Tony Jacklin on the Ryder Cup: From The Concession to Concorde to Europe's chances in Rome
Yet there is one event for which Jacklin will forever be connected - the Ryder Cup.
Whether it be the concession with Jack Nicklaus in 1969, flying his players out on Concorde in 1983 or finally leading Europe to a victory in the United States four years later, no presence has loomed as large over golf’s most famous biennial tussle than the 5ft 10in Jacklin from Lincolnshire.
Seve Ballesteros is as close as it gets, for his swashbuckling play, his cheering and cajoling of team-mates and the fight and spirit he showed in transforming what had through much of the competition’s history been a one-way wall of red to mark American victories. But even that mercurial talent needed harnessing, needed leadership. Jacklin provided it at every turn.
It was all suits and stuffiness when he took the captaincy in 1983. When he left it in 1989 it was cashmere and class, with a format that evened the playing field and two wins for Europe plus a draw that meant Samuel Ryder’s trophy was in his continent’s possession when he moved on.
“1983 was the year of the most significant change,” Jacklin tells The Yorkshire Post via a facetime call from his Florida home, 48 hours before he flew out to Rome for the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club.
“That’s when I addressed what to me were the fundamental aspects of what was wrong.
“We were being organised by secretaries of the PGA, guys that didn’t have to stand over a five-footer on the 18th green and win matches or walk on the first tee and be announced and hit their drive. They were administrators, they shouldn’t have been responsible for picking uniforms etc.
“They didn’t know much about travelling first class. I knew we were being treated a lot differently to the Americans and our self-esteem was affected by that.
“We never even had a team room. We were told who we were playing with the night before in the locker room and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. You were left to your own devices. It wasn’t conducive to creating team spirit.
“So we took care of the team room, took care of the clothing, and we flew Concorde which was no less than what the Americans did.
“We couldn’t take our caddies to America before because we couldn’t afford it.
“So once those issues were addressed in 1983 we came within a single point of winning, and I’d not even had a captain’s pick because I’d only been appointed six months before.
“And despite all of that, Lanny Wadkins saved the day for America. We were gutted to go so close, but it was by far and away our best performance on American soil.
“It was Seve who actually said ‘don’t be so sad, this is the best we’ve ever done’.”
If introducing Ballesteros and European golfers into the team in 1979 was transformative, Jacklin’s captaincy and that 1983 near miss at PGA National at Palm Beach was the true turning point.
Two years later, a first European victory since 1957 at Lindrick was achieved.
“Yes 1983 hurt,” continues Jacklin, “but once we had time to let the dust settle I realised I’d covered all the main points and the players had responded by very simply playing their hearts out.
“We went with that in ‘85 at the Belfry and got it done in front of the home crowd.
“We were behind but had a resolve that wasn’t there before. This is when confidence is born, when you’re digging deep and you know you’re being treated in the right way and the playing field is level.
“I was at the Belfry a few months ago, I never walk past that rooftop where we celebrated without thinking back. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
There are countless ‘yesterdays’ in Jacklin’s connection with the competition, all chronicled wonderfully by the man himself and Tony Jimenez in a new book: ‘Tony Jacklin - My Ryder Cup Journey’.
Like the time he led Europe to a first win on American soil at Muirfield Village in 1987, and the tie with the United States two years later that kept the cup in European hands.
And of course the moment he is probably most synonymous with, the concession, when Nicklaus conceded Jacklin's putt on the 18th, halving the match, and ending the Ryder Cup with a tied score in 1969, arguably the greatest act of sportsmanship in not just golf, but sport at the highest level.
“He had every right to make me putt, and it was a critical moment from a Ryder Cup standpoint,” recalls Jacklin, no doubt retelling the story for the thousandth time.
“We’d played in the morning, we’d been together all that day, and I think he recognised that as the Open champion as I was, he didn’t want to see anything bad happen.
“Besides that, if you go to YouTube you can see how long the putt was. People have said it was three-foot…well it wasn’t three foot. Christ, people have written books on this subject, interviewed all of the American team members, and back in those days there were a few players in that team that wouldn’t give you the drippings off their nose, they were a miserable bunch.
“They were very protective of all things American to the point where they resented us playing.
“You ask one of those guys outright ‘do you think Nicklaus should have given Jacklin the putt’, they’ll say ‘absolutely not, I’d have made him putt that son of a…’
“It was a 20-inch putt. That’s the bottom line. Jack has said so many times and he’s also said many times that he would concede it every time.
“It was a fair result on how the matches had gone. A tie was a good result.
“You can debate it all you like. Would I have made it? I’d like to think so, but it was nice not to have to.”
The two of them will be reunited in Rome next week, representing different sides but also the spirit of the Ryder Cup.
One of the event’s sponsors, Aon, has capitalised on the moment’s notoriety by creating the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award to be presented to a player who best embodies their spirit of sportsmanship.
“It might be a match that stands out for its sportsmanship. The whole thing is based on decision-making and sportsmanship,” explains Jacklin. “Jack and I normally agree on these things. Just like when we played, it was never a war.”
When asked for the chances of a European win, Jacklin is quietly confident.
Padraig Harrington’s men were ambushed at Whistling Straits two years ago, but Europe now have a more mature Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland, a refocused Rory McIlroy, and a tranche of new faces.
“I think we’ve got a very strong team,” offers Jacklin, who is a healthy 79. “I like the youth coming into the team and I don’t think the ones that missed out through LIV would have been on the team anyway, maybe Sergio would have got a pick.
“We need a Fleetwood and a Fitzpatrick to take a leading role. They’ve got the experience now as well.”
And he likes the captain, Luke Donald, who contacted Jacklin for some advice earlier this summer. Wise move.
“Some people say the captain doesn’t make a difference. Opinions, everybody has different views,” scoffs Jacklin.
“I was all about trying to match up players with personalities because I believed and I still believe to this day that people feed off each other, certain personalities gel. It’s no different to who you pick to be your friend. You don’t pick a friend you blatantly dislike.
“Lee Trevino in ‘85 pooh-poohed that. He had this superior confidence born of umpteen wins by America - ‘You two play together and go and kick butt’ - that was his attitude. I just soldiered on with my beliefs. It’s about thinking on your feet, about having the courage to make decisions that you think are right.
“It’s all changed a lot. There’s five vice captains now, I never had a vice-captain, the buck stopped at me and ultimately the buck will stop at Luke.
“We chatted about it a few months ago. As captain you’re just trying to keep a happy ship, you want to be the best friend you can be to every individual.
“It’s important to have a one-on-one relationship with every player.
“You also get closer to God - because you do a lot of praying that you get things right.
“Once you’ve made those decisions there’s no turning back.”
Tony Jacklin knows that better than anyone.
Tony Jacklin: My Ryder Cup Journey, by Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie, is available for £9.99 from the publishers, Waterstones, Amazon and other leading outlets