Open Championship of ’69 fresh in memory of Lytham hero Tony Jacklin
ON that July morning in 1969, Tony Jacklin rose early and wondered what the hell he was going to do with himself. It was breakfast time in Lytham and he’d hours to kill.
Did he want to go to the golf course? Did he heck. He didn’t want to go to church either – he was never that way inclined – but he remembers asking God to give him strength to get through the day. Not the strength to defend the two-shot lead he had going into the final round of the Open championship – never that – but the sustenance to deal with whatever was going to be thrown at him, the moral fibre to handle what lay ahead.
“That last morning, you need to occupy yourself in a positive way, you need to put your mind at rest,” he says. I cleared off to some stately home in Lytham. Just got away from the madding crowd. A lot goes through your mind in those hours. You’re walking around knowing that what’s going to happen to you that day is a life changer.”
A life changer, indeed. Forty three years on and Jacklin remains the last Englishman to win the Open in England. Incredible, but true. He’s coming over this week. Back to where it all started. He’ll be holding court in Lytham today, doing a press conference and talking of old times. Lytham was where he won the first of his two majors, but it was also where he won his first professional tournament. The 1967 Pringle, he says. “It only lasted a year or two, but that’s where the love of Lytham started. The Pringle. Nobody remembers that now.”
Everybody remembers ’69 though. The first time leaderboards were used in the Open. The first time there was closed-circuit television. The first time The Open was broadcast in colour. And the first time in 18 years that there was a British winner, a British winner who laughs now at the memory of the early days of that week when he looked at the groves on his sand-wedge and wondered if he dared use it, a British winner who went directly to the Dunlop shop and bought a new sand-wedge off the rack for fear that his own weapon didn’t conform, a British winner who then used this new club like it was an old and faithful friend, carrying it into 11 greenside bunkers that week and getting up and down every single time.
“You remember little things,” he says. “The up and downs with that new sand-wedge, that’s just come back to me now. I think it was a Roberto De Vicenzo club. I remember my caddie, Willie Hilton. We were on about the third or fourth fairway on the final round and he hadn’t said a word. I was nervous, you know. It’s no picnic out there. Willie’s the only guy I can talk to. I said, ‘Willie, I’m a bit apprehensive here, any chance we can have a bit of a chit-chat?’ Willie says., ‘Oh yeah, sorry, talk about anything you like!’ He hadn’t realised that he’d fallen into the pressure-trap. Willie’s long gone now, but I recall that like it was yesterday.”
Forty three years. Jesus, where did the time go? The human mind is a remarkable thing, he tells you. He was 25 years old then and now more than four decades have passed and yet he knows not just the shots he hit on the closing holes but how he felt standing over each one. “I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t difficult. The last three or four holes things come into your head. ‘In an hour from now will I be Open champion?’ I had to stop myself thinking that way. I had to stay in the moment. It’s easy to talk about but very hard to do.”
He’s talking now about the 18th tee. He’s up there with the great Bob Charles, the winner the last time the Open had been at Lytham. He has a two-shot lead but he’s lost the honour and he knows all about the damage this 18th hole can wreak. He’s thinking of Eric Brown and Christy O’Connor Snr and Dave Thomas and the trouble they found off the tee at critical times in their own Open challenge in the past. He’s looking at Charles’s drive and it’s heading for one of the million bunkers on the course. “I was very aware of the danger that existed on that hole and I remember Charles drove first and pulled his tee shot. I watched his ball to its absolute finish and it jumped over the end of the bunker on the right side of the fairway and he said to his caddie, ‘I think that’s in the trap’, and I knew damn well that it wasn’t and I still don’t know to this day if it was a ploy on his part. I was hitting a lot of 1-irons but I had no choice to hit driver. You can’t play safe there. Ah, that feeling on that tee is as clear in my mind now as it was then. ‘Keep it wide and smooth TJ, you’ve done this thousands of times’ and I hit a great drive.” Or in the unforgettable words of Henry Longhurst, “Oh, what a corker!”
“I said to Jack Nicklaus later that I didn’t think I could be that nervous and still play controlled golf. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘I know. Isn’t it great!’
The drive on 18 has gone down on legend, less so the 7-iron that found the green after the drive. In that one shot lies the story of Jacklin’s success. Through the 1960s he became aware that he didn’t have control of his golf swing, that the more pressure situations he got into, the quicker his swing became and the more likely he was to make a mistake. He went to America to learn about tempo and found inspiration in Tom Weiskopf among others.
“I’m not being unkind, but there wasn’t the knowledge in Europe there was in America. In America you had better conditions to work on your technique and on that basis they knew more about how the golf swing operated and I quickly latched on the likes of Weiskopf and Bert Yancey. I knew that speed was killing me. There was never enough room on the left side of the golf course. I was young, strong, ambitious and impatient to get it done and it was through these experiences in the mid-’60s that I came to accept that I would not be able to control the golf ball in the final holes of a major unless I could control the speed of my swing.”
His approach to 18 that evening was a full 8-iron or a gentle 7; he went for the gentle 7. “I’d hit thousands of thousands of controlled 7-irons. I just laid the club-head on the ball and it was all very smooth.”
Coaches today? Don’t get him started. He was with Butch Harmon a few years back and they were watching Anthony Kim play. “Swing like greased lightning, that kid. I said to Butch, ‘Don’t they teach tempo anymore?’ I see it all the time. They all have these coaches but the coaches have never won any bloody thing. It’s a bit like Trevino said, ‘Show me all these guys that can beat me and then I’ll listen to them’.
“There’s so much bullshit. You turn on the Golf Channel now and everybody’s got theories. I played in America with Nicklaus and Palmer and Player – all the greats. Hell’s teeth. I’m looking at what they do and how they do it. Is that not better than listening to some guy who has never won a tournament in his bloody life? It’s got to be better. You’re playing alongside major winners, guys who have done it under pressure. They’re not pretending. They’re the do-ers. They’ve been there. This is one of the things about players today, they’re listening to guys who are not fit to shine their shoes. It’s unbelievable.”
The last Englishman to win the Open in England. That one makes him laugh. Who’d have thought it? Crazy. “I think that might change this year. The likes of Lee Westwood and Luke Donald are in with a good chance. Of course, the longer it takes the harder it is, the more aware you are of things that could go wrong. I was always grateful I got it done early, but it hasn’t broken Westwood’s consistency. It’s one of the great keys to his game. He’s a great driver of the ball. I always considered myself a good driver and Lytham probably more than most links courses is very demanding off the tee.
“All those bunkers. You could draw a red line around most of the fairway bunkers and say it’s a one shot penalty. You really need to stay out of them. I think this is his best chance of a major for some time. He likes the big stage even if he hasn’t quite got it done.
“It’s a hell of a place, Lytham. It goes under the radar a little bit. The other Open courses get more credit, but it’s a terrific test of golf. I hope Lee or Luke get that feeling coming down the stretch that I got. I hope the time has come.”
• Tony Jacklin has been appointed an Ambassador for Glenmorangie ahead of the 2012 Open Championship
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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