Less than 24 hours after his youngest son, Sean, had qualified for the U.S. Open on June 6, World Golf Hall of Famer Tony Jacklin was still buzzing.
“That was bloody nerve wracking,” the 77-year-old Englishman said from his home in Bradenton, Florida, where he followed his son’s progress in a USGA Sectional Qualifier online. “My wife and I were hole-by-holing it. Just kept hitting refresh.”
Sean shot 66-71—137, his 5-under total good enough to share co-medalist honors at The Club at Admiral’s Cove (North and West Courses) in Jupiter, Florida. His success one week ago was all the more remarkable considering he was first alternate (from local qualifying at Sara Bay Country Club) and didn’t get into the field until 20 minutes before his eventual tee time.
“He went over there on a wing and a prayer,” Tony said. “He nearly didn’t bother to drive over. He had a good friend in Palm Beach to stay with and didn’t have to fork out for a hotel. He hung around the putting green.”
Sean, 30, who is named after his father’s good friend, the late actor Sean Connery, will be making just his second PGA Tour start and first at any of the four majors at the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, a mere 52 years after his old man won the title at Hazeltine near Minneapolis.
“It was the best week of my career,” Tony said of his victory in 1970, his second major championship. “There was a lot of pressure. I shot under par the first day in horrendous conditions (an opening-round 71 in 40 mph winds) and built the lead each day. I putted beautifully thanks to a tip from Jim Yancey, (tour pro) Bert’s older brother and a club pro, to look at the hole in practice. It gave me a wonderful sense of distance control and I was able to take it on to the golf course. It was the best I ever putted.”
But Tony missed short putts at Nos. 7 and 8 during the final round and fear of failure crept into his mind.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh God, not now,’ ” Jacklin recalled. “I suppose you could say I was frightened of screwing up. It would have stayed with me my whole life. I managed to stay focused.”
The turning point? His birdie putt at the ninth hit the back of the cup and went in.
“That relaxed me,” Jacklin said.
Jacklin became the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to hold both the British Open (1969) and U.S. Open trophies concurrently. He led from start to finish and was the only player to break par for the tournament, finishing a whopping seven shots ahead of Dave Hill, the largest margin in 49 years. Jacklin also became the first golfer born in Europe to win the U.S. Open since Scottish-born Tommy Armour in 1927.
Son of a Ryder Cup legend
Sean grew up with the pressure of being the son of a major champion and European Ryder Cup legend. He played his college golf at North Carolina and has had status at times on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, but has mostly been beating around the mini tours since turning pro.
“He’s not a kid anymore. He’s been trying to Monday in and play the mini tours. He’s won a bunch of West Florida events and plays in Orlando,” Tony said. “He’s got the game. It’s as much luck as anything. There are so many good players.”
This week at the U.S. Open presents a huge opportunity for Sean, and Tony said he won’t have to remind his son of that.
“A good week next week will give him a real boost,” Tony said. “But I won’t bother to give him some pep talk. He already knows every damn thing I know.”