Top instructor and driving force behind European Tour passes away
By Chris Johnston
Leading golfers, golf administrators and personalities have led the tributes to John Jacobs, described as the father of modern day golf, who passed away in January at the age of 91.
Jacobs leaves a legacy of a true sporting visionary - a player, a teacher, an innovator, all born out of a passion for golf that consumed his life. To this day, his influence can be felt in every aspect of the sport and across the globe.
From beginners picking up a club for the very first time to the stars of the European and US PGA tours, few golfers have not been touched by Jacobs’ genius and his overwhelming desire to ensure everyone loved the game and had as much fun playing it as he did.
A tour player of note who competed in the 1955 Ryder Cup in California, Jacobs would later captain the side twice - most fittingly in 1979 when European players competed for the very first time.
However, it was on the practice ground and in the game’s corridors of power where Jacobs had the biggest impact with his innovative thinking.
As a coach he transformed the fundamentals of how you teach the game with his revolutionary philosophies based on ball flight, clubface alignment and swing path.
Through coaching schools, best-selling books, videos and television series his methods were known in the UK, across America and around the world.
Everyone, from the best to the worst could understand his teaching. “Make it do-able,” he insisted. “Keep it simple.”
A PGA master professional, he wrote the PGA’s first training manual and decades later his principles are still at the core of every professional’s education.
For more than 20 years he was also the driving force behind the development of the European Tour, fighting to expand the season of events beyond Britain.
Within a matter of months of taking control he had increased events and doubled the prize money on offer.
In doing so, he laid the foundations for one of the most successful organisations in sport.
Jacobs, who lived in Lyndhurst, was also the visionary behind the growth of driving ranges, realising their value for both professionals and students who wanted learn and improve day or night, all year round.
“Golf can be an expensive sport,” he reasoned. “Golf ranges were an inexpensive way to get more people playing the game and enjoying it.”
Home for Jacobs was the practice ground, particularly his golf schools where there were new faces, new challenges and different people to help, improve and make happy every day.
He was a friendly face for pros on tour, who would queue up for his advice, and, thanks to his books, videos, clinics and television appearances, he was a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.
All of which is a long way from his early years growing up at Lindrick GC in Yorkshire where his father was the professional and understanding the swing was simply to ‘stop myself hooking into the gorse on the left’.
From everyday people to princes and kings, from beginners to tour players, Jacobs taught everyone. He touched lives, changed golf, innovated teaching and made the European Tour thrive but, most importantly, he ensured people of all ages and all abilities enjoyed swinging a club.
Paying his own tribute, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley described Jacobs as a ‘true gentleman’. “It is an honour to hold the role as the fourth chief executive in the history of the European Tour and I never felt that more than when I had the privilege to spend several hours with John at his beautiful home in the New Forest last year,” said Pelley.
“His memory for the details around the creation of the Tour were incredible and, quite simply, without his vision and determination, the European Tour we know today wouldn’t exist.”
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley added: “John stood for all that is great about the game of golf in terms of his knowledge, interest, humility and gentlemanly behaviour. Although the game of golf is in a worse place with the loss of John, his legacy and the impact he has had will last forever.”
“John Jacobs will be fondly remembered by those of us who were privileged to know him,” said Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA. “Quite simply, he was a legend of the game and his name will sit at the top table with all the golfing greats.”