"It was a total surprise to me, and I was devastated," admits Weiskopf. "I'd quit the Tour to do this; I'd invested 10 years of my life. I don't mind telling you, I was scared."
Yet Weiskopf barely broke stride. Clients lined up as if nothing had happened. Weiskopf currently has eight courses under contract, not counting three he is completing with Jay Morrish. If he was scared, never, even at the height of his angst, did he feel insecure enough to consider returning to television commentating, which he had worked at for two years after retiring as a player. "Television?" he says. "Good god. Boring! Saying the same thing every week about the same players? To me, that's not being creative." Every April since 1985, however, he has provided commentary for CBS at the Masters. "That's fun, that's different," Weiskopf says. "I enjoy being part of Augusta again."
He smiles, reflecting on his failure to ever win a green jacket, remembering, maybe, the eight-foot birdie putt he missed on the final hole in 1975 that would have tied him with Jack Nicklaus, or his incredible play in 1969, when he hit 66 of 72 greens in regulation but three-putted 13 times and lost to George Archer by a stroke. "I had the front and the back and two sleeves," Weiskopf jokes. "I just didn't have the buttons."
Despite his consistently good play in the Masters, Weiskopf is often remembered for his performance in 1980, the year he made a 13 on Augusta National's par-3 12th hole. Weiskopf hit five straight balls into Rae's Creek in the first round, tying the Masters record for the highest score on a hole (Tommy Nakajima made a 13 at the 13th in 1978).
"I think it's one of the funniest stories of all time," says Weiskopf, long over his embarrassment. "I hit a nine-iron and had it on the front fringe, but it drew down the bank and into the water. Then I dropped into a bad lie, hit a sand wedge fat and went into the water again. I dropped into another bad lie, hit it on the green, it spun back into the water...." At this point in the story Weiskopf stares at his fingers, having lost count. He dunked two more shots in the creek before finally finding the back of the green with his 11th stroke, counting five penalty shots.
"Jeanne was back there in tears, behind the ropes," Weiskopf recalls. "To pick her up, one of my best friends, Tom Culver, hugged her and said, 'Jeanne, you don't think Tom is using new balls, do you?' "
The relaxed way he tells this story contrasts with the image of Weiskopf as Terrible Tom, the prototypical frustrated golfer. Although he won 15 Tour events, a British Open and several international tournaments, he was better known in his prime for his "almosts"—the four Masters shortfalls; his tie for second, a third-place finish and two ties for fourth at the U.S. Open between 1976 and '79; and his 18 one-stroke losses to fellow Ohioan Nicklaus. Said to possess the smoothest, most graceful swing this side of Sam Snead, Weiskopf was undisciplined off the golf course and too emotional by half when playing. He was criticized more than once for not finishing a tournament round, and in 1977 he drew fire for skipping the Ryder Cup to hunt bighorn sheep.
"Tom is a very creative person, and that's the way he played golf," explains Jeanne, who has been married to Tom for 28 years. "That doesn't always work, and he could become very frustrated. But in the design business he has time to plot what he's doing, and it almost always turns out well."
Not only do the courses turn out well—they're also alive. They're permanent. Says Jeanne, "A golf course is more satisfying than a trophy gathering dust on a shelf."
A quick tour of the Weiskopf house sheds light on the change in Weiskopf's priorities. The floors and walls are crowded not with golf trophies, but with hunting trophies: a huge Alaskan Kodiak brown bear; a mountain grizzly rug; the wall-mounted heads of the "Grand Slam of Bighorn Sheep"—stone, Dall, desert and Rocky Mountain. And these days, even those trophies reflect a younger Weiskopf. Now he hunts mostly game birds, deriving more pleasure from pursuit than display.