Sixty years ago, prize money in professional golf was a small fraction of what it is today.
That’s why after Tommy Jacobs shot a 65 in the final at the 1962 San Diego Open at Stardust Country Club in Mission Valley, he jumped in his car and rushed to a motel to pick up his wife. and his son Michael.
“I wanted to save one night’s rent,” Jacobs told Jack Murphy of the San Diego Union that day. “I was rushing to load the station wagon and get us out of the motel.”
Jacobs was tied for 15th going into the final round and didn’t think he had a chance of winning. Listening to the reports on his car radio, Jacobs realized there was a possibility he could make the playoffs.
“I rushed like dickens to get back to the golf course,” Jacobs said. “I don’t often get a chance like this and it would have been terrible if I had been stuck in traffic.”
Jacobs was tied with Johnny Pott in four rounds, then birdied a 14-foot putt on the first playoff hole for the victory and a $3,500 winner’s check from the $25,000 purse.
Jacobs died on Saturday, according to his sons Keith and Michael. The longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident was 87.
“My dad was one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” Keith Jacobs said. “He was very humble, very genuine and very generous.”
The win over good friend Pott was one of four on the PGA Tour for Tommy Jacobs, who also finished second in two majors and was a member of the 1965 Ryder Cup-winning U.S. team.
Jacobs made a local impact as director of golf at La Costa Resort & Spa from 1971 to 1986. While there, he also served as chairman of the PGA Tour’s annual Tournament of Champions event.
Later, Jacobs helped develop the golf course and sell memberships to The Farms in Rancho Santa Fe.
Keith Thomas Jacobs Jr. was born in Denver and raised in Southern California, where he was introduced to golf as a young teenager.
He soon returned to the game, thanks in part to a job opportunity offered by his father, who was responsible for parks and recreation for the city of Montebello in Los Angeles County.
“(Tommy) was the night waterman at the Montebello golf course when he was 14 or 15 years old,” Keith Jacobs said. “He would get up, water the course at 3 a.m., then he would go to the driving range in daylight for a few hours, then he would go to school.”
In 1951, Jacobs won the US Junior Amateur and reached the US Amateur semi-finals, earning him an invitation to the 1952 Masters. He played at Augusta National at age 17, finishing 60th. This made him the youngest golfer to play in the Masters, an accolade Jacobs held until 2010.
Jacobs was a full-time member of the PGA Tour from 1958 to 1971.
Early in his professional career, Jacobs was sitting in the clubhouse the week of the Colonial National Invitational when none other than Ben Hogan approached and asked if Jacobs would join him for a practice round.
“I didn’t even know he knew who I was,” Jacobs said when telling the story.
Perhaps Hogan wanted to take a closer look at one of his biggest competitors. Hogan won the 1959 Colonial in a playoff on his home course in Fort Worth, Texas. Jacobs tied for third, one shot back.
Or maybe Hogan relished the opportunity to play with a man who was equally relentless in the pursuit of perfecting his golf swing, and who would become known for honesty, integrity, and outspoken character in the sport.
“Ben Hogan, who wasn’t necessarily the most approachable guy, people were intimidated by him,” Keith Jacobs said. “To him, coming to see my father meant a lot.”
Fifteen years after that first Masters appearance, Jacobs came close to winning the green jacket.
Jack Nicklaus shot 70 in an 18-hole playoff to beat Jacobs (72) and Gay Brewer (78) for the 1966 Masters title.
It came two years after Jacobs finished second in a major, four strokes behind 1964 US Open winner Ken Venturi.
One of the most memorable moments of Jacobs’ career was being part of the USA team that won the 1965 Ryder Cup. He was one of four Ryder rookies on a team that included Arnold Palmer as well as San Diegans Billy Casper and Gene Littler.
Jacobs went 3-1 in his matches, including 2-0 when he teamed up with Don January, as the United States beat Great Britain 19 1/2 to 12 1/2 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England.
Jacobs’ golf suffered for the greater good in the mid-1960s when he was chairman of the players’ committee and spent much of his time furthering their cause.
Touring players were then part of the PGA of America, which controlled the finances. The purses remained modest — at the 1966 Masters, Nicklaus won $20,000 and Jacobs $12,300 — at a time when earnings were rising with expanded television coverage.
“My dad was one of the guys who started the PGA of America breakaway and created the PGA Tour (in 1968),” Keith Jacobs said. “He was the one who went out there, found a labor lawyer in Chicago, a big hitter … and set this going.
“My father always lobbied for the rights of players.”
Jacobs quit the weekly touring routine at the relatively young age of 36 when he got an opportunity at La Costa that opened up other doors for him on the business side of golf.
But, noted Keith Jacobs, “my dad never stopped working on his swing.”
Tommy corrected a flaw in his swing that led to one last hurrah on tour. The most memorable moment came in San Diego, when Jacobs received a bye for the 1973 Andy Williams-San Diego Open as a former champion.
He was tied for 52nd in three rounds of the tournament, which then moved to Torrey Pines. Jacobs would finish in the top 10, however, when he broke a record 65 on the then-south course on the final lap.
After laying the groundwork for two decades at La Costa and The Farms, Jacobs was always looking for a challenge.
He found them as the primary operator of the first Bel Air Greens Golf Course in Palm Springs and later the Magnolia Greens Golf Club in Leland, North Carolina.
“He lived and breathed the game,” Keith Jacobs said. “He had a lot of principles and was always going to step in and do what he thought was best for everyone around him.”
In addition to his sons, Jacobs is survived by his stepdaughter Yvette and his brother John Jacobs, a three-time PGA Tour winner during a nine-year professional career.
A memorial is planned for family and friends.