Jacklin set template for Ryder Cup success

Golfer Tony Jacklin
Golfer Tony Jacklin
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PAUL McGINLEY was at pains to stress last week that his captaincy of Europe’s latest victorious Ryder Cup team owed much to the great leaders who had gone before him.

McGinley insisted his stewardship was shaped by the model put in place and developed by Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, the men he had played under and assisted in golf’s great duel.

But the man he credited with putting the blueprint in place remains the figure most responsible for Europe’s renaissance in the event and their recent domination.

“Tony Jacklin for me was the start of that template,” said McGinley, prior to his side’s 
16½-11½ defeat of the United States at Gleneagles. “And he’s quite a strong presence in our team room for that.”

Thirty-one years have passed since Tony Jacklin took over the captaincy of a beleaguered, divided Europe and his influence is still being felt today.

His is a name that stands alongside that of Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros for their far-reaching impact on the event.

Jacklin is the man who ended America’s 28-year dominance of the Ryder Cup, who steered a European team to victory on American soil for the first time, and who flew his players first-class on Concorde.

“My brief was purely to win the Ryder Cup, in simple terms,” is his modest recollection of the task he was handed ahead of 1983 match at PGA National in Florida.

There was no remit to revolutionise the event or the role, just a simple task.

But in order to do that, the Scunthorpe-born son of a lorry driver knew change was needed.

“We were getting pasted every two years and it was no fun,” recalls Jacklin.

“We were treated like second-class citizens. In the ’60s and ’70s you were left to your own devices. In an evening you’d go out to a restaurant with your wife and that was it.

“There was no team room. I invented that. Then we travelled first-class. Before that we were one or two points behind before the first tee shot because we had such low self-esteem.

“I changed that for 1983 and we nearly won. I recognised the issues and I corrected them as soon as I could. It was about making the players feel as comfortable as possible.”

Jacklin’s Europe lost in 1983 but they won at The Belfry two years later before securing the landmark win at Muirfield Village in 1987 that Jacklin still hails now as his finest hour.

“It’s the best because it was in Jack Nicklaus’s back yard and it was our first win in the US. That’s when you know that you’re equal to the task,” says Jacklin.

“Once we’d broken that barrier, the sky was the limit.”

Europe have gone about redressing the balance since. They tied the 1989 match at The Belfry, thus retaining the Cup, and have won seven of the 11 matches since – three more on American soil – in an unprecedented era of dominance. As McGinley’s men continued that emphatically at Gleneagles, Jacklin saw some of the captaincy tehniques he had first employed three decades ago.

“He showed everybody that he cared,” says Jacklin. “He left no stone unturned and the players played their hearts out for him.

“He got the team united, which you realised the Americans weren’t when you see Phil Mickelson’s comments.

“Paul made it his business to get to know everybody, and that’s how you get the best out of players.

“I cared deeply about what everybody was doing. I made it my business to know everybody.

“It was clear that Tom Watson didn’t do that.”

It is hard to imagine a leading player showing such disrespect to Jacklin in his day as that shown by Mickelson to Watson in the US team’s post-match press conference last Sunday.

“As Watson himself said, Mickelson is entitled to his opinion, but to make it so publically, I don’t think so,” says Jacklin. “That’s something that should have been saved for the journey home, or a private place.

“It was ill-timed and embarrassing, especially for Watson, who couldn’t defend himself.”

But was what Mickleson said correct? Have the Americans arrived at a fork in the road? Was Paul Azinger’s successful captaincy in 2008 their Jacklin moment, and have they failed to take advantage of it?

“Mickelson did have a point,” offers the 70-year-old.

“But at the end of the day, Azinger captained in a home match. Being the home team is always an advantage, there’s no question about that, and if he does it again in 2016, he will again be captain of a home team.

“It’s nowhere near as easy to captain an away team, because the home fans really are like the 13th man.

“There’s all the talk about pods that Azinger put in place, but it’s not as cut and dried as that.”

In the interests of a better US team equalling a more competitive Ryder Cup, is there a solution for American golf?

“The big problem is their all-exempt tour,” reasons Jacklin. “They have 125 players who are exempt. Take Briny Baird. He’s won over $13m in his career and never won a tournament.

“The all-exempt policy does not promote a winning philosophy. Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, exemptions only extended to the top 60 in America which meant you had to go out there and get a win.

“They need to make more room for excellence, instead of rewarding comfort.

“A couple of years ago I spoke to Jimmy Connors. He was coaching Andy Roddick at the time and his belief was that Roddick was a couple of inches away from being a great of the game, but Roddick’s attitude was ‘I’ve made $20m, why should I care?’.

“Connors believed then that tennis in America was finished, because these kids get too much too quickly. They get all these things thrown at them so early that they lose the incentive to keep their foot on the gas. Top sportsmen need pushing all the time.

“The European system is working. They face an uphill battle to get into the top five in the world rankings, with so many players now in America.

“Europeans have always felt they’ve had to do it the hard way. Think of Victor Dubuisson growing up in France with very few courses, Henrik Stenson in Sweden where you can play golf for only four months.

“They look at the US players and think they have everything. And ultimately when they get into the Ryder Cup they want to prove a point.

“That was the attitude all those years ago of Seve and myself.”

Tony Jacklin is on a UK Wide Tour until October 16. For information and dates visit www.tonyjacklin.com/theatre-tour