John Jacobs has served a lifetime in golf and is enormously respected as the pioneering architect of Europe’s united approach to the modern game. As a Ryder Cup player, tournament winner, administrator, writer, commentator and an outstanding coach, he has reached the peak of success in many widely different areas of golf. In recognition of the indelible mark he has made on the game, Jacobs was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame through the Lifetime Achievement category in 2000.
A Yorkshireman born in 1925, son of a golf professional, Jacobs earned the unique distinction in his 1955 Ryder Cup debut of winning both his matches in America. Two years later, he won the Dutch Open and beat Gary Player for the South African Match Play Championship.
In 1972, after a successful business venture establishing driving ranges in Britain to help encourage the growth of the game and following his coaching of the victorious Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, he accepted the challenge of becoming the first Tournament Director General of the European PGA Tour. In this position he inspired the uniting of nations on the continent with Britain.
“John has quite properly been defined as the father of European golf,” said Ken Schofield, who succeeded Jacobs as Executive Director of the European Tour. “He turned the vision into reality and the position of respect commanded by Europe in the world of golf owes much to his pioneering spirit.”
“I ever so much wanted to be the best player that ever was. I realized that I taught it better than I played it."
As captain of the 1979 and 1981 European Ryder Cup teams, Jacobs also helped usher in an era of new enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup. The 1979 squad marked the first time players from continental Europe were members of the team. Although the European side did not win either time, the wheels were in motion to end America’s domination of the biennial matches. In 1997, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for 50 years of outstanding service to golf. He is an honorary life member of the European Tour.
“John today cares as much for golf and firstly for European golf as he did when he became the first tournament director general,” said Schofield.
Even so, it will be as an instructor that he will be primarily remembered.
A fine tour player in his own right, Jacobs’ contribution to the game subsequently evolved from his own pursuit of pars and birdies. “I ever so much wanted to be the best player that ever was. I realized that I taught it better than I played it,” said Jacobs, reflecting on his career. On deciding that his real strength lay in teaching the game, he soon became one of the most sought-after of all golf coaches throughout Europe, the United States, where teaching academies still bear his name, and by his fellow tournament professionals. “Suddenly I had this reputation and once you do, all the good players come to you,” said Jacobs, whose practical approach to teaching has benefited countless players.
John Jacobs’ books include Practical Golf and Golf Doctor.
Jacobs recounted in 2000 a story to the London Telegraph of watching Jack Nicklaus preparing for the 1969 British Open at Royal Lytham. Off the second tee, Nicklaus struck his first drive out of bounds down the right and his second 50 yards wide of the fairway to the left. After spraying his next few tee shots an exasperated Nicklaus had had enough.
“You’re supposed to know something about these things,” he shouted over to Jacobs. “What am I doing?”
“Thank God for that,” Jacobs replied. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Countless golfers have benefited from Jacobs’ words of wisdom and will continue to. “Teaching others to teach has been my forte,” he said. “I firmly believe that what I’m saying today will be just as true in 200 years time if they don’t change the rules.”
Said Butch Harmon, Tiger Woods’ coach, “John Jacobs wrote the book on coaching. There is not a teacher out here who does not owe him something.