It all came down to the last hole with Tony Jacklin facing a three-foot putt to halve his match with Jack Nicklaus. If Jacklin misses, the U.S. has an outright victory. If he makes the putt, it ends in a tie with the U.S. retaining the Ryder Cup by virtue of winning in 1967.
Jacklin never to attempt the putt. Nicklaus shocked everyone, from fellow players to U.S. captain Sam Snead, by picking up Jacklin’s coin and conceding the putt.
Now 45 years later, Neil Sagebiel examines Nicklaus’ great act of sportsmanship and perhaps the best-ever Ryder Cup in a lively new book, Draw in the Dunes.
Sagebiel’s book reveals that the ’69 Cup was more than just about Nicklaus’ gesture. Here is my Q/A.
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I saw a TV clip of the conclusion of the 1969 Ryder Cup, during which Jack Nicklaus conceded a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin which meant they halved their match and the Ryder Cup ended in a draw, the first tie in Ryder Cup history. It’s a famous moment in golf and sports and got me thinking about how a short conceded putt could matter so much.
Who were you able to interview for the book and what were the highlights? And who didn’t you get that you really wanted to interview?
I attempted to interview all the surviving members of the 1969 U.S. and Great Britain Ryder Cup teams and got most of them, including Jack Nicklaus, Tony Jacklin, Raymond Floyd, Peter Alliss, Billy Casper, Bernard Gallacher, Frank Beard, Neil Coles, Tommy Aaron, Brian Huggett, Gene Littler, Brian Barnes, Ken Still and Peter Townsend. I didn’t interview Lee Trevino. Through his agent, Trevino declined my request.
The highlights were spending time with Nicklaus and Jacklin, and then having them agree to collaborate on the foreword. But I enjoyed all the players. They all were open and straightforward. It was fascinating to hear about their Ryder Cup experiences.
What did Snead think of Nicklaus’ concession?
Captain Snead was unequivocal. He didn’t like it. It went against his philosophy.
How would Nicklaus’ gesture have been received in today’s media climate?
It would be controversial and divisive, but, from what I know about him, Jack wouldn’t waver. He said to me, “Would I do it [the concession] again? Absolutely.”
Back then, the Ryder Cup was a much simpler, low-profile event. Was it better that way compared to what it has become?
It wasn’t better, but it was purer, with little ornamentation and fanfare. In the end, what makes the Ryder Cup great, whether in 1969 or 2014, are close matches, and the tension and drama that result from them. The raucous environment adds to the effect.
Was ’69 the best Ryder Cup ever played?
I don’t know if it was the best, but I’d say it was one of the best, near the top of the list. Legendary golf writer Herbert Warren Wind wrote that it was the best up to that point, and others agreed with him.