How to lose your temper and win

Tom Weiskopf learns the one way to overcome his own angry outbursts
February 26, 1968

Let's take our hidden cameras and microphones and peek in on the Weiskopfs. Jeanne, who was Miss Minnesota in 1965 and until two weeks ago at San Diego was the only thing Tom had won on the pro golf tour, is standing behind her ironing board pressing Tom's golf shirts and slacks. "Tom is the only pro who plays without wrinkles in his clothes," she says, imitating that average American housewife you see in television commercials. Tom, who has just completed a round in the Phoenix Open, is talking about his caddie, a young Arizona friend named Joe Porter who is one of the better amateur golfers in the Southwest. "Joe can nail the ball with anybody, even the pros on the tour," he says, "but every so often he misses a shot just a little and thinks it's a national catastrophe. He gets mad and explodes at himself, and because he's so steamed he misses the next four or five shots. Then he totally quits. Joe doesn't...hmmm, wait a minute. All that was me, too, wasn't it?"

Boy, was it ever, at least until last November when Weiskopf stared at himself in a mirror and said, more or less: "Weiskopf wise up." That had always been his problem. There never had been any doubt that he could play golf. Weiskopf, who at 6'3" and 180 pounds looks like his one-iron and walks with his feet set at 10 minutes before 2, touched a set of golf clubs for the first time 10 years ago when he was 15. He shot a 92 at a course near his home in Bedford, Ohio. Three months later he was playing consistently in the mid 70s. Tom continued to work at golf, or, rather the idea of hitting a golf ball prodigious distances, and a few years later he enrolled at Ohio State. Jack Nicklaus was a junior then and "the" name in amateur golf. The two played together frequently that year and, although people around Columbus who watched their matches like to recall how the young freshman occasionally outdrove Nicklaus, it was always Nicklaus who won. Still, there was no question that Weiskopf would develop into a sound golfer if he could conquer his temper.

"It got pretty bad at times," he recalls. "Bob Kepler, my golf coach at Ohio State, once had rules put into the Big Ten that charged a player two strokes for throwing a club and two strokes for using profanity. One day he got me for both of them on one hole. I made a bad shot and threw my club somewhere. He saw me and penalized me right away. Then I said to him, 'Gawdammit, Coach,' and before I could finish he penalized me two more shots."

Weiskopf remained at Ohio State for only two years before he decided to turn professional in the summer of 1964. "I asked Nicklaus if he thought I could make it," Tom says. "He told me yes. He also advised me to try the tour with my own money and avoid a sponsor's hookup. So I signed with MacGregor/Brunswick, took the $2,500 bonus they gave me and went out to play."

It is perhaps not surprising that young Weiskopf, a golfer with a temper, soon became friends on the tour with Tommy Bolt, whose ferocious disposition is legendary. It was a strange union. "Tommy taught me finesse. All the little things," says Tom. "I idolized him for the way he played his shots. The trouble was, the more I watched him and played with him, the more I began to pick up his attitude, too."

This attitude plagued Weiskopf most of his first three years on the tour. He earned almost $90,000 during that period, but he never won. And when he had a chance to win he invariably quit. "At Vancouver in 1966, I was five under par after 14 holes the first day and led the field by four shots," Weiskopf said. "Then on the 15th tee someone clicked a camera and I became all flustered. Instead of having the sense to step away from the ball, I got all mad and tried to kill it. I bogeyed the hole, double bogeyed the next, and by the 18th hole I was so mad that I even backhanded the ball down the fairway. I finished even par for the day. I had lost my composure completely. At that time I was having stomach troubles, too—I had the start of an ulcer and had to stay on a bland diet for about six months—so I withdrew."

Similar blowups occurred regularly, and several times Tom threatened to leave the tour. "The easiest excuse for your temper is to give up and blame it on 'this course' or 'these fairways' or 'this town,' " he says. A year ago he quit on himself at the Phoenix Open and told people he was returning to Ohio. "We were out on the highway for a few hours," says Jeanne, "and then we came to the place where the road went right for Florida and the next tournament or straight ahead for Ohio. We went right. But all the way Tom kept saying, 'I can't play with these guys, I can't play with these guys.' I had heard it before, though, and wasn't really worried."

All this time Tom's closest friends on the tour, R. H. Sikes, Bert Yancey, Frank Beard and later Deane Beman—worked to convince him that golf is not a life-and-death matter. "We play 40 tournaments a year—that's 160 rounds of golf, 70 shots a round," says Beard. "Tom-my used to think he should hit every shot down the flagstick, and when he didn't he'd lose his temper. It's impossible to hit every shot perfectly."

Weiskopf realized a change of attitude was necessary or else he might become just another player on the tour. Fortunately, an incident last November helped. Tom was teamed with Tommy Bolt at the Haig Scotch Foursome in California. The two argued constantly over shots, when suddenly Bolt, who was playing miserably, withdrew before the final round—disqualifying their team. "I had learned a lot already," Tom said, "but that did it."

So Tom began to study what the better players on the tour did to win. He was playing a practice round at Pebble Beach with Nicklaus one day last month when Jack suddenly asked him, "How far do you think you are from the green?" Tom shrugged and answered, "Oh, around 175, I guess." Nicklaus checked his annotated scorecard, frowned and looked back at Tommy. "He didn't say anything, but I got the message," Weiskopf says. "Jack had told me a long time ago to keep yardages and markers, but I never did."

This proved an almost immediate help just four weeks later at the Andy Williams-San Diego Open. Tom was tied for the lead as he walked to his tee shot on the par-5 18th hole. "I looked to the green and felt it was a four-iron," he said. "But I had the course measured exactly, and I knew from where my ball was that it was 198 yards to carry the bunker in front of the pin and 205 yards to the middle of the green. That meant hitting a smooth three-iron." He did. He rifled the ball to the fringe, 25 feet from the hole, and made the putt for an eagle 3 and his first victory.

Studying the top players also helped convince Weiskopf that he must subdue his temper to win. "They all get mad, you can see it," Tom says, "but they have so much pride they won't display anger after a missed shot the way I used to."

Now golf is a different game for both Weiskopfs. Jeanne walks every hole Tom plays, ready to remind him at the sign of an outburst, "Don't be another Tommy Bolt and quit." And Tom keeps his cool. "If I play well but shoot 73, then I figure it's just one of those days and forget it. I think I've finally matured."

PHOTOWEISKOPF WAVES HIS PAST GOODBY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)