BETHESDA -- Tom Weiskopf spent the better part of 20 years on the PGA Tour trying to win a major championship in the United States, while also trying to remove himself from the massive shadow of a legend named Jack Nicklaus. He came close to winning several, but Nicklaus always seemed to be in the way.
What Weiskopf couldn't accomplish during his prime, he finally succeeded at yesterday in the 16th U.S. Senior Open. Though Nicklaus still managed to draw some of the loudest roars at Congressional Country Club in a final-round 67 that included a hole-in-one, he couldn't get in Weiskopf's way.
Nor could anybody else. After struggling early in the day with his putter, Weiskopf made a string of birdies to distance himself from a fast-starting Isao Aoki of Japan, hold off the late-charging Nicklaus and finally win that elusive first U.S. major.
The victory, worth $175,000, was the second for Weiskopf on the Senior Tour and certainly his most significant since he won the 1973 British Open at Royal Troon. It also might have eased some of the disappointing memories from four second-place finishes at Augusta National -- two of them behind Nicklaus -- and a handful of other close calls at the U.S. Open.
A final round of 4-under-par 68 and a four-round score of 13-under 275, one short of tying the tournament record, gave Weiskopf a four-shot victory over Nicklaus. Aoki, who began the round one shot behind Weiskopf and was tied for the lead through seven holes, struggled down the stretch to finish five shots behind, tied for third with Bob Murphy.
"What was done in the past, what was said in the past by me, what happened in the past can't be changed," said Weiskopf, 52, who dedicated the victory to his wife of 28 years, Jeanne, recovering from breast cancer surgery last fall. "All I know is that I am a different person, and I would hope people would take me for what I am today and don't remember what I was like at maybe 30 years old. It does make up for all those bad moments, or frustrating moments. I always referred to them as demons."
Said Nicklaus, who greeted Weiskopf as he walked off the course, "I'm very pleased for Tom. In the past, Tom has had a hard time finishing tournaments when he played very well. Everyone's known of his talent. And sometimes he hasn't been able to get there. But he did today, this week. He was the only guy who shot four rounds in the 60s."
The victory will enhance Weiskopf's career. But the question is, which one: as a player or as a golf course designer? Jeanne Weiskopf says her husband's focus the past few years in designing some three dozen courses has helped him as a sometimes Senior Tour player.
"I think it's calmed him down," she said.
The difference in Weiskopf was evident throughout the day, both in the way he kept his composure on the course and struggled with his emotions afterward. It began when Weiskopf went out to finish the rain-suspended third round at 8:15 a.m., and immediately missed the 8-foot putt for par on the 15th hole that he had left when play was called Saturday night. He then missed a 4-footer for birdie on the 17th hole en route to a third straight 69.
After a 75-minute nap, a change of clothes and some lunch, Weiskopf returned for the final round. But the putting stroke was still missing until he drained a 10-footer for birdie at the fifth hole to go one shot ahead of Aoki. He made a 7-footer for birdie on the eighth hole and an 8-footer for birdie at the par-5 11th, a 507-yard hole Aoki parred after hitting in a pond trying for the green in two.
"It really got me going, it gave me a lot of confidence," said Weiskopf, whose lead grew to three shots when he birdied the par-3 13th as well. "That was a really big turning point I think in the golf tournament between Isao and myself."
When Aoki bogeyed the 15th to drop four shots behind, the remaining three holes became a victory march for Weiskopf. The once hot-tempered player who had a reputation for storming off courses amid an angry stream of expletives, has mellowed with age.
It showed when he walked up the 18th fairway. As the crowd provided a sustained applause, Weiskopf's eyes moistened. After sinking an 18-inch putt for par, Weiskopf doffed his capped and bowed to the crowd a couple of times. He didn't cry, but he came awfully close.
"I was really trying to hold it back," said Weiskopf. "I don't know why I did. There is nothing wrong with crying, but it looks kind of funny, a guy 6-3 1/2 and eight pounds overweight who walks like a duck out there with tears running down his face. It was very emotional because it had been a long time since I had these feelings like I had today and I had this week."
The first person to greet Weiskopf was Nicklaus. They shook hands warmly, with Nicklaus the one extending congratulations. Asked what he told Weiskopf, Nicklaus said he reminded him of the 1993 Senior Open.
"Tom had said a couple of years ago when I won at Cherry Hills that he always seemed to be one shot shy," Nicklaus said, also recalling victories over Weiskopf at the 1972 and 1975 Masters. "I pointed at the leader board during the award presentation that there was a four-shot difference."
Said Weiskopf, "I went to school with him [at Ohio State]. I admired him. I see him with this smile. He just said, 'I am really happy for you. I am really proud of what you did.' Well that means a lot. Because you don't beat that guy very often. At least I haven't had that opportunity."
Weiskopf then walked over to kiss his wife, who underwent a lumpectomy after a malignant tumor was discovered last August. She has since undergone radiation and chemotherapy. "That was fun, Jeano," said Weiskopf, who wore a pink ribbon on his cap in support of a Dallas-based breast cancer awareness program.
Later he said, "It was just a reminder that this one was for her.
But it was also for those demons of long ago, and not so long ago, that haunted Tom Weiskopf throughout his career. There is now one fewer to chase.
U.S. SENIOR OPEN
The winner . . . .
Tom Weiskopf 69-69-69-68-275
. . . . and selected followers
Jack 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