Ryder Cup Renaissance

Spirit of "The Concession" honored at Whistling Straits

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

Ryder Cup Renaissance - Concession

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

In the blink of an eye the meaningful gesture happened. The impact still resonates to this day. The 1969 Ryder Cup matches came down to the final match between the two strongest golfers for each side. Jack Nicklaus on team USA and his counterpart Tony Jacklin for team Great Britain and Ireland. 

The matches marked the first time the Golden Bear was eligible to compete and after being trounced by Jacklin in the morning singles match the two reunited for an epic closing match. Jacklin had holed an impressive 35-foot putt at the penultimate hole to square the match.

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

The 18th became the stage for a moment in golf that defined the essence of the Ryder Cup and the men at the center of it.

Both Nicklaus and Jacklin reached the par-4 green in the regulation stroke. After Jacklin had knocked his birdie putt to 3-feet it was Nicklaus with a 25-foot putt to win the matches. Jack’s putt sailed by the hole six feet. After hunching over the putt for what seemed an eternity Nicklaus holed it for a par. Immediately after retrieving his ball from the cup Nicklaus bent down and picked up Jacklin’s marker. 

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

“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 criticized 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 organizations is the right way to do it’.”

The epic match between the two titans ended in a tie — the first in Ryder Cup history. According to the rules of the competition — the team that had possession of the Cup retained it should the matches end in a stalemate. Nicklaus was well aware of this fact upon holing his par putt on the final green that day.

The image of Nicklaus placing his arm around Jacklin’s shoulders as the men exited the green is embedded in Ryder Cup and golf history. Would Jacklin have holed the putt if not for the concession? One will never know. Nicklaus himself said afterwards he was confident Jacklin would have done so but he was not going to ever give him a chance for that not to happen.

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

In recent Ryder Cups rhetoric and vitriol have escalated at different moments. Tensions boiling over and the spirit of the matches undercut. Inane slogans such as “War by the Shore” from the 1991 matches at Kiawah and in-your-face comments from players have turned upside down the nature of the contest. It has not helped when crowd sizes total nearly 50,000 with certain people clearly inebriated and wrongly believing bellicose shouts are helping their respective team when in reality, they are simply fueling the fire for needless animosity and vitriol.

In the spirit of that 1969 moment an action was taken to reconnect to the roots of what the matches signify.

The Nicklaus-Jacklin Award presented by AON will be awarded for the first time at this year’s matches at Whistling Straits. Two players — one from the American side and one from the European — will be selected by a committee that includes Nicklaus and Jacklin and is meant to reassert the essence of what Ryder Cup competition is ultimately about.

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

“Since its inception, the Ryder Cup was imagined as a spirited but friendly competition amongst allies. At its core, this remarkable tradition is based on the fundamental pillars of sportsmanship, teamwork and performance,” said Seth Waugh, PGA of America, CEO. “We want to recognize and celebrate that key foundational tenet and so in collaboration with Aon, created an award to honor Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin’s historic act from 1969 that exemplified those honorable traits and set the stage for the future of the Ryder Cup.”

For Nicklaus and Jacklin the award is a mechanism — re-establishing the cental core of what initiated the matches from the very beginning in 1927.

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“The excitement and energy surrounding the Ryder Cup always tests your poise, composure and decision-making, and when it matters most,” said Nicklaus, a record 18-time major champion, 2-time U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain and 6-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member. 

“The challenge is that every decision is magnified to its fullest because we’re not playing for just ourselves, but we’re playing for our country, teammates, captains, and fans. I’m glad to see that everyone involved in the Ryder Cup is identifying the importance of the choices these players make in the heat of competition and on one of golf’s biggest stages, and that they are recognizing and celebrating individuals who approach this competition with the proper spirit and who put an emphasis on good will and camaraderie.”

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

Jacklin echoed the sentiments outlined by Nicklaus.

“There’s always a decision that defines you in the Ryder Cup and to have an award that also highlights that decision is innovative for the game of golf and the Ryder Cup,” said Jacklin, a two-time major champion, four-time European Ryder Cup Team Captain and seven-time European Ryder Cup team member. 

“When I look back on my career, to be a part of Ryder Cups, the team atmosphere, and the importance of the decisions that followed – to giving players the opportunity to win an award based on that decision carries a lot of weight and will be a key accomplishment in their career.”

The players are clearly a part of the dynamic of the Ryder Cup matches but the atmosphere is no less impacted by the supporters of each side. Flag waving has become a jingoistic exercise carried to the extreme. Catcalls and name calling of players no more than a few feet away has infected the nature of the matches and Whistling Straits will be ground zero to see if that sad page can be finally laid to rest.

Ryder Cup Renaissance – Concession

The Nicklaus-Jacklin award is an attempt to refocus the purpose of the biennial matches and the players on both sides can resurrect those core principles that Nicklaus-Jacklin put in motion 52 years ago.

“The players are the beating heart of the Ryder Cup,” said European Ryder Cup Director Guy Kinnings. “Once every two years, these individual giants of our sport come together as a team and have to make decisions under the utmost scrutiny that not only affects themselves, but also their team-mates, their fans and their continent.”

Undoubtedly the stakes will be high in Wisconsin this week. Each team striving for ultimate triumph and possession of the storied Ryder Cup. The Nicklaus-Jacklin names resonate with all players and the respect they rightly command. The old-time adage of it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game has not uniformly happened in recent times. However, the imprimatur of the Nicklaus / Jacklin connection sets a clear recommitment and magnifies how the intersection of high stakes completion and respect for one’s opponent can again be driving forces cemented together.

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