Be well, Tom! An old friend sends Tom Weiskopf good vibrations from across the decades

Tom Weiskopf at the Old Course at St. Andrews in 2015.

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Tom Weiskopf’s recent cancer diagnosis reminds me how precious and unpredictable life is. I didn’t know Tom especially well during the decade I traveled the PGA Tour. He is 15 years older than I am. When I arrived on the scene in the summer of 1975, as the young wife of Ben Crenshaw, Tom was already a big star who had won the British Open two years earlier. I found him to be larger than life. He was six-foot-three, always dressed to the nines and so confident. His wife Jeanne was a former beauty queen. They made a striking couple.

Tom and Jeanne Weiskopf after his British Open win in 1974. getty images

I became a Tour wife one week after my high school graduation. We got married in June of 1975. I was 18 and Ben was 23. He took care of me as best as he could but there was a lot of time, when he was practicing and playing, that I was on my own. Jeanne was one of the wives who took me under her wing. She tried to teach me the do’s and don’ts of Tour life, for which I was ill-prepared. Your main job, as I saw it, was to find a way to help your husband shoot better scores. It didn’t come naturally to me.

I was often looking for adventure of my own, and I got along best with the caddies. They were the most regular people around me. Also, they knew the scoop on everything and everyone on Tour. I didn’t have to be “on” with them. I could be myself.

I remember being at Hilton Head Island one day, during a practice round, probably kind of bored, when Tom’s caddie asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to pick up Tom. Eager for company, and kind of intrigued by Tom Weiskopf — one half of Tom-and-Jeanne! — I agreed.

Ben and Polly in 1976. getty images

Tom was bounding toward the tournament car with his customary energy. But the second he saw me an uncomfortable look came over his face. On the golf course, when things weren’t going well, Tom’s face told all. His nickname was The Towering Inferno. This was like a cousin to that.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. “I don’t really know,” I said, giggling nervously. “Just going for a ride, I guess.”I could see his wheels turning. A golfer’s wife hanging out with caddies? Not a great look.

But within a minute or two, he had shrugged it off. He was like that. Also, we had a cooler filled with beers. Tom grabbed one and handed one to me.

I don’t know what it’s like now but in the mid- and late-1970s, drinking was a major part of Tour life. One beer became several.

Tom started telling stories about life on Tour. We sipped our beers and I listened. I was desperate to understand the nuances of this mysterious world, wanting to know more about players and caddies and how they get along, and players and wives and how they get along. We were doing a lot of laughing. Everything’s a little funnier when you’re drinking.

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We were driving around, in no particular rush to get anywhere, when Tom announced he needed a bathroom break: “Stop the car!” 

Grinning like a Cheshire cat, Tom tumbled out of the car. I turned away and laughed under my breath. (All that beer!) The whole thing was Tom being Tom. He was a big star, but he had no airs, no pretense. I loved that about him. 

It was years later that I realized that alcohol was filling a void for me, that day and every day. I mistook alcohol for a friend, one that gave me courage and helped me overcome my insecurities.

By 1984, the year Ben won his first Masters, our marriage was coming to an end. My drinking certainly didn’t help it. 

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On Tour, in my brief time out there, I felt the wives and players were like books, constantly being judged by their covers. As for Tom, he was a mystery. He had all that talent, but he didn’t match the expectations others set for him after that 1973 British Open win.

I haven’t talked to Tom in years. I don’t follow golf closely but I do know that Tom and Jeanne, the beautiful couple, eventually divorced, and that Tom stopped drinking. Tom has talked some about those things in interviews. He’s always been open. I stopped drinking years ago and since then I have found a new life. I find there’s a grace that comes with being sober and staying sober, a grace that prepares you for … anything.

I hope Tom finds the same. I wish him well, from across the decades. I’m guessing he will face his cancer with the same grit and determination that he exhibited on so many golf courses, but maybe now with a certain peace and, as always, that deep dimple and mischievous twinkle in his eye that is unmistakably Tom Weiskopf.

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