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Fifty years after his famous Open victory, Tony Jacklin's knighthood snub continues to be absurd

Great Britain's Tony Jacklin kisses the Claret Jug trophy as he celebrates his victory with his wife Jean
Tony Jacklin kisses the Claret Jug trophy after winning The Open in 1969 Credit: Getty Images

Why has Tony Jacklin not been knighted yet? It is a question the 75-year-old must regularly ask himself and, in this of all weeks, it is one every British sports lover might ponder.

Fifty years ago on Friday, the lorry driver’s son from Scunthorpe became the first home winner of The Open in 18 years. The most recent British champion had been Max Faulkner at Royal Portrush and in the intervening period the Americans had suddenly taken an interest, with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus having already lifted Claret Jugs in a links era dominated by Australian Peter Thomson and South African Bobby Locke. 

At Royal Lytham & St Annes, Jacklin, 25, stood up to the might of America and the world. They were all behind him; Nicklaus, Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, Gary Player… And then, two months later, Jacklin played a starring role in one of the Ryder Cup’s most memorable moments. 

On 20 September it will be be a half century since Jacklin gained the half with Nicklaus which meant Great Britain and Ireland avoided defeat for just the second time in 14 matches. On the 18th, Nicklaus conceded a three-foot putt to Jacklin with the unforgettable words, “I don't think you would have missed it, Tony, but I’m not giving you the chance anyway”. The pair walked off arm-in-arm and sportsmanship was granted its enduring image. 

The following year, Jacklin went over to the US Open at Hazeltine, and won by seven strokes.

Jacklin shakes hands with Jack Nicklaus, sealing the first tie in the history of the Ryder Cup in 1969 Credit: Getty Images

It was to be 16 years until another Briton won The Open - Sandy Lyle in 1985 - and 40 years until Graeme McDowell won the US Open. In this time, Jacklin had played an even more influential part in saving the Ryder Cup. 

As Europe captain, Jacklin persuaded Severiano Ballesteros to reappear in the biennial dust-up after his daft ban in 1981, and he also convinced the PGA to take it seriously and finance the team properly. In 1985, Jacklin led Europe, as they now were, to their first win in 28 years and two years later to their first away victory ever.

Read these achievements and then wonder why in 2008, Nick Faldo was made the second golfing knight after Henry Cotton. It is in no way disrespectful to query whether without a Jacklin there would have been a Faldo. Or for that matter an Ian Woosnam, Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Danny Willett (the list goes on). Should not Jackin have rather more royal recognition for his immense contribution than a CBE?

Naturally, at this point, there will be many who, as always, shrug “who cares?”. But the answer is Jacklin cares, and that much is obvious when you talk to this proud old man, even though he will ever admit as much. I recall a conversation with Jacklin after Sir Nick was awarded his dong, when I told him I thought the snub was absurd.   

Jacklin hugs the Ryder Cup trophy after retaining as captain for Europe in 1989 Credit: Getty Images

“I don't mind if you write that,” Jacklin laughed. “But look, we all know the establishment works in their own way. Over the years I suppose I have been outspoken at times against the golfing authorities. But I don't regret a thing.  Those majors, those Ryder Cups, they can't take any of them away. They're in the locker for keeps.”

Isn’t that sad? That a sporting hero feels he has been overlooked by his nation because he voiced his beliefs on occasion? Last year, Nic Dakin, the MP for Scunthorpe, declared in the House of Commons that the omission should be rectified and his call received the backing of Speaker John Bercow,and the then Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom. 

Nicklaus, the R&A and the European Tour have all sent in letters of recommendation, as has Lord MacLaurin, formerly the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who once served on the honours committee. 

It was hoped Jacklin would receive the nod in last month’s Queen’s Birthday List, but once again he was ignored. So will it at last be Sir Tony in the New Year’s List? “I won’t hold my breath,” Jacklin says.