Player Feature
Tony Jacklin
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50 years on from Open history
Tony Jacklin

When Tony Jacklin held the Claret Jug in his arms, little did he know that 50 years later he would remain the most recent Englishman to win The Open at an English course.

While there have been close calls – Ian Poulter finished second at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and Nick Faldo was just two shots short of Greg Norman at Royal St George’s in 1993 – no-one has matched Jacklin.

But, with The Open on the horizon, memories of lifting the Claret Jug is not the only thing that the Lincolnshire man will be celebrating this week. He turns 75 on July 7 and what better way to raise a glass to a Champion Golfer than by casting minds back over a life in golf.

Humble beginnings

Growing up in the back-to-backs of Scunthorpe, a young Jacklin did not even know what golf was, let alone imagine becoming one of the sport’s all-time greats.

But It was an upbringing that shaped Jacklin, honed his work-ethic and sharpened his willpower into a personality that would take him all the way to the top.

First introduced to the sport after his father was taken out for a chance round, Jacklin was the obvious candidate to caddy.

It wasn’t long before the pair dug out Jacklin’s first set of clubs from a second-hand store: a bag of hickory sticks that the youngster re-sized himself.

From there, an obsession was formed, a talent nurtured – Jacklin spent all his free time out on the local course, and before long it was clear that he was destined for bigger and better things.

Not, however, before he had learned a traditional craft to fall back on. Upon his parent’s insistence, Jacklin took an apprentice position at the Scunthorpe steelworks, another blessing in disguise.

Resolved to get out of the industry, Jacklin doubled down with his sticks, winning county tournaments and making a name for himself.

It was only a matter of time before he left the steelworks behind and turned pro – at 17, Jacklin started his new life.

An American adventure

After dedicating himself to the game full-time, Jacklin’s stock was on an exponential rise. He made his Open debut at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1963 and hit the first televised hole-in-one at the 1967 British Masters on the way to lifting the title, cementing his status as a star.

Later that year, the 23-year-old resolved to test himself against the world’s best, upping roots and moving his life across the Atlantic to the glitz and glamour of America.

Unlike today, Jacklin was the only Brit in the States at the time as he forged rivalries with the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the supreme confidence he had in his own game allowing him to flourish.

He became the first Englishman to win on the PGA Tour at Jacksonville in 1968, and when he made the trip home to Royal Lytham the following year, it was with a real chance at making history.

The Claret Jug

Returning to the scene of his maiden Open, Jacklin was in familiar territory on the Lancashire coast.

A three-under 68 on day one was testament to that fact, Jacklin tied for second alongside another Englishman – Hedley Muscroft – with just New Zealander Bob Charles ahead on -5.

A steady 70 left him three shots off the lead at halfway, but it was on the Friday when the local hit the front of an international field.

Another 70 looked all the better on a day of high-scoring – Charles carded a 75 and fellow challenger Christy O’Connor Snr shot 74 – left Jacklin top of the pile, and the only Englishman in the top 10.

Looking to keep things slow and steady on another day of tricky conditions, Jacklin refused to get complacent and took a two-shot lead all the way to the tee-box on 18.

That, however, is where nerves finally hit. Standing on the 18th tee of The Open is one of the most daunting sights in golf but Jacklin nailed his tee shot down the middle.

Stroking his second to within 15 feet, he two-putted for par, and the Claret Jug – a dream come true.

Eleven months later, Jacklin became the first European to win the US Open since 1926, while near misses followed as he looked to retain his Open title at St Andrews the following year, and win it back at Royal Birkdale in 1971.

But it was to be that Saturday afternoon in July 1969 that Jacklin would forever treasure the most, a feeling that every Englishman is still trying to capture.

“It’s difficult to explain what it was like,” he said.

“You’ve dreamt, imagined it and here you are. It’s kind of like doing it again, because I’d done it in my dreams and put myself there. It was special.”