BRISBANE, Australia – Jack Newton, who lost to Tom Watson in a 1975 British Open playoff and finished second to Seve Ballesteros at the 1980 Masters before ending his professional golf career in a near-fatal airplane propeller accident, has died. He was 72.
Newton, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died early Friday of “health complications,” his family said in a statement.
“(He) was a fearless competitor and a legendary Australian who blazed an impressive path throughout his professional golf career,” his family added. “He has stood up to tremendous odds as only he could.”
Newton won the 1978 US PGA Tour Buick Open and the 1979 Australian Open and three tournaments in Europe before his career – and almost his life – ended when he ran into the propeller of a small plane he was about to board at Sydney Airport on July 24, 1983.
His right arm was severed, he lost sight in his right eye, and suffered serious injuries to his abdomen. Doctors gave him only a 50/50 chance of survival, and he spent nearly two months in intensive care and required lengthy rehabilitation from his injuries.
“It didn’t look so good for me. I knew that from the priest who walked around my (hospital) bed,” Newton later said. He was 33 years old at the time of the accident.
Despite his near-death experience, Newton returned to public life with his cheerful personality. He became a popular television, radio and newspaper golf commentator, golf course designer and chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for aspiring golfers in Australia.
The foundation’s annual tournament attracted a who’s who of celebrities and golf professionals in Australia, most of whom dressed in outlandish costumes, as recommended by Newton each year.
To avoid being denied the game he loved, he taught himself to play golf one-handed and swing the club with his left hand in a right-handed stance. He was a regular 18 hole scorer in the mid 80’s. That equates to a handicap of around 12 or 14, which is what most able-bodied amateur players would aim for.
Newton turned professional on the European Tour in 1971 and won his first event, the Dutch Open, the following year. A week later, he won another tournament in Fulford, England, and the 1974 tour match-play championship.
The Australian’s play-off loss at the 1975 British Open at Carnoustie came after Watson had a couple of rather random shots. A wire fence contained Watson’s ball on the eighth hole and the American chipped for Eagle on the 14th to capture the Claret Jug with a shot over Newton.
“I always felt that if I came into a major on good form, I could be dangerous,” Newton had said. “That’s how I played golf. Once I pulled my cock up, I wasn’t scared of anyone.”
Newton is survived by his wife, Jackie, and two children, Kristie and Clint, and six grandchildren.
Kristie was a professional golfer and Clint Newton, who was born in Hilton Head, South Carolina, played in rugby league in Australia and Great Britain and represented the United States at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
“His passion for the sport and contribution to future generations of golfers and the Australian community demonstrates the character of our father, beloved husband, proud brother, adoring grandfather and loner,” his family said in the statement.