They held another investiture in the British Isles last week. This one was for Tony, the First Tony of Jacklin, whose colors for the occasion were lavender and lilac. If not quite regal, they were the appropriate adornment. Muted hues of purple, the color of passion, they served as perfect coordinates to the smashing golf of their wearer.
By his victory in the British Open in the first week of his 25th year, Tony Jacklin became much more than a lavender and lilac "flash boy," the brash and anxious son of a lorry driver from Scunthorpe. He answered the hopes and dreams of a country that is all things passionate in its love of golf and that had waited 18 long and sorrow-filled years for one of its own to, as they say, buck up and repel the usurpers of its championship. The British had been grooming him certainly, preparing the title for him, and on Saturday at Royal Lytham and St. Annes on the brink of the Irish Sea finally it was his. Tony of the House of Jacklin. Liege Lord and Guardian of Golf. Yes, a prince. And that makes two of those in a row for England.
When he shot an immaculate 68-70-70-72—280 at Royal Lytham near Blackpool, Jacklin defeated par by four strokes and his closest rival among a select group of the finest golfers in the world by two. He also gave a solid thumping to those fates and furies that have had it in for Britons, and he became the first of his countrymen to win the 109-year-old championship since marvelous Max Faulkner, in his plus fours, turned back the foreigners in 1951.
Adding to the significance and glory of the occasion was the way Jacklin won—by resisting pressure. He achieved his victory on the third day, not the last, by scrambling guttily through what are perhaps the most severe and hazardous finishing holes this side of the moon without getting himself swallowed up by sand, blown down by wind or run over by a train. When he emerged, dashing Tony had command of the tournament, and indeed of all British golf, for a long time to come.
July 20, 1969
As anyone knows who has suffered claustrophobia on their fairways, English courses are born, not made. The 14th through 18th holes at Royal Lytham and St. Annes are a series of winding, dipping, scratching, curling and thoroughly baffling par-4s set—buried would be a better word—amid a wasteland of dense brush and mounds of gorse and scrub. They test a player's brain as much as his swing, and last week, if he could block out the wheezing snorts and honks of the railroad trains that kept screeching through the course every other bogey or so, he might find some way to negotiate this final stretch safely. Like, say, by picking up.
On Friday, having just tied the two early leaders, Bob Charles and Christy O'Connor, Jacklin stood on the 14th tee and surveyed the homestretch. Up ahead Billy Casper was dropping four strokes, U.S. Open champion Orville Moody was dropping five, and both were dropping out of the tournament. Behind, Charles and O'Connor were soon to lose three apiece. "If I must, I must," Jacklin said. "For England"—or something like that.
Jacklin began mildly with a par, and he had a fine birdie (at 16) in the middle of the torture. But on 15, again on 17 and finally on 18—while intermittently hacking and slicing his way through the wild scrub and high heather—he came out of serious danger with a trio of courageous bunker shots to salvage, of all things, a bogey, a bogey and a par. Atta way to charge, Tony.
Depending on one's point of view, this furious assault on the championship was a comedy of limited design or a piece of pop art, but it certainly provided Jacklin with the two-stroke lead he was never to relinquish.
The Open (which in Britain is the only name permitted for the tournament because, really now, chaps, what other Open is there?) was being contested for the fifth time at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. In 1926 Bobby Jones won the first of his three English titles there when he hit a miracle shot 175 yards from a blind position out of sand to set up a par on the 17th hole and beat Al Watrous. A plaque is in the bunker from which Jones played (you do not get a free drop if your ball stops near it) and his mashie is in the clubhouse. The most recent Royal Lytham championship, in 1963, has become notable partly because a lefthander, Charles, won and partly because Jack Nicklaus fumbled it away, his problem including one strange enemy: silence. Nicklaus came to the 18th tee on the final day with what he thought was a one-stroke lead. Actually, the quiet reserve of the British galleries failed to alert him to the fact that Charles and Phil Rodgers had both birdied 16. Nicklaus, playing too safely, bogeyed 18. He was off the course 15 minutes before he realized the pending playoff would not include him.
In seasons since, the British Open and its crowds have become more Americanized. As Nicklaus himself said last week after a spectacular shot, "Did you see that? One guy almost clapped."
