US OPEN 2012: Tony Jacklin interviewJune, 2012
The 1970 US Open champion on what it took to win at Hazeltine and why Trevino’s Muirfield show was his undoing
We are now into the fourth decade since Tony Jacklin won the US Open and still England awaits someone to follow in his footsteps.
Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have taken the title back to Northern Ireland but the plethora of Englishmen at the top of the world rankings will arrive at Olympic Club seeking to end a 42-year drought.
Here, he discusses his 1970 victory as well his Open triumph at Royal Lytham the previous year – as well as his fall from the top of the game.
Everyone obsesses these days about custom fitting. How would you make sure your clubs were suitable for you?
I always did that. I changed manufacturers a few times during the 70s but always maintained the same basic swing weights and the shafts never changed.
I knew what my specifications were with regard to all aspects of my clubs and, if I changed manufacturers, I made sure those things stayed the same. I might have been looking at a bit of a different shape at the end of the shaft but all the components were the same and I was very big on that actually.
In 1974 somebody did a survey on pro’s clubs and mine ended up to be the best set, by that I mean as a matched set, one club being the same as the other in terms of swing weight and playing characteristics.
But I used to do it all myself in those days.
I had all the bending equipment and swing weight machines and I took that as a very serious part of the business.
At the start of the week at Lytham in 1969 did you ever feel that something special was about to happen?
I was confident obviously and I had ambitions to win Majors. My ambition really was to be the best player in the world and obviously that included Majors but I always used to get a particular lift going back to the Open Championship in those days because playing the American tour full time I was just another sort of tour player.
The guys who got the attention in those days were Nicklaus and Palmer and, for the most part Americans, and every time I used to go back to the Open I got a tremendously warm welcome from the fans which gave me a lift.
I mean obviously it was extra pressure but it was nice to think that they were keeping an eye on my results during the winter and all the cab drivers when I used to arrive at Heathrow would wave and say hi.
They had a big golf society of course, the London cabbies, so I got a lot of support from fans and that meant a lot.
Dave Hill was always a very volatile character, I tried to take him with a pinch of salt really. I wasn’t going to let a guy like that take my eye off the ball. Everyone says Lee Trevino’s outrageous play over the weekend in 1972 was such a big factor in your career. Looking back 40 years later how much effect do you think it had?
During that championship I truly believed I was destined to win that and I certainly played better there than I did when I won in ‘69. I obviously played with Trevino the last two days and he kept making these audacious chips. He kept hitting it all over the shop really, one was a bunker shot that was one bounce straight in but to do it on the Sunday at the 71st hole was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I reacted in a sort of aggressive way and took a run at the putt and we all know what happened. I missed the return and didn’t par the last but I think it sort of changed my overall view on things, as far as Majors went anyway.
I mean I won tournaments every year during the 70s but I never really contended again in Majors which, as far as I was concerned, was what it was all about.
If you could have one mulligan would it be that first putt?
Oh yes, most definitely. I could have two putted all day long but you know, as I say, I reacted in an aggressive way and the greens in those days weren’t just as perfect as they are today and that was the end of the story.
At the 1970 US Open in your nearest rival was outspoken American Dave Hill. How difficult was he to play with?
Dave Hill was always a very volatile character, I tried to take him with a pinch of salt really. I wasn’t going to let a guy like that take my eye off the ball. He was basically a very mean-spirited individual in terms of foreign players. Hill once stood up in a player meeting in front of the commissioner and said we shouldn’t be playing in America.
We weren’t referred to as international players. There were a handful of Americans, not ones that really mattered, who resented us playing, it was as simple as that.
With a four-shot lead going into the final round in 1970, how nervous were you?
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a state like it. With all the history of it, nobody from home had won it for nearly 50 years and that was a hell of a long time. I was very aware of all the facts and to go in and not win was real pressure.
I felt like I would have been branded as the guy who blew it. I got off to a steady start and, at the 7th, I hit a 4-iron in to four or five feet and missed and that was the first one of that length I’d missed all week. I then hit a 2-iron to the 8th and managed to three putt that so that was two in a row and I thought “hello, what the hell’s going on here, are the wheels coming off?’
You holed one of the most famous putts in the US Open at the 9th. Tell us about that.
I played my approach to about 30 feet but hit the putt too hard, far too hard. I thought it was going so fast that it would go straight over the bloody hole but it hit the back of it and decided to drop.
And I then felt all that pressure just fall off me. I had cramps earlier in the day, which was all down to nerves. Sometimes I would get leg cramps when I was particularly nervous, and when that putt went in it felt like this was meant to be.
Given it was a US Open, how much could you relax after that?
I quite enjoyed the back nine. I got back on the thought process again and I remember being on the last green with another 30-footer thinking ‘wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to finish things off’ and, as I was thinking it, I was doing it. It was the best I played.
How many people would you have had around you in 1970?
I had Mark McCormack who had just established himself, especially in the United States, and my victories in the British and US Open obviously left me with great opportunities but it also was an opportunity for Mark to open up in Europe and go global really.
It wasn’t until much later on that I recognised that it wasn’t so much about me as it was about him.
I should have been living in America but living in England and commuting was really difficult and it limited my ability to stay at the top for very long.
Could you not have had a base in the States as well?
Well I did but I had an affiliation at Sea Island which I got on the back of winning at Jacksonville. Then when I won the Open McCormack went in there and upped the ante and then I won the US Open and he upped it again.
Instead of finding an innovative way, he could have said what about an apartment and we’ll do a deal over five years or something like that, it just disappeared.
It was about him, he wanted me in Europe as a catalyst to bring other sports people into his stable and it wasn’t considering my career, it was more what he wanted to do to expand his management company.