Ahead of the final day of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Royal Birkdale, europeantour.com spoke to the legendary Tony Jacklin to get his assessment on what it takes to succeed at links golf.
Jacklin famously became the first British player to win The Open Championship in 18 years when he triumphed just up the coast from Birkdale at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969, and narrowly missed out on a second Claret Jug in heart-breaking circumstances at Muirfield three years later.
But the Englishman is widely regarded as one of the finest exponents of links golf in the sport’s history, having five times finished in the top five of The Open in six years between 1967 and 1972, while many of his numerous other tournament victories came on links courses.
Jacklin, who also mastered blustery conditions at Hazeltine to win The 1970 US Open Championship, has a strong association with the stretch of land known as ‘England’s Golf Coast’, where he finished fifth at Royal Liverpool in The 1967 Open and third at Birkdale in 1971 in addition to his Lytham success.
His final European Tour victory, meanwhile, came next door to this week’s host venue at Hillside Golf Club, where Jacklin defeated no other than Bernhard Langer, who leads by three going into the final day of this year’s Senior Open, in a sudden-death play-off to win the PGA Championship for a second time in 1982.
Jacklin, then, is clearly well placed to pass judgement on the secrets to success in the unique art that is links golf, what he describes as “the original game”…
1. Keeping the ball in play
“You need to stay out of the deep bunkers first and foremost," says Jacklin, at Birkdale this week working for Sky Sports. "Especially fairway bunkers: you may as well put a red line around every fairway bunker on every links course in the British Isles. Accuracy from the tee, then, is a huge priority, but it’s not simple. You go in four, five, six of them in the first six holes then that’s six shots. Think of that over four rounds and do the maths.”
“Probably the most important key to links golf over anything else. Patience with the elements but patience moreover with yourself. You know coming into a big tournament on a links course that you are going to get a lot of bad breaks. Jack Nicklaus said to me 40 years ago, ‘Good shots aren’t always rewarded,’ and they are normally. You need to quickly put those breaks behind you and not let it affect the rest of your round. Very easy to say but not as easy to do.”
3. Hitting a low ball
“This game is still played on the ground. You have to be able to hit the ball under the wind to be successful in links golf. The way the game has gone in the last 25 years with these rescue clubs that put the ball way up in the air, in my opinion they are useless at places like Birkdale if there is any wind. The lower the better.”
4. Club selection
“Both in terms of what you put in the bag before you start and what you pull out when you are out on the course. You want your two iron, one iron. We all used to sharpen our one irons up to keep the ball in play, ride the fairways that can often be as fast as greens. That’s the beauty of links golf, it’s never going to change.”
5. Imagination and creativity
“Incredibly important in links golf. You can be 140 yards from the green and hitting a punched four iron one day and a sand wedge the next. You can use every club in your bag from the tee. You can need every single type of chip or pitch shot imaginable. An open mind is essential.”
“After you have played a couple of times, especially good players, links golf becomes quite an instinctive thing. You know immediately what is required so a lot of the time you need to play within yourself, not force the issue and let your decisions come naturally.”
“You need flexibility in yourself and in your techniques to play good links golf. Some days the wind blows so darn hard you need to adjust your putting stroke, your stance over the ball, to buffet against the wind. There’s not another type of golf that so completely examines your overall game and technical ability.”
8. Accepting the elements
“Every day can be completely different to another in links golf. In terms of the wind speed and direction, the temperature, rain, hail, snow, you can have four different seasons in a day on these courses and you have to accept it and adapt to it. It’s there as a test; you can’t control the weather so you may as well embrace it.”
9. Scrambling and putting
“I always thought that my success in The Open was largely down to the four and five foot putts. You know you are going to get bad bounces, you are going to get in bad spots around the greens but you just have to commit, get it on there and hole out well. And if you can do that it doesn’t just help your score, it kicks you on too. Putting is still King in links golf.”
10. Mastering the mind
“Peter Thomson was the best links player I ever saw. And next to him Bobby Locke and Jack Nicklaus. And what separated these guys from the rest were their minds; they were all superior thinkers. It was the mental side they excelled in, these were smart, smart people. Thomson won five of these Opens using a three wood; he knew the importance of keeping the ball in play and was a master at plotting his way around links courses and staying out of trouble.”