The real Troon never stood up and identified itself but the real Tom Weiskopf (see cover) finally did. That was the story of the British Open, played last week among the trains and planes and rains of Scotland's west coast. Weiskopf started winning his first major championship on opening day, and he kept right on winning it with the kind of golf that he has always been capable of. Which is to say a game that combines furious power and artful finesse coming from a swing that looks better in human form than any artist can re-create in books and magazines with those arrows and dotted lines and shaded areas. Swing like this. Oh, yeah? Swing like Tom Weiskopf. That's what you do.
When the British Open was played at Troon 11 years ago, and Arnold Palmer won it with the best golf of his life, everybody departed saying that Palmer was a god and Troon was a beast. Palmer had shot an Open record 276, beating runner-up Kel Nagle by six strokes and everybody else by an astonishing 13. Everyone figured that this year, too, the wind would howl and the heather and whins would leap up and scatter the field, which included the strongest American entry ever. The champion would be the fellow who merely remained on his feet.
No such thing occurred. The wind never really blew; in fact, it stopped. There was no true rough, the kind you normally have to slash a sand wedge out of or turn yourself in to the medics, and because of the slosh Troon's greens held all kinds of shots, including Weiskopf's gorgeous irons that sometimes whistled and sometimes, as they say, bored a hole in the mist.
What remained was not for Weiskopf to prove he could shoot the remarkable 68-67-71-70—276 that tied Palmer's record, but rather to prove that he could hang in there and not beat himself in a major championship. He had never won one, although he had come close at the Masters twice, 1969 and 1972, and again last month in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, and for six years he had been hearing about the tremendous "potential" he possessed. Making it even tougher was the fact that he was destined to lead all the way and was paired the last two rounds with Johnny Miller, who had won at Oakmont with that wraithlike 63 and certainly seemed to be in a similar mood. Topping it off, Weiskopf did not like Troon and he couldn't figure out what he ought to do about it. So he did what he usually does with his crashing honesty; he told the press he did not like Troon.
"That's O.K.," a friend told him. " Ben Hogan never liked a golf course, either."
"Then what do I do?" asked Tom. "Just go out and kill it, right?" He laughed and went out and killed it.
Weiskopf looked like anything but his old unsteady self in the last round when he simply played along superbly, never in any real trouble, to win by three easy strokes over Miller and England's Neil Coles. He looked instead like the player he has become—enormously confident, cool, self-assured, without the temper he has displayed so often in the past. When he needed a birdie, he got it. When he needed a good shot, he hit it. When he needed a putt, he made it. In fact, using a putter that had once belonged to, of all people, Johnny Miller, he did not three-putt throughout the tournament.
"It was the best I've ever played, even though I still don't like the course and can't figure it out," Weiskopf said. "Two guys really gave me some confidence. Tony Jacklin called me and said, 'Lad, if you can keep your concentration and play your game, the greatest championship in golf will be yours.' Later I saw Nicklaus, and Jack said, 'Whatever you do, don't play Miller. Play the course.' And that's what I did, concentrate and play the course."
It had been in the third round on Friday that Weiskopf did play Miller—and may have won the championship. They staged a frenzied exhibition with Miller acting as if he was back at Oakmont and Weiskopf looking as if he was trying to shoot 80. It was almost the whole tournament right there.
Weiskopf had begun with a three-stroke lead, but by the 6th hole they were tied, with Miller two under and Weiskopf one over for the day. Then at the 7th they each birdied, and at the 8th they each birdied, and it looked like machine golf with these two tall, sweet-swinging young men ripping out the flagsticks. It was at the 8th that Weiskopf revealed the sort of courage he has. When Miller shot first and put the ball four feet from the cup, Weiskopf put it three feet 11 inches from the cup. And when Miller holed his putt, Weiskopf stepped up and holed his. It was as if Weiskopf had said, "Well, if it's going to get tough, I'd better get tough with it." In any case, it was evidence of his guts.