Tony Jacklin Blog: The Old Course, nowhere Like It

Tony Jacklin

My Old Course memories include setting a blistering pace early in the first round in 1970 when defending The Open

Tony Jacklin Blog: The Old Course, nowhere Like It

I guess I played three or four Opens at St Andrews and my most vivid memory is of defending the Claret Jug there in 1970.

I was rushing around doing a lot of stuff back then, including a project with Arnold Palmer called ‘The Best 18 Holes in Britain’ which we did just prior to that Open. We were criss-crossing the country with Henry Longhurst, who was narrating it, and ended up in St Andrews, where we played a couple of holes including the Road Hole, I think.

Despite that, I felt I had a good preparation for that championship and started my defence in amazing style, shooting 29 on the front nine, then birdieing the 10th and parring 11, 12 and 13.

But storm clouds started to gather on the 14th, where I hit an indifferent second shot into a bush. By the time I got to the ball, the course was unplayable thanks to an incredible deluge, and they abandoned play for the day.

When we came back at 7.30 the next morning everything was very different and the course was playing much longer. I dropped three shots on the way in, and ended up with a 67. The weather got progressively worse, as did my scores, which increased by three every day – 67, 70, 73, 76! But I still had a putt on the last green to finish third, which I missed to end up fifth.

I played with Jack Nicklaus in the last round, and we sat there watching Doug Sanders miss that little putt on 18. That gave Jack the opportunity of a play-off the next day, which he was excited about as he thought he’d blown it, and which he won.

People often talk about the 17th hole, and I always thought it was one of the great holes in golf. I still do. It’s unique. I remember it when the railway sheds were still there before the Old Course Hotel was thought of. It’s an intimidating tee shot when you can’t see your landing place! The second shot is again unique to St Andrews. I don’t think there’s a hole like it anywhere.

There was a time when I felt I knew the course so well. The bunkers are all named, and I knew most of them. I certainly knew where they were and how to stay out of them whatever the wind direction. I never played it with yardage back then – it was all about feel. You instinctively knew where to go if you played the course often enough.

I recall being in the Road bunker once or twice, but I always managed to extricate myself, unlike poor Tommy Nakajima in 1978. I can still see him there now! I also remember going round there with Prince Andrew at about the time he was captain. They’d made changes to the Road bunker and actually made it smaller, but he insisted it wasn’t, and I felt it would be impolite to argue with royalty! But it had definitely been much deeper in the past, and I think the Links Trust went in and redid it to make it less deep.

That 1970 Open was also the first one at which The R&A invited past champions to a special dinner during Open week, starting a tradition. I still treasure the photo I have of that dinner because there were a lot of old-timers there – Arthur Havers, the 1923 champion, Denny Shute, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Locke, Fred Daly and Dick Burton, plus Peter Thomson, Roberto de Vicenzo and Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. It was a small gathering, but it was the first, and there’s only ever one first, so it was nice to be part of it.

St Andrews is the only place where the 18th green comes right into the middle of the town. But then there are so many things about St Andrews, such as all the double greens. I’ve been there many times, but for first-time visitors it’s all just so intriguing, what with all the history surrounding Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson, who he worked for. I’m very aware of golf history, and when I go there I get a strong sense of Old Tom’s presence.

This year, the World Golf Hall of Fame inductees are going to be inducted at St Andrews University on the Monday night of Open week, and everyone going will enjoy a unique ceremony.

That’s another first for St Andrews, and it should be good with David Graham, Mark O’Meara and a few others being inducted. And hopefully, if the weather permits – as it sadly didn’t last time round in 2010 – we’ll be playing that past champions four-hole event on the Wednesday afternoon.

So one way or another there will be some more good memories generated from this year, and, of course, someone else will add their name to the illustrious roll call of St Andrews Open champions.

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