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Published: Monday, 6/9/2003

Senior major makes wait worth it for Jacobs

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. - Pro golf's ultimate party animal finally found the ultimate reason to celebrate yesterday.

John Jacobs has bought many a round through the years, but this time he was the one being toasted after the biggest win of his career at the Senior PGA Championship.

A bon vivant who loves a good merlot and expensive cigars fresh from humidors, who bets the horses and listens to opera on his way to the golf course, Jacobs has been a rich man, poor man through the years.

But senior golf has meant riches unlike ever before and yesterday, with a first prize of $360,000 on the line, more money than Jacobs had ever before won in a tournament, he was the last man standing after a wet, testing week at Aronimink Golf Club.

Because of suspensions in play, the 58-year-old Jacobs had to play 31 holes yesterday. He covered the last 18 of them in 2-under 68 for a 4-under 276 total that produced a two-stroke win over Bobby Wadkins.

Finally, a major championship for a man who has played all over the world - he was the first American to win the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, but he never won in 12 years on the PGA Tour.

Playing the good game, you see, was always secondary to living the good life, even when the wallet was thin and Jacobs would turn into the world's guest.

“I was never a John Daly type of guy, I didn't have demons,” Jacobs said. “But my friends were horse track people, not golf teachers and club pros. It's a terrible thing being a horse fan. You have money one day, none the next.

“I was as good a golfer as anybody when I was 13. I was as good as anybody at 18. When I went on tour I was as good as anybody on tour. It just didn't work out. In my 20s, I just figured I'll start winning when I'm 30. Then I'd wait until I was 35. Then 45, then pretty soon it's gone.

“I'm sure if I would have lived a little different I probably would have won a lot of majors. I might have had some regrets at 40, but I realized the Senior Tour could give me a second shot. I can't say I took golf more seriously. But I took my lifestyle a little more seriously. I started going home a little earlier at night.”

Wadkins finished second in this event for the second straight year after his putter went south with the lead on the line.

After a birdie at No. 14 moved him into a tie for the lead, Wadkins reached the par-5 16th in two shots with a driver-4 wood combination. He had a 20-foot eagle putt and a seemingly-sure birdie, but ended up three-putting, missing the second from three feet.

“It was ugly,” Wadkins said. “It's not the first time I've three-putted and it won't be the last time I three-putt, but it was about the worst time I could have three-putted.”

By doing so, he played Aronimink's two par-5 holes a total of eight times without making a birdie.

Bruce Lietzke, with a final-round 67, and defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller (70) tied for third at 1-under 279, one shot better than Doug Tewell (69) and Des Smyth, an Irishman who led by two shots after yesterday morning's delayed completion of the third round before struggling to a final-round 74.

Jacobs became the oldest winner in any major championship since 1976. His next stop on the majors trail will be the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club on June 26-29.

After back-to-back birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 - the first on a 25-foot lag putt that just happened to find the cup -- Jacobs staggered with a couple loose shots down the stretch but saved pars on both of the last two holes.

“I was chokin' like a dog coming in,” he said, laughing. “I had a hard time keeping it together coming up No. 18. You know, my brother Tommy lost the Masters to [Jack] Nicklaus in a playoff in 1966, and a couple years before that he finished second in the U.S. Open at Congressional. I think [Ken] Venturi one-putted something like 14 holes that last day to beat him.

“I know how sad he was. You know how certain things hit you at different times? It hit me walking up 18. I thought, `Tommy, I am going to take this thing home and the name Jacobs is finally going to be on one of these trophies.'”



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