Tony Jacklin rules out drug abuse by top golfers

Tony Jacklin. Picture: Contributed
Tony Jacklin. Picture: Contributed
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A MAJOR winner coming clean about popping pills may well be the confession golf’s cynics are desperate to hear but Tony Jacklin admitting he had taken something to counteract feeling “wired” in the 1969 Open Championship is unlikely to set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Speaking yesterday at Cameron House on the banks of Loch Lomond, the 68-year-old Englishman insisted ardenaline was the only thing that ever flowed through his veins and echoed his fellow former Ryder Cup captains, Bernard Gallacher and Paul Azinger, in claiming that golf doesn’t have a doping ­problem.

Jacklin, an ambassador for this week’s 20th anniversary World Corporate Golf Challenge, which is being held at The Carrick, was responding to former Masters champion Vijay Singh escaping punishment by the PGA Tour despite admitting he had used deer antler spray, which contains a banned substance.

“From my understanding of it, there was such a small amount of the substance in this deer antler spray that he wasn’t doing anything that was going to make him a better golfer,” said Jacklin, who followed up his Open Championship win at Lytham by also claiming the US Open at Hazeltine the following year.

“When they outlawed certain substances, I think that was probably one that maybe could have been put to one side. But it wasn’t my job to judge that, it was [PGA Tour commissioner] Tim Finchem’s and I think it [last week’s decision] was fair dos.

“I don’t think Vijay was getting any particular advantage doing it.

“I’ve never seen any evidence of golfers taking anything to improve their performance. There are stories that some of the boys used to smoke loco-weed, but I never knew about it. Brian Barnes said he used to have a drink, but I never knew he was doing it other than when he sometimes walked around the course with a beer can.

“The game won’t have it, if that makes any sense. The best players have to have all their wits about them and it’s about courage in the end – and Dutch courage doesn’t do it.

“I used to have to take sleeping pills at night because I was so wired that I needed something just to put me down. [Former PGA Tour player] Bert Yancey famously had to put me into bed next to my wife the night before I won The Open. I couldn’t remember it, but he’d guided me upstairs and I got a good eight hours’ solid sleep. I knew I couldn’t do it [win] without sleep.

“I needed to take the pill because I was so up and immediately I was awake I was back up there again. I was so wired, the adrenaline was flowing and I was on edge all the time. The challenge is controlling all of that.

“But there’s nothing that I know of that could counteract nerves out on the golf course. You’ve got to be able to deal with that yourself.”

A member of the sport’s Hall of Fame – he has criticised Colin Montgomerie being one of the latest inductees over his failure to win a major – Jacklin received a reminder about the biggest influence on his career when he took part in a “Greats of Golf” event in Texas last weekend.

“On reflection, the most important things I learned were mostly from Jack Nicklaus,” he admittted. “For example, when I won The Open, I said to him I didn’t think I could be that nervous and still play and Jack said, ‘I know, isn’t it great?’ Which told me immediately that’s the way he was when he won, too.

“Then I remember the Ryder Cup that same year. When we were tied on the last hole, Jack called me back off the 18th tee and said ‘Are you nervous?’ I said ‘I’m petrified’ and he said, ‘I thought I’d ask because I feel the same way you do, if it’s any consolation’.

“When I won my US Open, while I’m not a religious guy, I prayed that day. Not to win but just to have the strength to get through the day. I would have changed places with any form of humanity before I went out for that final day. But, when I finished four hours later, I wouldn’t have changed places with anybody that ever lived before or after.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Jacklin described Augusta National admitting its first two women members as a “wise decision”, while he insisted the move by the R&A and USGA to ban anchoring was “30 years too late”, claiming other matters in the game needed to be addressed more than that.

“I think the more important issue is the ball,” he insisted. “The game is also taking longer and people are moving away from it because of that, while courses are getting longer and it’s therefore more expensive to maintain them.

“All these issues are more important than the putter issue. We’ve somehow got to get to a situation where we can get round a golf course in two-and-a-half to three hours and have fun doing it.”

Since launching solely in the UK in 1993, the World Corporate Golf Challenge has spread to around 30 countries and is set to get even bigger when it involves China for the first time next year. Honoured to be involved, Jacklin joked that the standard of some golfers reflected their position in business.

“The wonderful saying is that ‘the man who can’t break 80 has no business to be in golf and the man who can break 80 has no business’,” he said, smiling.