GW: Is there a player today that reminds you of yourself?
TW: I didn’t really have the passion or the effort that I wanted to put into it and everyone kept pushing me to put into it. Golf was more a means to an end for me. It was a way to give my family the best possible life they could have. Hunting and fishing and the outdoors was more important to me. Getting the grand slam of sheep (a challenge that consists of hunting all four wild sheep species) was more important. That’s why I gave up a Ryder Cup one year so I could get my grand slam.
I think I understand how to play the game now just being away from it and watching on TV. I challenge myself all the time: Why couldn’t I have done that? Why couldn’t I have worked out? Why did I drink? Well, I’m 20 years sober. It’s my greatest accomplishment. Because I was a partier, a good-time guy. I had so much talent that I could turn it on at times when I wanted to, when I needed to, but it wasn’t important to me. I could tell that this guy finally figured it out that it is so important for him because of all the effort and help he got. You can’t stand there and not find a word. He was so emotional, wasn’t he? It was riveting to me. I think he’s going to go on just like he’s gone on for – how many years has he been out there?
GW: He’s won at least a tournament in all 14 years of his career.
TW: That’s what I mean. That’s hard to do out there.
I look at Rory McIlroy and I think golf is something just for Rory to do. I’ve said it for a while now that I don’t think he’ll win much more than the four he’s got or maybe five because I don’t see that determination and will to be the best. I think it is there in Dustin Johnson. I think he finally figured it out and this could propel him to win all four in one year.
Now, it’s hard to turn the switch on. It was his week where everything worked right without exception. What did he make, four bogeys? First player ever to have less than five (at the Masters). I think Jack and Tiger had five once. I think it would behoove you to call Dustin up and ask him this one question: Every day there is one shot or hole that turns your round around. Where were they each day? I’d like to know the answer to that question. I think that would be very interesting.
The birdie at 6 on Sunday was monumental. To throw that ball in as close as he did with that pin placement – those pin placements weren’t easy but it was throwing darts with the soft greens. Another thing I’d like to know: Why didn’t they turn on the Sub-Air system?
GW: What is it about Rory that makes you think golf is just something “to do” for him?
TW: I don’t know what it is. Maybe the way he interviews. I don’t see any frustration. Life is good and it should be – he’s a multi, multi-millionaire and has a kid now – but I don’t see the Tiger attitude. It’s like he’s satisfied all the time. The guy is not a good putter. He can hit some putts so off line with the wrong speed. He’s technically not a good putter but one of the purest swings you’d ever want to watch play in the game. Technically, he’s superior to Dustin Johnson, but Dustin has the confidence to do it every time. I know Rory works out but I bet if you watched them both work out, Rory would be a lot of laughs and giggles and Dustin would be balls to the wall and forcing a little bit more on himself and that’s what he’s done. The way that he’s played this year, who the hell can beat this guy?
GW: Can you imagine shooting 20 under at Augusta National?
TW: You could never do that in my day. When you’re hitting wedges into the ninth green the way DJ did instead of 6-iron 40-50 yards back off the side slope, you know what I mean, it’s a huge advantage. If ever there was a year for Augusta to demand that ‘This is our ball next year and everyone is playing it’ and change the game, this is when it should be. It will always be the longest hitters that have the biggest advantage at Augusta if they hit it straight and he did. It’s that simple.
But the ball goes too far. You have to make these courses 7,500-7,700 yards long to challenge these guys, There are so many great courses that they could play if the ball went as far as it did when I played.
GW: How much do you play these days?
TW: Hardly at all. I’ve got a few buddies that we play just to have some fun. I’ve had a bad back. I had an MRI. My L-4 and L-5 disks give me problems. I still love watching the game. The U.S. Open was fantastic. Winged Foot is a helluva course. Bryson put his game on the line. It’s not a swing I like. It’s very mechanical. I haven’t met him but I like the guy. I think he’s great for the game. But you can’t swing that hard and control the ball. He’ll have his week when he’s on like he did at Detroit, but we all have that week. The game is a helluva game and there’s a lot of ways to play it. Of all the players I played with it, by far, the greatest striker of the ball was Ben Hogan. Unbelievable.
GW: What was that like, playing with Hogan?
TW: I played with him six times. I played with him at Champions Golf Club once. I was paired with him once at Colonial and played with him based on score on Saturday and Sunday. I played with him three times in a practice round, once in Boston, once at Colonial with Tommy Bolt and I think the other was in Chicago. Every shot, every club, shot after shot was perfection. Sam Snead was a close second. Nicklaus and Trevino were third. Tiger would have to be in there. I played a practice round with Tiger in 2004 at Troon. You could see that he was so much better than anyone playing the game at the time. He was impressive.
But I mean Hogan…have you ever heard the story of Hogan during the last round of the ’53 Masters? He hit it around the corner at 13 and lays up, which was an odd thing. Then he pitched on and made birdie. At 15 he knocks 3-wood over the water and on to the green. Dan Jenkins brings that up to him. He says, ‘I’m confused. You laid up at 13, but go with the 3-wood at 15. Explain your thinking at 13,’ and Hogan says, ‘I didn’t need 3 at the time.’ That’s the intelligence that comes into it at Augusta. I saw that in Dustin Johnson. It was so smart how he continued to play hole after hole. There’s so much risk-reward. It’s an intriguing golf course and you’re challenged all the time by previous experiences and memories of people having disasters at certain times. This guy was so on it. He’s going to be a force for a while. I think he understands now how to play his game.
GW: Listening to you break down the Masters and Augusta National, I wish you were still part of the broadcast team. Why did you stop doing the Masters TV broadcast?
TW: We always had a party on Saturday night that [CBS executive producer] Frank Chirkinian threw for everybody. That was about the third year I worked with Brent Musburger down in the Butler Cabin. He’d call Ben Crenshaw Bob Crenshaw. He didn’t know the difference between a chip or a pitch. I was there to babysit him. He would ask me something during the commercial break and then come right back on the air and use it so he sounded like the expert. He didn’t care about golf and he was a difficult guy to work with. At the dinner that night, the president of CBS came up to me and said, ‘I bet you had a great time working with Brent this week?’ I had been drinking and I said, ‘he’s a f—ing a–hole.’ I said, ‘All he does is steal everyone’s information and he never thanks anyone at the end of the day for all the things he does for them’ and I said, ‘He’s just a self-centered son of a bitch.’ That was it. I was too outspoken.
GW: How did drinking affect your career?
TW: It did in a big way. I knew I had a problem. If you think you have a problem, you do. My dad was an alcoholic. I didn’t miss any starting times, but I played hungover quite a few times and didn’t play worth a damn. I said some terrible things to people. Alcohol affects you in such a negative way. I didn’t do drugs. I never fell in that trap. Everyone drank out there. Some people could control it better. Jack hardly drank at all. I closed a lot of bars down with Arnold Palmer and Dan Jenkins. Do you call it a lifestyle? I don’t know. Was it dealing with the pressure? It affected me in so many ways. It cost me a marriage. Thirty-two years I was married to Jean. She got tired of it.
You’re angry when you drink. You’re looking for an argument. I’m not going to incriminate anybody but all the guys I hung with drank, you know what I mean. It was just part of the Tour.