by Jeremy Chapman
What could be more appropriate in Ryder Cup year when the match goes to Hazeltine than a knighthood finally coming the way of Tony Jacklin CBE who conquered that controversial course in 1970 to become the first Brit for 45 years to win the US Open?
Jacklin is easy to underrate because he wasn’t at the top very long – I was at Muirfield in 1972 when Lee Trevino torpedoed his career by pitching in from the back of the 71st green and a shattered Tony three-putted from nowhere just when he had his name on a second Claret Jug.
But when Jacklin was good, he was very, very good and anyone who holds the Open Championships of the two main golfing nations at the same time, as he did in 1969-70, has to be extra-special.
And don’t forget Tony had to do it all on his own, not like Faldo and co who hunted down Stateside glory in droves in the next decade once Seve Ballesteros opened the floodgates at the 1980 Masters.
Jacklin did it without back-up, he was a genuine pioneer who, as he said, “loved putting two fingers up to the Americans”.
The best Europeans simply didn’t go to the US Open in those days. Nor did the UK media – only three British golf writers were at Hazeltine that windy Minnesota week when Jacklin, with the hottest of putters, blew them all away to win by seven.
Eleven months earlier he’d edged out Bob Charles at Royal Lytham to end an 18-year drought since the previous British winner, Max Faulkner. Suddenly, the cocky truck driver’s son from
Scunthorpe was a national hero and played the part a few months later when defeating and halving with Jack Nicklaus as GB & Ireland grabbed a Ryder Cup dead-heat at Royal Birkdale.
A tie was remarkable in those days when we had a massive inferiority complex long before Seve and the other continentals came in and those one-sided matches became competitive.
That was down to Jacklin, too. He led Europe to two historic victories, captaining the side to a first triumph in 28 painful years in 1985 before a breakthrough victory in the States at Muirfield Village two years later.
That was only part of it. In his first captaincy, in 1983, he had got the Europeans to believe in themselves, insisting on first-class flights, the smartest uniforms, everything.
And he made Ballesteros a talisman, sweet-talking the Spaniard back into the fold after the spat that saw our top player axed for the ’81 match at Walton Heath.
It so nearly worked first time, going down to the wire before the USA squeaked home. But they were suddenly seen to be beatable. After that, it was only a question of when, not if. And “when” came just two years later.
A knighthood is no less than he deserves, and I say this as someone who thought he was a total pain in the neck as a pro-am partner at the 1980 Coral Welsh Classic.
By then, he was a spent force as a top-liner and it showed, making his caddie’s life a misery and making little or no attempt to engage his three amateurs in conversation, walking far ahead as we hacked away.
And when he said afterwards “sorry, guys, I won’t be having lunch with you, I’ve got to get to London for a meeting”, it marked an underwhelming end to what should have been a day to savour, five hours in the company of a great British sporting hero.
But there are plenty of grumpy knights, particularly if you catch them on a bad day, and I’ll still cast a vote for Sir Anthony Jacklin. He’ll be 72 in July and a date with Her Majesty is overdue.