Ryder Cup Countdown: The Concession in 1969
In the second part of our Ryder Cup countdown we look back at Royal Birkdale in 1969...
“I DON'T believe you would have missed but I'd never give you the opportunity in these circumstances.”
With those words, Jack Nicklaus conceded a short putt to Tony Jacklin that ensured the 1969 Ryder Cup match between GB&I and the United States at Royal Birkdale would end in a tie. If you listen to urban myth you could be forgiven for believing that the putt Nicklaus conceded was in excess of six feet - in reality, it was probably less than two feet. But under the circumstances and with all the pressure that Jacklin would have felt, it was still eminently missable and it was one of golf’s great sporting moments, later to become immortalised as “The Concession”, the name of the golf club in America jointly designed by Jacklin and Nicklaus.
Many, including Jacklin, believe that Nicklaus’ gesture set a tone for the event that lasts to this day.
The United States had won 12 of the previous 13 contests and no player from Great Britain or Ireland had won a major since Max Faulkner's victory at the Open Championship in 1951. That all changed at Royal Lytham in 1969 when Jacklin won the Claret Jug to end that long run. While the Americans arrived at Royal Birkdale as favourites for a sixth consecutive victory, the Great Britain team finally 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.
GB&I 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.
After an acrimonious week, the day two afternoon fourball match 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 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 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.
The matches were marred by considerable acrimony and unsportsmanlike behaviour by players on both sides. The home captain, Eric Brown, a fiery Scot, had instructed his players not to search for the opposition's ball if it ended up in the rough. In the first-day foursomes, Still had deliberately and regularly stood too close to Maurice Bembridge as he was putting. During the second day fourballs, both captains had to come out and calm down the players
This led to Nicklaus conceding Jacklin's final putt with the knowledge that the overall competition would end in a draw. And some of the Golden Bear’s teammates were less than impressed with the gesture.
Playing in his first Ryder Cup at the age of 29, Nicklaus' gesture marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between the two that has spanned half a century. It was the inspiration for The Concession Golf Club in Florida. The two were opposing captains in the competition in 1983 and 1987. While the concession is now viewed as one of the world's greatest acts of sportmanship, US captain Snead was furious that the chance of outright victory had been given away.
“When it happened, all the boys thought it was ridiculous to give him that putt,” Snead said at the time. “We went over there to win, not to be good ol’ boys.”
But Nicklaus says he would do the same thing again. “The Ryder Cup in my opinion is a goodwill event that brings two golfing bodies together. It’s about camaraderie. It’s for bragging rights,” Nicklaus said. “I’ve asked other captains since, ‘What would you want your player to do?’ and they’ve said, ‘I’d want them to do exactly what you did.’ I think in the spirit of the matches it was the right thing to do.”
The U.S. team had only two players with previous Ryder Cup experience in Billy Casper and Gene Littler. The team was the only one that Arnold Palmer was not a member of from his first appearance in 1961 through his final appearance in 1973.
Neil Coles/Brian Huggett, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Miller Barber/Ray Floyd, USA, 3 and 2
Bernard Gallacher/Maurice Bembridge, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Lee Trevino/Ken Still, USA, 2 and 1
Tony Jacklin/Peter Townsend, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Dave Hill/Tommy Aaron, USA, 3 and 1
Billy Casper/Frank Beard, USA, halved with Christy O'Connor/Peter Alliss, Great Britain & Ireland, halved
Dave Hill/Tommy Aaron, USA, def. Neil Coles/Brian Huggett, Great Britain & Ireland, 1-up
Lee Trevino/Gene Littler, USA, def. Bernard Gallacher/Maurice Bembridge, Great Britain & Irelandn, 1-up
Tony Jacklin/Peter Townsend, Great Britain & Ireland def. Billy Casper/Frank Beard, USA, 1-up
Jack Nicklaus/Dan Sikes, USA, def. Peter Butler/Bernard Hunt, Great Britain & Ireland, 1-up
Great Britain & Ireland 4.5, USA 3.5
Christy O'Connor/Peter Townsend, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Dave Hill/Dale Douglass, USA, 1-up
Ray Floyd/Miller Barber, USA, halved with Brian Huggett/Alex Caygill, Great Britain & Ireland
Lee Trevino/Gene Littler, USA, def. Brian Barnes/Peter Alliss, Great Britain & Ireland, 1-up
Tony Jacklin/Neil Coles, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Jack Nicklaus/Dan Sikes, USA, 1-up
Billy Casper/Frank Beard, USA, def. Peter Butler/Peter Townsend, Great Britain & Ireland, 2-up
Dave Hill/Ken Still, USA, def. Brian Huggett/Bernard Gallacher, Great Britain & Ireland, 2 and 1
Tommy Aaron/Ray Floyd, USA, halved with Maurice Bembridge/Bernard Hunt, Great Britain & Ireland
Lee Trevino/Miller Barber, USA, halved with Tony Jacklin/Neil Coles, Great Britain & Ireland
Great Britain & Ireland 8, USA 8
Lee Trevino, USA, def. Peter Alliss, Great Britain & Ireland, 2 and 1
Dave Hill, USA, def. Peter Townsend, Great Britain & Ireland, 5 and 4
Neil Coles, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Tommy Aaron, USA, 1-up
Billy Casper, USA, def. Brian Barnes, Great Britain & Ireland, 1-up
Christy O'Connor, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Frank Beard, USA, 5 and 4
Maurice Bembridge, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Ken Still, USA, 1-up
Peter Butler, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Ray Floyd, USA, 1-up
Tony Jacklin, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Jack Nicklaus, USA, 4 and 3
Dave Hill, USA, def. Brian Barnes, Great Britain & Ireland, 4 and 2
Bernard Gallacher, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Lee Trevino, USA, 4 and 3
Miller Barber, USA, def. Maurice Bembridge, Great Britain & Ireland, 7 and 6
Peter Butler, Great Britain & Ireland, def. Dale Douglass, USA, 3 and 2
Dan Sikes, USA, def. Neil Coles, Great Britain & Ireland, 4 and 3
Gene Littler, USA, def. Christy O'Connor, Great Britain & Ireland, 2 and 1
Billy Casper, USA, halved with Brian Huggett, Great Britain & Ireland
Jack Nicklaus, USA, halved with Tony Jacklin, Great Britain & Ireland
USA 16, Great Britain & Ireland 16
NEXT: How Ryder Cup fortunes began to change
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