Tony Jacklin is the man who breathed new life into the Ryder Cup and made it what it is today. As a player and as a captain, his name is synonymous with everything that the Cup stands for: competition, sportsmanship and excellence. With a record as a player of 13 wins, 14 losses and eight halves during a period of US dominance, Jacklin had already made his mark. His name will forever be associated with a moment in the 1969 event when two great sportsmen showed their mutual admiration and respect. The 1969 Ryder Cup eventually hinged on the last singles match between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin.
Jacklin holed a 50-foot eagle putt on the 17th hole at Royal Birkdale Golf Club against Jack Nicklaus to remain alive in their match.
"It was one of the putts of my life, one of those you dream about making," said Jacklin. "You rarely hole a putt of that length when you really, really need it. For it to happen at that time was idyllic."
With the outcome of the match hanging in the balance, Jack Nicklaus conceded a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin on the last green resulting in the first tie in the matches' history with the U.S. retaining the Cup. The pair left the green with their arms around each other's shoulders. That singular act of sportsmanship is roundly considered one of the grandest gestures of the spirit of golf ever.
During the 1980s, Jacklin extended his achievements as a player into his role as captain of the European Ryder Cup team. It is no exaggeration to say that without Jacklin, the Ryder Cup as we know it wouldn’t exist. From when he first went to the USA to play an event on the PGA Tour in the 1960s, Tony Jacklin was instantly impressed by the commitment and professionalism of the US game. He believed that it was these factors that gave them the edge in the Ryder Cup.
Jacklin’s Ryder Cup revolution is one of the greatest turnarounds the game has ever seen. From a showpiece event that the USA were always expected to walk, the Ryder Cup has become one of the most tightly contested and hotly anticipated battles across any sport. By restoring pride in the locker room and radically professionalising the whole approach taken to the event, he led the Europeans to a landmark victory in 1985 at The Belfry, their first for 28 years. In 1987, Jacklin’s team went even further, achieving something that had never been done previously by beating the Americans on their own home soil at Muirfield Village in Ohio.
The team Jacklin assembled around him in these historic competitions is quite simply a roll call of the century’s greatest players: Faldo, Woosnam, Ballesteros, Lyle, Olazabal, Torrance, Langer. The list goes on. And the competition wasn’t bad either, including teams captained by Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, including players such as Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Kite, Payne Stewart, Mark O’Meara, Fuzzy Zoeller, Lanny Wadkins, to name just a few. The incredible feat that Jacklin managed to pull off in these matches was to blend together and inspire huge individual talents into extraordinarily effective team performances.