13 Jan 17
The first time Open and Masters Champion Nick Faldo saw him was on television.
For former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher it was on a practice ground at Dalmahoy.
But the end result was the same for both men – when they watched John Jacobs in action, they were fascinated.
“I remember seeing John on the TV,” said Faldo. “He would be hitting airflow balls so you could see the ball flight and he would explain coming over the top or the ‘late hit’ as it was known then.
“I remember running off and buying a bag of airflow balls so I could copy what he had explained. And I would stand in my back garden hitting them.”
Gallacher watched him coaching when he was 14. He said: “John got an enormous amount of pleasure helping people hit the ball better.
“And it didn’t matter whether you were a professional or a high handicapper – he always had time. I remember seeing him and thinking he had no time to practise himself, because he was too busy giving lessons. All the pros wanted him to look at their swings.”
As a coach, Jacobs was unmatched – Dr Golf. He could fix your swing in an instant.
Gallacher added: “It was funny really, I would drive an hour to see him, we would be on the practice ground for a few minutes and I would drive an hour home, swing working again. That’s all he needed – a few minutes.”
He tweaked Faldo’s swing before the singles in the 1979 Ryder Cup despite saying as captain he wouldn’t have time.
He sorted Gallacher’s swing before the British Masters. The ten-time European Tour winner explained: “I was struggling with my game before the British Masters in 1975 at Ganton.
“John gave me a few pieces of advice and I hit the ball beautifully all week – and I won the event. It was all down to what John told me.”
When Sandy Lyle was playing on the US Tour, he always relished seeing Jacobs.
The Open and Masters winner said: “He was a very generous, likeable man. He was gentle and well-spoken. Never had a bad word to say about anyone.
“When I was on tour in America it was always good to bump into him. It was lovely seeing a friendly face and if I needed any help with my swing, he always had a few moments.”
And even though Europe lost both times when he captained the Ryder Cup side – in 1979 and 1981 – Des Smyth remembers a skipper open to ideas….who knew how to charm the US players and fans.
He said: “John was a straight talker and a good leader. He always valued people’s opinions – whether they came from players or vice-captains.
“He liked an honest appraisal. He always listened to what the players and vice-captains had to say. The Americans loved him, his beautiful soft English accent. They couldn’t get enough of it.
“A few years after he joked with me that he had played me too little in the first Ryder Cup and too much in the second. He was right. But it was wonderful fun.”
With his golf schools in America, million selling book Practical Golf along with videos and columns in US golfing bible Golf Digest, Jacobs was a sensation over the pond.
He improved the swings of thousands and inspired a new generation of teachers led by Hank Haney, Jim McLean and Butch Harmon.
Harmon regards him as the best and said: “When it comes to teaching I do not think there has ever been a more influential person in the game.
“His understanding of the swing was years ahead of its time. But John gave me more than lessons in golf – he gave me lessons in life.
“He had wonderful, old fashioned values that you just do not see any more. To this day, I always think ‘how can I live my life to be more like John, to be a wonderful man like him?’”
And as someone who perfected the art of practice during his career, Faldo always valued the simplicity of what Jacobs had to say.
He said: “The older you get, what you come back to is that Jacobs simplicity. When I practise now I got back to basics, I go back to that simplicity.”
And Jacobs most simple philosophy – ‘watch the ball’.
Harmon added: “A lot of today’s pros, they have all the technology, the launch monitors but they forget that the eye is the most important device because it tells you everything.
“There are a lot of coaches who have all the technology, all the data – but they don’t know what the swing is about. It is about looking at the ball.
“Ball flight, club face angle, those are the things that matter and John knew all that before anyone else.”
But Jacobs’ revolutionary thinking spread beyond teaching – to the Tour itself.
Gallacher added: “John was the one who had the foresight to want to integrate the British Tour and the European Tour. It was all his brainchild. It was all because of him.”
Des Smyth added: “Just look what John did for the tour and how it has grown thanks to all the things he did. He was a truly unique man.”
And, according to Harmon, Jacobs’ ideals on how to play better remain the fundamentals all his coaches’ are taught.
He said: “The first thing I tell my students to read is Practical Golf. It is the best book on golf ever written.
“What’s so beautiful about that book is that the lessons are so simple – and that’s what John was all about. He could see problems and articulate how to solve them so well.
“He influenced me. He helped me. He was a special man. A great teacher in golf and in life.”