Roddy Carr: John Jacobs was golf’s greatest ‘unsung hero’
Teaching skills and work in creating European Tour had lasting influence on sport
John Jacobs who died on January 13th, 2017: “His influence on teaching the great game of golf has been enormous.” Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
John Jacobs had the rounded shoulders of a man who had spent 75 plus of his years toiling at the game of golf as a playing and teaching guru. He became known affectionately as Dr Golf.
He was a big gentle man with immense class who loved to laugh and did so often, especially in Ireland when he came to stay in our house Suncroft on the second green in Sutton to teach my father and me.
John also made my father, Joe Carr, the great player he was by explaining to him after he had won the 1953 British Amateur Championship beating Harvie Ward, that his fast, short, whiplash swing with the enormous power of youth would not last 10 years and that if he wanted to become a “great champion”, he would have to learn to “swing” the golf club properly.
He taught him that lovely rhythmic full swing (with the power) that would repeat and dominate amateur golf for 25 years and win more than 40 championships.
John used to brag in jest that he had “size 12 shoes, you know . . . ”. His huge hands would wrap themselves around the shaft gracefully as he demonstrated how to hit from the “inside” with the divot pointing to the right of target while looking at you and talking at the same time.
His influence on teaching the great game of golf has been enormous and greater than most realise. So many of today’s best-known teachers, such as Butch Harmon, Hank Haney and Michael Bannon, credit Jacobs with the foundation of their teachings and have worn away his book Practical Golf like an old Bible they have read 1,000 times.
I had the pleasure of talking at length to Butch when I brought him over to Spain for Seve’s final fix and heard how influential John’s book was to his teaching methodology, especially with Tiger. José María Olazábal, his star pupil for 30 years, and John O’Leary sing John’s praises as a great friend and coach.
My lasting and final memory of Jake (as we christened him in Ireland) was last year when I took Michael Bannon, Rory’s coach, on a pilgrimage to meet “the great man” as Michael described him.
Little did Michael know at the time that John was just as excited to meet Michael as he regarded Rory’s swing, when on song, as the closest thing he has ever seen to the end result of his teachings.
I remember phoning him immediately after Rory’s breath-taking display in winning the PGA at Kiawah Island and asked him: “Jake, watching Rory last week, I imagined that his swing is exactly what you always wanted us to swing like. Is it?” He answered: “Yes, Roddy, it’s the best I have ever seen.”
I sat like a fly on the wall and listened for five hours as John and Michael discussed the golf swing. Michael probed for insights and John was in his element at 90 as the golfing guru. It reminded me of Grasshopper and his Master in the Kung Fu television series. Precious times I will never forget.
John Jacobs played a big part in Ireland’s incredible success story in golf. My father brought him in to coach the Irish team at winter training camps in Spain in the 1960s. His teaching at the John Jacobs Golf Centre in Leopardstown, the first of its kind in Ireland, with Bernard Gibbons and Gerry Egan as his apprentices, laid the foundations for the way golf has been and is taught in Ireland today.
The European Tour in its current form may not have existed if it were not for the foresight, wisdom, courage and determination of John Jacobs. He was the singular driving force behind its creation back in the early 1970s.
He was smart enough to pick a young, passionate, Scottish banker Ken Schofield and his trusted lieutenant George O’Grady to create and run what is now a €200 million plus a year enterprise. He should without doubt have been knighted along side Sir Henry Cotton and Sir Nick Faldo for this alone.
His loving wife Rita doted on John all her life before she died. His daughter Jo, the apple of John’s eye, cared for him lovingly as only a daughter can for her father in his long extended final years.
Their home in Stable Cottages in the south of England was a very happy and warm place full of his beloved fishing tackle, golf books, memorabilia and dogs that will now be empty without him.
He was one of the great men I have met in my life and for some reason an “unsung hero” considering all that he did for his fellow professionals and the teaching of golf around the world.