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Money no Prize in Itself

Tony Jacklin reflects on his career and brings his will to win to Strictly

Posted Sep 24, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

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While one of his European successors on America’s PGA Tour was in the process of pocketing a windfall of $11.4 million last weekend, Tony Jacklin was preparing for a very different challenge.  Unlike Henrik Stenson’s exploits in the FedEx Cup, Jacklin’s activities had nothing to do with the royal and ancient game, other than the distinction of being the first golf professional to sign up for “Strictly Come Dancing” on the BBC.

The rewards won’t be hectic, certainly when compared with the Swede’s who, at a stroke, wiped out the impact of a reported $8 million loss in savings in the Allen Stanford scandal. But money, or the lack of it, never seemed to bother Jacklin, despite the fact that contemporaries such as Raymond Floyd, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus managed to enter their golden years with quite a nice nest-egg from the game.

By his own admission, Jacklin made and lost fortunes.  And when it became difficult to put bread on the table, he never shied away from a challenge.  Like in August 1999, when he was reported to have taken up marquetry, which seemed like a decidedly odd activity for the former winner of the Open and US Open championships. Except that it wasn’t a hobby. Typically, Jacklin readily admitted that he badly needed the money he received for the wooden trophies which he sold at about $350 each as gifts for pro-am competitors.

“Golf has never given me what I would consider a lucrative living," was the surprise admission from a player who had a total of 29 regular tournament victories. “Perhaps sometimes I could have been better advised and I could have made more from sound investments. Either way, what I made out of golf is all gone. I still need to work."

As a 55-year-old, he officially retired from competitive golf because of the unacceptable stress which it caused him. "It was always the same," he said. "When I won the US Open, my wife Vivien said my voice had gone up three octaves with the stress.  But at 25 I had lots of ambitions and nothing was going to get in the way of them."

He talked with affection of early days on tour in the 1960s, with Ireland’s Christy O’Connor Snr. "We played about eight tournaments together on the South African circuit, where we shared accommodation either in rented houses or bed-and-breakfast establishments," he recalled. "They were really good times.  I was a bright young spark up at the crack of dawn, whereas Christy liked to lie on in bed. And I can remember him getting agitated at the noise I was making, even to the point of picking up anything near at hand to sling at me.  And when I had the first, televised hole-in-one on the 16th at Sandwich in 1967, I was playing with Christy."

Jacklin added: "Looking back over my golfing career, there were two players who inspired me above all others: one was Roberto de Vicenzo and the other was Christy. I can't explain it, but I always loved playing golf with Senior. That's not flannel, just simple fact."

A personal memory of mine concerns his remarkable victory in the Kerrygold Classic of 1976 at Waterville, Co Kerry, where he beat Eddie Polland by a stroke to claim top prize of £2,000.  The outcome was especially notable for the fact that Jacklin learned of his victory in a 747 somewhere over Newfoundland, while flying to the US.

A five-year exemption into the US Open had expired and having missed the cut by a stroke at Medinah in 1975, he had to try and qualify in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the 1976 championship. That was when Kerrygold officials decided to waive the established tournament procedure of the leaders starting late. He was actually two strokes behind the overnight leader, Polland, who went out last, after Jacklin had completed a final round of 70.

And what of the US Open?  Jacklin failed to qualify: the transatlantic trip had been in vain. But it made a great story.

As for “Strictly Come Dancing”: long-held competitive instincts were clearly in evidence when he declared: “I’m in it to win it”, before adding, “we won’t shy away from anything.”  Which prompts the thought that whether in the heat of battle for Major championships, or guiding the fortunes of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, Jacklin has always exuded warmth, commitment, and the ability to win new admirers. One imagines his upcoming BBC television exploits will be no different.

- Dermot Gilleece

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