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Born Too Early for Big Money, Jacobs Still Has Good Life in Golf

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If you assess Tommy Jacobs’ golf career strictly from a financial standpoint, you quickly draw the conclusion that he was born too soon.

The amount of money Jacobs won in 14 years on the PGA Tour, $227,376, would have relegated him to 44th place on the earnings list for 1987. His season high of $37,072 was good for 12th place in 1964.

Jacobs wasn’t just a hanger-on, either. He won four tournaments and fell just short of a prestigious prize, finishing second to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff at the 1966 Masters. He shot a career-low 62 in the 1962 Utah Open, which he won, and a 64 in the 1964 U.S. Open, in which he finished 10th. He was a member of the United States Ryder and Diamond Head Cup teams that beat Great Britain, the latter in an event for club pros.

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One can only speculate how much money Jacobs, a native of Denver and a resident of Del Mar, would have made in prize money and appearance fees for corporate outings if he were on the tour today.

But all this is of little concern to Jacobs, who at 53 is as eager as a rookie in his new role as golf director at the soon-to-open Rancho Santa Fe Farms Golf Club. He says he enjoyed the tour a lot more than the golfers do these days.

“Sure, the money is astronomical today, but I have no regrets,” said Jacobs, who was on the tour from 1957 through 1970. “We had something that they don’t have anymore. We had much more camaraderie.

“We weren’t jumping on planes right after the tournaments ended. We would go back to our hotel, have pizza together and rehash the weekend. That meant a lot to us.

“Gene Littler pulled a trailer around the country, and so did Arnold Palmer. Now Arnie has his own Lear jet. There isn’t the old, down-to-earth togetherness.”

Earning money on tour isn’t just fun anymore; it’s a necessity.

“There’s a lot more pressure,” Jacobs said. “The lesser lights, the ones without sponsors, need $50,000 or so a year just to cover expenses. If we spent $10 a night for a room, we screamed like stuck pigs. We stayed in nicer hotels, too, not fleabags. I don’t recall what our break-even point was, but it was minimal.”

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Jacobs cited his experience in 1958 to illustrate how easy it was to go from rags to semi-riches.

“I was broke when I started the year in the Los Angeles Open,” he said. “I won a nice check there, around $1,000, and then I finished 10th in the U.S. Open. Still, I was kind of pressing because I had led some tournaments going into the last round and hadn’t been able to win.

“Then I won the Denver Open, and I was on my way. I wound up winning $12,500 and finished 39th for the year. After that, I had enough money to get married and buy a new Cadillac. I always traveled by car, and I bought new Cadillacs every year. The Cadillac people gave the golfers a deal. We could trade them in for more than we paid for them.”

The prize money on the tour keeps going up and up. Last year, Curtis Strange set a record of $925,941, smashing Greg Norman’s year-old mark by $272,645. Paul Azinger earned $822,481.

“And that’s only part of it,” Jacobs said. “The corporate outings are veritable gold mines. Palmer’s one-day fee is a minimum of $25,000, and he probably plays 15 or 20 of them a year.

“You don’t see Dave Stockton’s name much anymore, but he probably makes $250,000 a year on those outings. I don’t think he made $40,000 on the tour last year (he earned only $18,206).”

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Besides the 1958 Denver Open and the 1962 Utah Open, Jacobs won the San Diego Open (now the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open) in 1962 and the Palm Springs Desert Classic (now the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic) in 1964. He earned his biggest purse of all, $25,000, in a non-tour event, the CBS Golf Classic, which he won with Dave Marr in 1965.

“I holed out of a bunker on the last hole to win over Ray Floyd and Bobby Nichols,” Jacobs said. “That was very satisfying. Winning the Desert Classic was worth only $7,500. The next year, first prize was $15,000 and a new car. That was when Bob Hope and Chrysler came in.”

Jacobs’ near miss in the Masters came 14 years after he had achieved the honor of being the youngest player--17 years old--in the tournament’s history.

“I got into the ’52 Masters by being a semifinalist in the national amateur in ‘51,” Jacobs said. “I had won every junior title there was in California. I shot four 79s in the Masters, and I never highlighted my being the youngest at the time. I never knew it going in or coming out. Later, people made a big deal out of it.”

Joining the tour then was easy compared to the hassle involved today. There was no such thing as a qualifying school, in which the survivors of regionals from across the country play six nerve-wracking rounds in an attempt to earn their tour cards.

“All we had to do was fill out an application and list our credits,” Jacobs said. “A four-man board voted on us.”

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After the 1970 season, Jacobs quit the tour to become golf director at the La Costa Resort Hotel and Spa. He directed the MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa for 15 years, leaving in 1986 to take on his new venture at Rancho Santa Fe Farms.

“I decided in ’70 to look for a club job,” he said. “My children were in school, and I was tired of being away from my family.

“I came on board at Rancho Santa Fe Farms May 1 of ’86. It’s another dimension I’ve always wanted to get into. I’ve been involved in a lot of decision-making in putting the course together. Pete and Perry Dye are the architects of the course, and our involvement is not in telling them what to do. It’s telling them what we want.

“I’m not really a golf pro here. I’m just a people manager. We expect to have the back nine ready for limited member play by Sept. 19 or 20, and the complete 18-hole course done by Nov. 1.”

Jacobs said the course will be a “fair” one, playing anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 yards from multiple tees.

“I don’t anticipate having any major tournaments here,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have something like the Southern California Amateur. We’ll cater more to amateur-type events.”

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The new club is private, and to say the least, quite expensive. The cost of a membership opened at $37,500, has risen to $42,500, will climb further to $47,000 and finally to $62,500. It’s an equity club, Jacobs said, in which members will have the option to take over the club when they reach a certain number.

Since turning 50, Jacobs has played a few tournaments a year on the PGA Senior Tour, earning $29,701. But his new project has put that career on hold for the time being.

“Right now I don’t have much chance to play,” he said. “I’ve played in only two tournaments this year, so I’m on the borderline of losing my exemption. You have to play six a year, and one of mine was the Legends of Golf (a non-tour event), so I need five more.”

The senior tour has grown tremendously in stature in recent years and will get bigger than ever when Nicklaus and Lee Trevino become eligible to join in 1989-90.

Since Gary Player has fared well as a senior and Palmer hasn’t, Jacobs was asked for a prediction on Nicklaus and Trevino.

“I think Trevino will be a star and Nicklaus won’t be,” Jacobs said. “Lee is a great competitor, and Jack is so diversified that he doesn’t have the time to concentrate on his game.

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“It’s somewhat like the comparison between Player and Palmer. Player is very serious about it. Arnie still enjoys the game, but he doesn’t have the same goals. Winning isn’t that big for him anymore. Mostly, he wants to keep his name before the public.”

And Jacobs’ own golf future?

“When I left La Costa, I considered playing the senior tour full-time,” he said. “Once I’m settled, I’d like to play at least a dozen tournaments a year.

“Right now, though, I have a big job right here.”

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