In His Own Words

My Shot: Tony Jacklin

By Guy Yocom Photos by Adrian Meyers
August 26, 2007

Tony Jacklin, June 23, 2002, London. Age 58. Two-time major winner.

I'm always moved when they play "God Save the Queen," "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Scotland the Brave" at the Ryder Cup. But if I were an American and wanted to soften up the opposition, I'd play "God Bless America" at the opening ceremony. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house, because that song is not about America — it's about all the things freedom-loving people hold dear.

My golf dreams are appalling. My ball is always in a sink, under a bureau or against a wall where I can't get at it. Or I'm forced to hit my ball through a sliding-glass door that is barely open. Last week I dreamed I was playing through a sea of snakes, with a giant mother python guarding them. Just once I'd like to dream of winning a tournament or something.

I was at the Western Open in 1975 when Lee Trevino, Jerry Heard and Bobby Nichols were hit by lightning. I was holding my finish with an 8-iron when the bolt hit. It knocked the club out of my hands and sent it flying 30 feet. I was immediately aware of a burning taste in my mouth. Then another bolt hit and knocked Bobby down. When he got up, he had a look of terror on his face I've never forgotten. I was lucky. Other than a ringing in my ears that persisted for a long time, I was fine. But it scared me. We don't have much lightning in England.

In the Ryder Cup, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. In 1979 at The Greenbrier, we had a player who sabotaged any chance of our team putting up a fight. This guy didn't show up for team meetings, he disrespected the team captains, didn't stand up for the national anthems, didn't wear the right uniforms and wouldn't help his partners. He signed the menu at the team dinner, and then was told the menu was for a priest. He asked for the menu back and added, "son of a bitch" after his name. The point is, the Ryder Cup is all about being a team, and this fellow only cared about himself.

When I was captain, the one thing I sought from my players was respect. Love was optional.

In 1985, Nick Faldo was going through a divorce. When the Ryder Cup got under way, he didn't look comfortable and lost his morning foursomes match. I took him aside after that and said, "Nick, I've got a job to do. Do I send you out this afternoon, or do I sit you down?" Nick told me, very quietly, "Sit me down." It took enormous courage and humility for Nick to put himself aside. Now there is a team player.

As a young man, I couldn't accept the fact that golf is not a fair game. The game was my world, and if I didn't putt well, the injustice of it all would devour me. There were occasions during a round when I'd have to seek out one of those portable bathrooms and try to calm down.

There's a notion that the captains in the Ryder Cup make all the money. If that's the case, I'm still waiting.

Winning the 1969 British Open and the 1970 U.S. Open was an asset to me as Ryder Cup captain. The players couldn't look at me and say, "What the hell did this guy ever do?"

Some guys on the senior tour work out all the time. It doesn't seem to make them any happier. Me, I like good scotch, a nice bottle of wine, good food and having friends around. You can't live forever, and you can't take it with you.

You can't understand the anguish of losing a spouse until it happens to you. After my first wife, Vivien, died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in 1988, I lost my will to live. I contemplated doing something very terrible to myself. Eventually I recovered, but a couple of years ago, I saw Arnold Palmer at Pebble Beach soon after he lost Winnie. His first words to me were, "I never knew what you went through." I said, "How the hell could you?"

The American players running onto the 17th green at Brookline in 1999 was pure exuberance. For the Europeans to call it anything else is sour grapes.

Paul Azinger was a constant thorn in my side. He was the best American player in my years as captain. Match play is in this man's blood. The better the player Azinger went up against, the better he played. Even Seve Ballesteros, who could intimidate almost anyone, couldn't faze Paul.

The state of Seve's game cuts me deep. He proves my theory that if you didn't take lessons as a child, you should avoid them as an adult.

A lot of young players fantasize about going up against Tiger Woods in the deciding singles match of a Ryder Cup. A kid like Sergio Garcia may say, "Yeah, let me at him!" But when it happens, it will be like those 18-year-old kids who couldn't wait to get into battle in World War II. They'll find it isn't as romantic as they thought it would be. It will, in fact, be the most terrifying moment of their careers.

