By DENNIS PASSA – AP sportswriter
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 Alzheimer’s disease, died early Friday of “health complications,” his family said in a statement.
“(He) was a fearless competitor and a legendary Aussie who blazed an impressive path throughout his professional golf career,” added his family. “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 surviving and he spent almost two months in intensive care undergoing lengthy rehabilitation from his injuries.
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“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 professional golfers 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-’80s. 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.”
Australian golfer Greg Chalmers said on Twitter: “Every journey starts somewhere, mine was in golf tournaments under the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation.” Fellow Australian pro James Nitties said: “Jack Newton is not just a great golfer, he’s what What he and his family have done for charity and youth golf in Australia has been truly amazing.”
Gavin Kirkman, chief executive of the PGA of Australia, praised Newton’s impact on the game Down Under.
“Jack was such an influential figure in Australian golf and his contribution and legacy will live on for many decades to come,” Kirkman said. “He was just as tough off the course as he was on it. But behind it was his deep passion for the game of golf and the positive impact it can have on people’s lives, especially young people.”
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 Myrtle Beach, 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.
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