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Why Hillside is special for me

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Tony talks to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about his memories of Hillside, venue of this week’s British Masters:

“I have special reason to remember Hillside with fondness because it was where I won the European PGA Championship in 1982, and it also turned out to be my last victory on the regular tour.

I beat Bernhard Langer in a playoff but, if truth be told, we were both basket cases with the putter in our hands at that point in time. Neither of our strokes were pretty to watch back then.

We played the final round with Sam Torrance. Bernhard was going through a torrid spell and after he tapped his ball in from three feet at the final hole, Sam said, “Bernhard, did you hit that putt just the one time?”. After Bernhard replied, “Yes, just the once”, Sam said, “OK” and wrote the score down on his card.

Putting was certainly making me miserable back then. Despite my win at Hillside, I wasn’t enjoying my golf at all and it proved to be my final full season on the main tour.

I was using an old hickory at the time. I thought an old putter might help but it was a constant mental battle every day. It made me so unhappy and I decided to stop and focus on my commentary work with the BBC alongside Peter Alliss.

That was how I kept in touch with everyone on tour, I saw how all the players were performing and it was a big help when I agreed to take on the Ryder Cup captaincy in 1983.

It was a relief to give up playing. I was allowing things to get completely out of perspective. I realised that everything on the golf course ends with a putt. Golf wasn’t ever going to change and it was me who needed to change. I just got so nervous on the greens and you really cannot function in that state.

At that time, I was THE man on the European Tour. There was so much expectation after my wins in the 1969 Open and 1970 US Open. My scores were under daily scrutiny and people almost expected me to win tournaments with one arm tied behind my back.

Every time I teed it up in Europe they put me at the back of the field on purpose. There was so much pressure on me and it eventually took its toll.

Something clicked that week at Hillside, though, and I won the playoff after hitting a six-iron to three feet.

The course is under-rated and the area is too, certainly from an international standpoint. I always encourage people who are thinking of travelling to play some golf that they should fly to Manchester, rent a car and within an hour they have access to Hillside, Lytham, Birkdale, Hoylake plus Southport and Ainsdale.

They’re all such great layouts, there are lots of good places to stay and, for me, its comparable to a visit to Scotland to play all the outstanding links courses at the Home of Golf.

I’m planning to return to the scene of my 1969 Open win myself later this summer because Lytham have decided to make me an honorary member on the 50th anniversary of my first Major championship victory.”