The generation in England that went through World War II was a tough lot. They were big on discipline. My father was typical — he didn't hesitate taking the razor strop to me. Even in school they'd cane your hands. When I became a father, I was softer. But one day, my eldest son, Bradley, said something very insolent to his mother, and instinctively I slapped him. He didn't come out of his room for 24 hours, and I wondered if I'd done the right thing. Well, Bradley never got out of line again, so the punishment turned out to be appropriate. It was the only time I ever was physical with one of my kids, and luckily it was the right decision.

I'll tell you why I love being a grandfather. One day I had to discipline my grandson for some sort of mischief he'd gotten into. I approached him, and with a very stern look on my face I said, "Your father shouldn't let you do that." Then I went to the fridge and got a snack.

When I was a boy, my father convinced me the color green was unlucky. I thought it was a silly superstition until I wore all green at a tournament in Ireland and opened with an 83. I took off the green and shot 68-68-68. For years after that I wouldn't go near the color green. Finally, at the 1968 Jacksonville Open, I'd had enough. I wore a pair of green pants and won the tournament. Green is one of my favorite colors now.

After we won at The Belfry in 1985, the guys threw me in a swimming pool and ruined a very expensive suit. To tell the truth, it spoiled some of the thrill. When we won at Muirfield Village two years later, we visited a post-tournament party, and I left after two minutes. I went back to my hotel room, sat with my wife and reflected over a large whiskey.

Most Americans know the story of the Three Little Bears. But very few can tell you what porridge is.

When I was 13, I got to shag balls for Bobby Locke at a clinic he gave near my home. Locke hit an 8-iron, and the ball landed at my feet and plugged in the moist ground. Just as I eased the ball out of the ground, I heard a shout, and here comes Locke's next shot. The ball landed in the same bloody pitch mark. It was a fluke, but there was no convincing a 13-year-old of that. Golf cast a spell on me that day that has never been broken.

Peter Thomson won the British Open five times and was a great, great player. Nothing perturbed him. I always thought this powerful mind-set was inherent in his makeup, but one day I watched him stroke the side of his face in a way that was very familiar. Then it hit me: He had become Bobby Locke! His approach was shaped by his exposure to Locke. I've played with them all — Hogan, Nicklaus, Sarazen, Trevino — and there were no better competitors than Thomson and Locke.

I could have used Thomson's and Locke's mind-set when Trevino chipped in five times to beat me at Muirfield in the 1972 Open. But my psyche was too fragile. In fact, what Trevino did not only ruined me for that day, it ruined me forever.

Roberto De Vicenzo was a magnificent ball-striker who acquired an almost fatal case of the yips. Years ago I was paired with Roberto and another player, Mario Gonzalez, who had the yips even worse than Roberto. Mario would flinch and miss a two-footer, and Roberto would giggle. Nothing is funnier to someone with the yips than watching someone else with the yips try to stab the ball into the hole.

I'm a traditionalist and have always disliked the long putter, but after I missed a nine-inch putt in Mexico earlier this year, I put one in my bag. It was that or quit playing.

There's no way I would have missed the two-footer Jack Nicklaus gave me for a tie in the 1969 Ryder Cup. But you'd better believe I sent him a thank-you note when it was over.

The fame of being a top golfer is nothing to sneeze at. But I would rather have been a famous singer. Imagine being Tony Bennett and getting a standing ovation every time you sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." It must be like holing a 30-footer on every green.

I can sing a bit. In 1971, I cut an album entitled, "Tony Jacklin Swings." The highlight was my rendition of "Come Fly With Me." I thought I did well, yet somehow I never overtook the Beatles in popularity.

The British tabloid press is the most vicious, cruel, ruthless entity on the face of this earth. It's difficult to express the depths of my contempt for them. They lie, they fabricate stories and have an evil genius for exaggeration. There were two reasons I left England in 1972. One was the 83 percent tax rate on my earnings worldwide, with no tax shelters. The other was the tabloids.

At the Ryder Cup at Kiawah in 1991, Steve Pate got hurt in a car accident and couldn't play, so our man in the envelope also had to sit out. That player was David Gilford. Our captain, Bernard Gallacher, bless his heart, chose me to inform Gilford he wouldn't be playing. When I broke the news, Gilford was absolutely gutted. I've never seen a man so broken. That's one part of the Ryder Cup I do not miss.

In case you're wondering, porridge is oatmeal.