The Open: Tony made our golfers into equals

Tony Jacklin on the first day of the 1972 Open. Picture: TSPL

Tony Jacklin on the first day of the 1972 Open. Picture: TSPL

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TO A generation, the sight of European golfers taking almost half the places in the top ten of the world rankings must seem commonplace.

Bookmakers’ odds for the Open, which started today at Muirfield, also endorsed Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald as leading contenders.

But it was not always so and the man credited as catalyst for change has been quietly walking the fairways this week – unlike back in 1972 when he was at the centre of one of he greatest dramas this competition has known.

It was to end in heartbreak for Tony Jacklin the day he was edged out by Lee Trevino, but with hindsight the experience went towards proving the Americans had no divine right to triumph in major events and the renaissance of European golf can be traced back to that final round.

On his own admission, Jacklin’s days as a serious contender for major honours himself ended when “Super Mex” chipped in for an outrageous par at the 71st hole and the fourth time in the tournament.

Jacklin, of course, had already proved himself by winning the Open and its US equivalent and admits that, had he not tasted that earlier success in the majors, his East Lothian heartache would have left him “wrecked”.

His competive edge nevertheless blunted by trauma, Jacklin was free to embark on a journey towards golfing statesmanship and specifically Ryder Cup captaincy which he used to improve the status and outlook of the European player in four successive matches at the helm.

To this day, players are enjoying the benefits, hence the look of world rankings and bookmakers boards.

“I felt we were being treated as second-class citizens,” said 68-year-old Jacklin, adding: “We were sent out to do our work by administrators.

“We were at the back of the British Airways plane wearing anything anybody gave us.

“It just wasn’t a professional approach. Once we levelled the playing field all of that accumulated.

“You’d get on the first tee and already you were one or two down with the way you were treated.

“For your self-esteem – if you can play – you need to look right and feel right inside about everything.

“We never had a team room before I came, we had meetings in the corner of smelly locker rooms where we decided we’d ‘put you with you’ tomorrow. It was completely unprofessional.

“Then we got our own space where we could gel and there was no need to leave that room. All the players took advantage of it and we never went anywhere else. That team room was where we had a shoulder to cry on on a bad day and somebody to give us a lift.

“It was great, the right thing to do and it has gone on ever since.”

It takes a while for a culture to change as Jacklin acknowledged.

“The main thing I did was give our players what they deserved, travelling first class, having the best of everything. The result of that speaks for itself. They responded in a very positive way. Maybe there’s a bit more to it than that but I think that was very important and it’s proven today that it doesn’t matter where you were born, what your background is – equal opportunity will make the cream come to the top.

“There is no doubt there was an inferiority complex. There was a lot of bravado that we could beat those (USA) buggers. But there is a complete difference between bravado and confidence. Confidence runs quietly.

“All of these things – Justin Rose winning the USA Open – what I did in 1969 and ’70 takes time to come through. But young people are inspired by things every day. They see something that clicks in their head and makes them say ‘I can do that, that’s what I want to do’.

“Once you dedicate yourself to doing something nothing can stop you.

“Gary Player was one of my inspirations. Here was a guy who was 5ft 7in, won every major, went to America and established himself as one of the greats. Yet he didn’t hit it as far, he wasn’t as strong.

“Seve showed what he could do and Nicklaus of course.

“The more time I spent with those guys the more I learned this is a mind game. It has nothing to do with ball striking at the end of the day.

“It is what you want for yourself and how you operate betwen the ears.

“I saw it with Bobby Locke, with Peter Thomson and Jack Nicklaus who shared some of his thoughts over the years ... Palmer, Player.

“I know they used their mind to the nth degree, visualisation, seeing their name at the top of the leader board when they get the opportunity to win,

“It is all part of being a professional.”

That is the legacy Jacklin passed on and should a European be left clutching the Claret Jug on Sunday, hopefully he will also raise a glass to the man who was left distraught at a Muirfield Open but recovered to ensure he will be remembered for things other than titles.