Other changes have included money and organization. Total purses used to be counted in sixpence, but in six years prize money at the Open has increased practically fourfold, and last week Jacklin deposited well over $10,000 in U.S. green. That is still hardly worth the U.S. pro's time and effort, what with the breaking-up of his summer pace, the two tour tournaments he misses, the adjustment to the smaller British ball (and then back again), the loss of sleep and, in most cases, loss of confidence, too, as he stumbles through the cabbage and over the railroad trestles. "This trip gets expensive," said Gardner Dickinson, who was appearing in his first British Open. "If you don't win the thing, you ask yourself what the hell you were doing here."
Dickinson came, along with such other first-timers as Miller Barber, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd, simply because the tournament is one of the two or three best in all of golf, an exquisitely produced event that has recently come under the direction and charm of Keith McKenzie, the new executive secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. McKenzie made a special trip to the Crosby at Pebble Beach in a worthy and successful attempt at luring more U.S. pros to England. And he offered several innovations at Royal Lytham, including scoreboards at every hole, bleachers (seating a total of 10,000) at every green and computerized leader boards all over the course.
A major part of the American contingent, which was felt to be the strongest in years, was quartered for the Open at the Imperial Hotel in nearby Blackpool. This is an expansive, gabled structure reminiscent of a mausoleum in atmosphere—and it conforms nicely to the surroundings. Blackpool has long been the seaside vacation spot of Britain's lower classes, but lately it has gone to seed. Visitors amuse themselves with rides on the Ferris wheel, trips to the casinos and views of the Tower of Blackpool, a rusty derrick where, inside, one may take a cup of tea. In America, the town would be called Vegas Coney.
American pros staying there, it must be confessed, displayed little more inspiration than the town, what with Dickinson missing the cut, and people like Trevino finishing tied for 33rd, Casper 24th and Moody 15th. It was left to Davis Love, a barely known club pro from Atlanta who had to drive an hour to the course each day from the village of Little Thornton, to tie Nicklaus for sixth and provide both a lot of goodwill and a touch of sparkle. "Some people want to win all the major championships, I just want to play in all of them," he told the pleased British.
The Open's first two days saw two spectacular rounds, one by Charles and one by O'Connor, that sent both men into lofty positions. Charles' opening-day 66 earned a cheer of "well done, Robert" from Sean Connery, leaning out the clubhouse window, and was a tribute to the lanky New Zealander's putting stroke, which is probably the best in the game.
Along toward 8 p.m. of the following day O'Connor bounded home with as improbable a 65 as has ever been seen in a major championship. The 44-year-old Christy, a Dublin veteran of as many drinking bouts and clubhouse scuffles as he is of British tournaments, hit but five fairways and used only 25 putts—10 on the back nine—in a round that had Byron Nelson shaking his head. "Most fantastic thing I've ever seen," he said. "The man should have had 74."
Was it the luck of the Irish? Christy was asked by an incautious Australian. "Ye can put it down if ye like," said O'Connor, irritated. "But if ye go back through the years, ye'll find Aye haven't had myself much luck."
Eoin McQuillan, an Irish journalist from Belfast, was a bit put out himself by the talk of O'Connor's drinking prowess. "These local chaps don't put it in perspective. Damn fools," he said. "An Englishman takes six pints of an evening and he thinks it's a damn blast-out. An Irishman takes that much, for God's sake, he's but washing his teeth."
Friday was the day defending champion Gary Player, among others, went out of the tournament, and Nicklaus (with a 68) and Roberto De Vicenzo (66) got back in. Australia's Peter Thomson, a five-time winner who was both playing in and covering the event for the Melbourne Age, filed overnight that he, too, was very much in contention, just three strokes off Jacklin's lead with one round to go.
The next morning Pat Ward-Thomas, the esteemed golf writer of The Guardian, talked of the "fascinating" pressure, and said, "You know, the bloody Jacklin will be watched closely by 50 million British wishing to heaven that he doesn't turn into an absolute jelly."
Jacklin, far from shaky, picked up two quick shots early and seemed to take all the fight out of anyone who would make a run at him. He faltered a bit later, but Charles could never get the lead below two, and as the pair slashed through those final fiendish holes it surprised no one when they matched each other bogey for bogey. Behind Charles, in the most international of all Open finishes, came De Vicenzo, Thomson, O'Connor, Nicklaus and Love.
Afterward Jacklin said something about owing it all to his time on the American tour, but his countrymen will forgive him that. They will remember, instead, a scene earlier in the day when Nicklaus, ready to putt on the 6th green, heard a mighty roar for a Jacklin birdie putt at the 4th. Nicklaus looked up, grinned and slowly nodded his head. He got' the message. Things have changed in England. When the pressure is on, a dashing young "linksman" doesn't dissolve to jelly anymore. He turns into a prince.