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  • Alistair Tait

Tony Jacklin’s Ryder Cup Legacy

The spirit of Seve Ballesteros is in evidence in every Ryder Cup Europe now plays. Images of the great man are never far away.

Quite right too, but I can’t help feel that as the years pass by Tony Jacklin’s role in reversing Europe’s fortunes is being forgotten. A read of Jacklin’s recently released book, Tony Jacklin: My Ryder Cup Journey, written in collaboration with excellent former Reuters journalist Tony Jimenez, is a timely reminder the two-time major champion was instrumental in setting the tone for Europe’s current success.

The Ryder Cup was on life support when the Englishman was making seven consecutive appearances in the then Great Britain & Ireland team between 1967-1977. Few American golf fans knew of its existence. Those who did didn’t pay it much attention. American players had become apathetic too. Tom Weiskopf skipped the 1977 match to go hunting. Jacklin writes:

“Weiskopf’s decision to spurn the opportunity to represent the Americans signalled the beginning of the end for the competition. …It was withering on the vine.”

America’s dominance even had Jacklin wondering why he bothered to turn up every second year. Lest we forget, Jacklin compiled a personal playing record of 13 wins, 14 losses and eight halves. Not bad considering GB&I got waxed every second year with the exception of that famous halved match in 1969, when Jacklin and a guy called Jack Nicklaus played key roles.

“It’s probably fair to say my interest in the Ryder Cup was waning too. … I was getting tired of being kicked in the butt by the Americans every couple of years.”

History notes that Nicklaus’ intervention to lobby for Europeans, especially Ballesteros, to play in the 1979 match changed the contest forever. However, Jacklin’s captaincy should not be overlooked or forgotten either.

It was Jacklin who talked Seve into returning to the contest after he was left out of the 1981 match. Jacklin forged a bond with Seve because they had so much in common when it came to trying to get one over American golfers. As Jacklin notes in the book, stars like Nicklaus, Weiskopf and others welcomed him to the PGA Tour with home arms, but rank and file members weren’t so cordial.

“As far as they were concerned, I was invading their territory and they weren’t happy about that.”

Seve experienced that too when he played in the United States. Moreover, both men had run ins with European Tour top brass that further strengthened the bond between them. Nicklaus may have suggested Ballesteros for the competition, but it was Jacklin who helped light the fire under Seve.

And what a fire. Seve was the on-course leader for Jacklin’s four stints as captain between 1983-1989, a period in which he delivered the first Ryder Cup victory since 1957, and the first overseas win when he led the 1987 team. He came within a point of winning in 1983, and retained the trophy in 1989. Quite simply, he’s Europe’s most successful skipper.

There was another intangible in Jacklin’s leadership that is taken for granted today. He insisted on the best for his players, that they be on an equal footing with the American team. He details shoddy uniforms and poor equipment to the extent one of Jacklin’s shoes literally fell apart during a match. In came cashmere, top of the line equipment, first-class travel, and a team room for his players that we take for granted nowadays.

“It was a joke in the seventies,” Jackline writes.
“I thought this (becoming captain) would be a great opportunity to put things right and make a real difference to the team’s chances.”

Scotland’s Bernard Gallacher, Jacklin’s one vice-captain before the age of more assistants than can be counted on one hand, is in no doubt about Jacklin’s legacy.

“The big difference in Tony’s time as captain was that it was a boys-together-in-the-team-room type of atmosphere.
“He broke down the barriers.”

So by all means continue to laud the late, great Seve Ballesteros, but never forget Tony Jacklin’s Ryder Cup legacy.

#JustSaying: “Tony paved the way for European team golf and the Ryder Cup being the enormous global spectacle it is today. The history of Jacklin’s four matches as captain … was the prelude to what has been over 30 years of European dominance in the Ryder Cup.” Paul Azinger

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1 Comment

Sep 26, 2021

Tony Jacklin- what a figure in the game. Thanks for writing this. He must not be swept aside. I wonder what his playing record would have been (and it was a great one)had Trevino not chipped in on him those times at Muirfield. Seemed to almost break his spirit. But then that was before Insta and Twitter so who but us old goats remember such? What a beautiful player Tony was.

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