Buick Open champ Jack Newton, whose golf career was cut short by freak accident, dies at 72

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Jack Newton, an Australian golfer whose lone PGA Tour win came at the Buick-Goodwrench Open in the tournament's return to Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc in 1978, has died. He was 72.

Newton had suffered from Alzheimer's disease in recent years and died Friday of "health complications," his family said in a statement.

Newton had a promising golf career, one that included three wins on the European Tour before his breakthrough win in suburban Flint, before an accident cost him his right arm and sight in one eye, and nearly cost him his life in 1983. Preparing to board a small plane in Sydney, Australian, in a rainstorm, he walked into a spinning propeller.

Former Buick Open champion Jack Newton has died at 72.

Doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of surviving because of a bacterial infection in his mid-section. He lived, though his golf career was over. He was 33.

"I was remarkably lucky," Newton said in a June 2008 issue of Golf Digest. "The (infection) was what nearly killed me, not the injuries. They thought about trying to reattach my arm but it was too badly damaged.

"They had to save my life and my arm wasn't going to do that."

After recovering from his injuries, Newton transitioned to a new career that included work as a golf commentator, golf course designer and public speaker.

In the mid-1980s, he also founded the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation. His annual golf outing drew celebrities and pro golfers, and raised millions for diabetes research.

By then, Newton had taught himself to play golf again, one-handed. He regularly still shot in the 80s.

As a 22-year-old, Newton burst onto the professional golf scene, winning on the European Tour in back-to-back weeks. In 1974, he won again on the European Tour.

He struggled to find the same success on the PGA Tour, and when he arrived in Grand Blanc in 1978, he had missed six of his previous 11 cuts. He'd barely made $5,000 on the year. At the Buick-Goodwrench Open, he shot 8 under over four rounds, bouncing back from a double-bogey on his first hole of the final round, to get into a playoff with Mike Sullivan. Newton won with a birdie at the 16th hole, good for a $20,000 check.

"It's not the money that's important," Newton said after the win. "The fact that I won and am exempt for a year is probably worth more than the $20,000. I can't really place a monetary value on it.

"I've won on every continent in the world. Winning here makes me feel like I've accomplished something."

Newton also had some near-misses in majors, losing in an 18-hole playoff to Tom Watson at the 1985 British Open, and finishing tied for second at the 1980 Masters. In the other three majors in 1980, he also finished tied for 10th at the British Open, tied for 20th at the PGA Championship and tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open.

He also won three times on the PGA Tour of Australasia, including the 1979 Australian Open.

In 2007, he was awarded Australia's Medal of Order.

Newton is survived by wife, Jackie; daughter Kristie, who went on to play rugby; and son Clint, who also became a professional golfer.

“Jack has been such an influential figure in Australian golf and his contribution and legacy will live on for many decades to come,” PGA of Australia CEO Gavin Kirkman said in a statement.

“He was as tough off the course as he was on it yet underlying everything was his deep passion for the game of golf and the positive impact it could have on people’s lives, particularly young people.

"Our thoughts and best wishes are with the Newton family and the countless friends he met along the way but Jack Newton’s name will forever hold an important place within Australian golf.”

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984