Was this Muirfield? Troon? Royal Birkdale? Or was it just another county assistants' championship there in Lincolnshire that Tony Jacklin was running away with in the wind and rain and cold and occasional sun last week? No, all you Queen Elizabeth fans, it wasn't any of these. This was in America. Middle America, as a matter of fact, deep in the heart of the corn and cow country of Chaska, Minn., where dashing Tony Jacklin from across the ocean stole away our handsomest golf prize, much in the manner that David Frost made off with our Emmy, Richard Burton with our Liz, and the Beatles—you remember those fun guys—with all our money.
It was, to be sure, a long way both in time and space from the days when brash young Tony would sit and wait in Scunthorpe for his father to leave his job among the lorry drivers and come home so the kid could caddie and maybe swing a few clubs himself. But when you are 9 years old and brief of build, you take your opportunities as they come. Last week the opportunities came in abundance, and now of course Tony Jacklin has become the second foreign player to win the U.S. Open in 50 years and only the third bona fide Englishman to win both our Open and theirs.
(However, as any British golf journalist can tell you—and the three who were in attendance, and in ecstasy, at Chaska did—Harry Vardon, who was the first, was really of the Channel Islands, from Jersey off the French shore, so was not a true Englishman at all.)
There is no question about Tony Jacklin being English, and certainly a golfer. He competed in junior tournaments all through his teens and, since he never liked school anyway and college wasn't that big a thing for the "flash boys" of tiny Scunthorpe, he left the classroom at 15 to concentrate on becoming a pro.
June 28, 1970
His parents had been against the idea, believing there was no money in the golf business. They must have been alarmed when Tony was forced to take a job as an apprentice fitter in a steelworks that first year (1960), deliver newspapers on the side and then move into clerical work in the office of a lawyer for another year before beginning to make a living at his chosen sport.
After defeating many of the better English professionals when he won the Open Championship of Lincolnshire at 17, Jacklin decided his time had come. He left home to become the assistant pro at the Potters Bar club in Middlesex. In 1965 he won the British Assistants' Championship and in 1966 was named to the Canada Cup (now World Cup) team that played in Japan.
Jacklin's first noteworthy U.S. performance was in the 1967 Masters, where his very appearance was something of a fluke. Neil Coles had been invited from England, but Coles dislikes flying and declined. Jacklin came instead and caught the fancy of a huge gallery when he outshot his playing partner, Palmer, 70-73 on the second day and actually led the tournament during the third round before fading. It was here that Jacklin exhibited the aggressive golfing characteristics that set him apart from most English pros—the ones Americans routinely had been beating to death for decades.
Less than a year later, and with two big British wins behind him, Jacklin returned to the U.S., this time as a tour regular. He quickly won a tournament, the Jacksonville Open, and he earned $58,000, but what he was really achieving was a knowledge of the brutal facts of competitive golf as only the men on the U.S. tour play it. "Go to America and learn what the game is all about," he later told his fellow British pros.
By midsummer of 1969 Jacklin was back in England for the British Open. To say that he dominated that tournament as completely as he did last week's U.S. Open would be stretching a point, but, measured in terms of popular acclaim, his British performance would be difficult to duplicate. This victory, at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, was the first Open win by a Briton in 18 years and assured him a place in the hearts of a people who have always taken their golf so seriously and their heroes so slowly.
Tony and his wife Vivienne now are building an apartment in his adopted residence of Sea Island, Ga., a place they can call home for all but four months of the year. They will reserve the other time for their first love, a 250-year-old house in the village of Elsham in North Lincolnshire, which they have restored to its 18th century beauty.
The Jacklins will always spend Christmas there, says Tony, Vivienne to cook and sit by the fire and Tony to relax with some favorite things—his four-wheel-drive Jensen FF Interceptor (newly painted lavender, if you please) out in the driveway, his golf trophies on the mantel and his Order of the British Empire award somewhere nearby. The Queen bestowed that one on him for winning the British Open. One wonders what she does for an encore.