Jack Newton, who lost to Tom Watson in a 1975 British Open playoff and tied for second behind Seve Ballesteros at the 1980 Masters before his professional golf career ended in a near-fatal aircraft propeller accident, died on Friday. He was 72.
His family said in a statement that Newton, who had been living with Alzheimer’s disease, died from “health complications.” The statement did not say where he died.
Newton won the Buick Open on the PGA Tour in 1978 and the Australian Open in 1979, as well as three tournaments in Europe, before his career — and nearly his life — ended when he walked 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 he sustained severe injuries to his abdomen. Doctors gave him only a 50-50 chance of surviving, and he spent nearly two months in intensive care before undergoing a long rehabilitation.
Despite his near-death experience, Newton returned to public life, his jovial personality intact. He became a popular television, radio and newspaper golf commentator, a golf-course designer and the chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for up-and-coming players in Australia.
The foundation’s annual tournament attracted a who’s who of celebrities and pro golfers in Australia, most of whom dressed up in outlandish costumes as encouraged by Newton.
He taught himself to play golf one-handed, swinging the club with his left hand in a right-handed stance. He regularly had scores in the mid-80s for 18 holes — which translates to a handicap of about 12 or 14, one that most able-bodied amateur players would aspire to.
Newton turned professional in 1971 on the European Tour and won his first event, the Dutch Open, the next year. A week later, he won a tournament in Fulford, England; in 1974, he won the tour’s match play championship.
His playoff loss in the 1975 British Open came after Watson had a few lucky shots. A wire fence kept Watson’s ball in bounds on the eighth hole, and he chipped for an eagle at the 14th to claim the Claret Jug by a shot over Newton.
“I always felt that if I came into a major with some good form, then I could be dangerous,” Newton said. “That’s the way I played golf. Once I got my tail up I wasn’t afraid of anybody.”
At the 1980 Masters, he finished the tournament tied for second with the American Gibby Gilbert, four strokes behind the 21-year-old Ballesteros of Spain.
Gavin Kirkman, the chief executive of PGA of Australia, said that Newton’s “contribution and legacy will live on for many decades to come,” adding that he “was as tough off the course as he was on it.”
Newton is survived by his wife, Jackie; two children, Kristie and Clint; and six grandchildren. His daughter was a pro golfer, and his son played rugby in Australia and Britain.