AS THE countdown clock to the Ryder Cup returning to Scotland for the first time in 40 years reaches 500 days, there’s surely no-one better placed to set the scene for next year’s match at Gleneagles than Tony Jacklin.
Not only was the Englishman involved in the 1973 match at Muirfield as a member of the Great Britain & Ireland team, but it was mainly down to him that the face of the biennial event has changed beyond recognition over the intervening period.
It was Jacklin who turned the tide in the Ryder Cup’s history by demanding that Europe should not feel like second-class citizens before a ball had even been struck and leading them to back-to-back victories, including the first by a visiting team on American soil.
“There’s an element of satisfaction, but all I did was level the playing field,” Jacklin told The Scotsman when asked about the role he had played in shaping the massive event heading for the PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire next September.
“I encouraged my players, obviously, but getting a team room where we could work as a team and be together, and all the other issues whether it was travelling at the back of the bus or wearing cheap clothes as opposed to what our American adversaries were doing, all those things were to enable us to stand on the first tee all square instead of two down.
“Self-esteem for the greatest players in the world is a very important aspect of it. We’re talking, especially today, 12 millionaires who can do anything they want, when they want, and how they want. They’ve got to be treated with respect and only the best is good enough for them.”
With Seve Ballesteros as his on-course leader, Jacklin paved the way for Europe’s golden era in the event by following up a narrow 1983 defeat at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida by winning at The Belfry two years later before repeating the feat with an historic triumph over a side captained by Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village in 1987.
When Europe then held on to the little gold trophy once again after a draw back at The Belfry, Jacklin’s place in Ryder Cup folklore had been well and truly secured and, during a visit to Scotland last week in his role as ambassador for the Corporate World Challenge, he happily reminisced about the event.
“In Britain, we’ve always taken the Ryder Cup very serious and rightly so,” he added. “We looked upon America to be a big thing. Whether it was Hollywood movies or whatever, America’s always bigger and better. That doesn’t mean to say that with a level playing field we can’t compete, and we have.
“Myself and Seve always took the view: just because you’ve got more courses, more people, better weather, more money to play for, doesn’t mean to say that today, this day, at matchplay, you will beat us. The Europeans get great team unity out of that.
“My favourite memory has to be winning at Muirfield Village, first time on American soil. There’s only ever one first time, and to be there and be part of it was just... and beating Jack, greatest player in the world, on his course, that was pretty special.
“About 1000 people went over and Lord Derby said you will all always be able to say, I was there. That night, after the match, I got every player in cars to go to the hotel where the spectators were staying and we go in, unannounced, all of us, with the Ryder Cup, when they were all in the middle of dinner.
“It was just five minutes to say ‘thank-you’ but, after five minutes, I was saying to Seve and others, ‘come on, we’ve to go now’ and they were all saying, ‘no, no, we’re very happy here’. We stayed there for a long time and had a great time. It was very, very special.”
So, too, was a gesture by Nicklaus in the 1969 match at Royal Birkdale, where an acrimonious encounter ended with the American generously conceding a putt to Jacklin in the knowledge that it would be drawn.
Wearing a polo shirt bearing the name “The Concession”, the club that the pair co-designed near Sarasota in Florida on the back of the friendship spawned that day, Jacklin said he was sure the Gleneagles match will be played “by gentlemen in great sportsmanship”.
The 68-year-old is also confident that Paul McGinley, the first Irishman to get the captaincy, will lead Europe to victory despite the fact he will have a formidable opposite number in five-time Open champion Tom Watson after the Americans re-appointed him in a bid to improve a record of just two wins in the last nine jousts.
“Tom’s well respected and he’s done it all in spades,” admitted Jacklin. “I think it was a good move on the American end to make him captain and he will guide his flock and might have influence in pairings, but he can’t play for them.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think his influence is going to make any difference. I’d be very surprised if Europe didn’t win. At a home event, especially in Scotland in September when the weather can be… yucky.”
Jacklin admitted he’d “leaned very heavily” on his major winners, the likes of Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal and, of course, Sandy Lyle, during his captaincy.
“They didn’t get much rest,” he recalled. “There was a time when Langer wanted to be rested one afternoon and I told him, ‘Bernhard you’re better for me tired than my alternative fresh, you’re a great champion’ and you could see his chest puff out at that.”
One of the criticisms aimed at Davis Love III as America let a winning position slip from their grasp in the last encounter at Medinah was that he allowed Phil Mickelson to sit out the Saturday afternoon session despite him and Keegan Bradley having been a revelation for a day and a half. “That was a mistake in my opinion,” noted Jacklin. “You only get one chance.”