The Concession - September 20, 1969
“I don't believe you would have missed that but I'd never give you the opportunity in these circumstances.”
That is Tony Jacklin's recollection of what the great Jack Nicklaus said to him after conceding a two-foot putt that led to the first tie in Ryder Cup history.
Nicklaus' concession is now widely regarded as one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship ever seen in golf or anywhere else and many, including Jacklin, believe it set a tone for the event that lasts to this day.
The United States had won 12 of the last 13 contests and no player from Great Britain or Ireland had won a Major Championship since Max Faulkner's victory at the Open Championship in 1951.
Jacklin's lifting of the Claret Jug in July 1969 ended that long run and while the Americans arrived at Royal Birkdale as favourites for a sixth consecutive victory, the Great Britain Team had a player capable of putting some fear into an American side captained by Sam Snead and containing the likes of Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Billy Casper as well as Nicklaus.
Britain sniffed an upset early as they took the opening foursomes session 3½–½ but the visitors fought their way back into it and the two teams were headed into the singles tied at 8-8.
Afer an acrimonious week, the day two afternoon fourball between the European pair of Brian Huggett and Bernard Gallacher and Americans Ken Still and Dave Hill almost boiled over as the tight nature of the contest led to shredded nerves and frayed tempers.
The contest remained close and with 31 matches completed, it was 15½-15½ and all came down the anchor match between Nicklaus and Jacklin.
Nicklaus was one up as the duo played the par five 17th and while they both got on the green in two, Jacklin holed a monster putt for an eagle to take the contest to the last all square.
After both men hit the green at the par four in regulation, Jacklin left his putt two feet short, with Nicklaus sending his four and a half feet by.
Nicklaus holed his second putt to guarantee a half and later said:
“I don't know why but I very quickly thought about Tony Jacklin and what he had meant to British golf. Here he was, the Open champion, the new hero, and all of a sudden it felt like if he missed this putt he would be criticised forever. This all went through my mind in a very, very quick period of time and I just made up my mind, I said, 'I'm not going to give Tony Jacklin the opportunity to miss it. I think we walk off of here, shake hands and have a better relationship between the two golfing organisations is the right way to do it'.”
As he took his ball from the hole, Nicklaus also picked up Jacklin's marker and the pair walked off the 18th with their arms around each other.
The match finished 16-16 and while Nicklaus and his team-mates took the Cup back across the Atlantic, he left a memory and a spirit that will be present in Ryder Cups to come.