Fifty years on after winning the Open Championship at Lytham Tony Jacklin looks back on the victory that finally ended the British major drought
If you’ve never watched a clip of Tony Jacklin winning the 1969 Open then it’s worth it for Henry Longhurst’s commentary alone. It had been 18 years since a fellow Briton, Max Faulkner, at this year’s venue, Royal Portrush, had got the hob done and it would be another 16 years after Jacklin before Sandy Lyle would do likewise.
This was a win for the ages and Jacklin did it in style. For one month in 1970 he even also held the US Open following his exhibition at Hazeltine, it was the only European victory in the event in a period that lasted 84 years.
Fifty years on he looks back on those golden days…
Does Lytham feel like 50 years, yesterday or something in between?
Probably something in between, 50 years is a hell of a long time but I remember it vividly and it changed my life. It was a perfect week, I didn’t play spectacular golf but you don’t have to on links courses. I played and putted solidly and it was more a test of patience. Historically when you want something that’s the difficult bit not to get ahead of yourself.
Did you feel ready to win a major?
I won the Jacksonville Open the year before and I was making my way in America and that win really boosted my confidence. I was playing with Arnold Palmer and Don January on the final day and it wasn’t easy at that time with Arnie’s Army so that stood me in good stead for the Open.
I was coming back to home soil I got terrific support and it was clear that they were interested in what I had been doing in the States. It was obvious from my first practice round that I would get a great following and that made me feel important and it was heartening as in the States I was just another player.
How familiar were you with Lytham?
I qualified for the 63 Open there when I was 19 and that was the start of my professional career really. I got a little Morris Minor and travelled in that to all events in the UK.
They had the Pringle Tournament there in 1967 and I won that so I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I’ve just been made an honorary member which is lovely and I’ll play there this summer in a charity game.
There was no European Tour then and I was actually the first one in Europe to make a living purely out of playing, my peers like Peter Alliss and Dai Rees all had jobs in the winter to go back to, I never did that. From 1963 I would play overseas in the winter like the Far East.
Peter Alliss said he’d like to be a member of Lytham, of all the Open courses, where would you have it?
That would also be Lytham, both as a club to go to and it’s a tremendous test. It lacks the look of a Turnberry, you don’t see the water and there is the railway and red-roofed houses but the back nine has some outstanding holes and, with a stiff breeze, is a mean test.
And how much of a fan were you with seaside golf?
In the 1960s all the great courses were links so we played nearly all our golf on links courses as no modern courses had been built by then. We had Sunningdale and Wentworth but the vast majority were links. I was weened on that form and you had to use your imagination and not just get a yardage and hit. You have to learn how to use the wind and play the shot that is required and I was comfortable doing that.
The ’69 Open was the first to use on-course leaderboards, how did it compare as a major to those in the States?
When Palmer won in ’61-’62 the R&A realised that they had to get off their backsides and put on an event properly. A delegation went to America every year and learnt how to put on a tournament.
The Americans didn’t generally defend at the Open as it was lousy prize money, to come over cost more than first prize. Then things turned around.
The R&A were adding things every year and make it more professional and this was the first colour TV Open and I won with a small ball which was mandatory.
A lot is talked about how well you scrambled on the Saturday?
That is part and parcel of pulling something off, it’s not a game of perfect on links courses with funny bounces.
There was some talk of conforming clubs at the start of the week with the grooves and I took my sand wedge in to have it tested and they ummed and ahhed and they thought the grooves might be a bit on the edge so I went into the Dunlop tent and got myself a Roberto De Vicenzo sand wedge – I was in 11 greenside bunkers and I got up and down every time.
What advice would you pass on to someone playing four rounds in typical Open conditions?
Tempo is a big thing. I played in a lot of Opens and you get drawn with players who didn’t understand the nuances. I played with an American and he took driver on every hole, it was insane, you can’t play links golf like that.
I was always impressed by Peter Thomson and Bobby Locke growing up and I played a lot with Peter and his whole thing was patience, he would hit a lot of 3-woods and he was so patient. Keeping the ball in play is paramount and you can’t play a links course out of the rough.
How much did winning the Open in 1969 and the US Open the following year change your life?
It cemented my position as one of the best players on the planet and that was my inspiration as a young man, to be the best player in the world and I had a month of holding the two trophies. I didn’t fear anyone at that time but I was still learning.
I didn’t do everything right, I went with Mark McCormack and he was giving me the runaround and going here, there and everywhere. Winning two majors didn’t give you financial security, from my background I wanted to be secure and McCormack had me travelling everywhere and a man is not a machine and it shortened my time at the top. I was trying to be all things to all people and overdid it. Nicklaus would play 18 events a year, I would be 28-30 plus other bits all over the world.
I was intrigued by a question on Twitter of whether you would rather win a major or be World No. 1, how can anybody think like that? The majors are sacred, who remembers if you’re the No. 1 for two days? If you win a major you’re part of the Holy Grail.
Have you played Portrush?
I played there in a Senior Open. I missed the cut, the rough was so high and there were stewards everywhere and I lost a ball when I missed the fairway by a few yards at the 2nd.
It’s a brave move by the R&A to take it there but they’ll get a great response.
If you were to have a fiver each-way who would you go with?
I wouldn’t back anyone against Tiger if he stays healthy, the trouble is the variables with links golf and getting the right tee times. I’m not sure the likes of a Dustin Johnson realise the importance of playing from the fairway, they are all obsessed with power and that really doesn’t matter which is why it brings a whole lot of new players into the mix. Tiger gets it and he has the strongest mind so it will be fascinating to watch him at Portrush.
Tony has invested in the Zest.Golf crowdfunding campaign, the company that is transforming global online golf tee time sales. To find out more about the business and get involved visit the website.