Not since the passing of Seve Ballesteros just under six years ago has European golf been so mournful. It follows the death of John Jacobs, the “founding father” of the European Tour, two-time European Ryder Cup captain and coaching genius, at the age of 91.
The Yorkshireman was an accomplished player, recording two professional wins as he beat Gary Player in the final of the South African Match Play Masters in 1957, the same year he claimed the Dutch Open title by three strokes over the Belgian, Flory Van Donck.
He played in the 1955 Ryder Cup in California before serving as captain in the 1979 contest, when European players competed for the very first time, then again two years later. By then, Jacobs had been instrumental in taking golf on this side of the Atlantic through dramatic change.
Having taken up a role as tournament director-general of the PGA Executive Committee in 1971, he was responsible for the establishment of a “Continental Swing”.
Embracing the French, German and Spanish Opens, it was the catalyst for the first official European Tour event being staged at Pals Golf Club in Girona in 1972.
Without Jacobs’ drive and vision, the circuit wouldn’t have provided such good opportunities for the likes of Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer when they were starting out as young professionals. He also laid the foundations for the European Tour’s subsequent expansion into the Middle East and, of course, the introduction of a money-spinning Rolex Series this season.
Jacobs also had a huge impact on the sport as a coach, working with some of the game’s top players as well as helping humble beginners. He wrote the PGA’s first training manual and, decades later, his principles are still at the core of every professional’s education. He was also the visionary behind the growth of driving ranges, realising their value for both professionals and students who wanted learn and improve day or night, all year round.
Ken Schofield, the Scot who took over from Jacobs at the helm of the then fledgling European Tour, described him as “a great man, a giant in the game of golf”. He added: “A champion and a Ryder Cup player in his own right, but John will be defined as one of the great coaches of our time – through his teaching of the game at all levels and in all corners of the globe.
“For ourselves at the European Tour, it is suffice to say that, as the Tour’s founding father, he was chosen by his peers to set everything up – which he did brilliantly – inspiring everybody who cares for the tournament game. We will miss him but his indelible link will remain large.”
Sandy Jones, the PGA’s chief executive, added: “John Jacobs will be fondly remembered by those of us who were privileged to know him. Quite simply he was a legend of the game and his name will sit at the top table with all the golfing greats.”
Former Open champion Paul Lawrie described Jacobs as a “gentleman” and said he “was always ahead of his time”, while Bernard Gallacher was a rising star in the Lothians when he first saw Jacobs at work on the range at Dalmahoy.
“John got an enormous amount of pleasure helping people hit the ball better,” said the three-time Ryder Cup captain. “And it didn’t matter whether you were a professional or a high handicapper – he always had time. I remember thinking he had no time to practise himself, because he was too busy giving lessons. All the pros wanted him to look at their swings. And all he needed was a few minutes.”