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Jacobs Eager for Homecoming

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Toshiba Senior Classic starts Friday, so John Jacobs must be licking his lips in anticipation of returning to Newport Beach Country Club.

Not only is it a chance for the Southern California native to return home, but it’s for a tournament Jacobs feels heknows how to play.

Jacobs, 54, played his first Toshiba in 1996, finishing 55th. In ’97, he tied for 40th. An attitude adjustment, he said, led to an 18th-place tie in 1998, and last year he finished tied for second, losing to Gary McCord in a four-hole playoff.

This year, Jacobs, born in Montebello and raised in Whittier where he attended California High, hopes his rise continues.

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“I figured out that they never shoot real well there because the greens are pretty difficult to putt,” Jacobs said. “So instead of going out and trying to shoot 65 every day, I went out and tried to shoot 69 or 70 or something and it worked.”

A lot has been working for Jacobs, who was largely unheralded while earning $119,776 in his 13 seasons on the PGA Tour, from 1968-1980.

During most of the 1980s he spent a lot of time on the Asian Tour and became the first American to win that tour’s money title.

But when he turned 50, he turned it on. He has finished 23rd, 12th, 15th and 13th on the money list in his first four years on the PGA Senior Tour.

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In 1998, he posted his first victory, defeating Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan down the stretch at the Nationwide Championship near Atlanta.

It was a turning point for Jacobs, who finished second or third seven times as a senior before winning.

Among those second-place finishes was a frustrating loss to David Graham, who chipped in for an eagle on the finalhole in San Antonio to beat Jacobs by one stroke.

“You start to think, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Jacobs said. “You don’t doubt your talent, you doubt that you didn’t try the right way when you got into contention. What you’re doubting is that you didn’t do the right thing to win.”

That changed in Atlanta.

“At some point you figure, ‘When you’re playing good, you can beat these guys,’ ” he said.

Jacobs never lacked talent. Before there was a Long John Daly, there was a Long John Jacobs. A booming driver, Jacobs has won the Senior Tour driving distance title in three of his four seasons.

He has also won more than 100 long-drive competitions around the world, many set up in cities near tour stops where some locals thought they could out-drive Jacobs.

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“There was always a guy in this town or that town that was the long driver in that area,” Jacobs said. “I’d have to go tame him a little bit. It was good for a little money on the side.”

He needed it. Jacobs enjoyed the local bars and racetracks at least as much as he enjoyed his time on the course. Golf was an excuse to travel the country, hook up with the buddies he had in each town and figure out what kind of fun they could have.

“I used to have too good a time,” Jacobs said. “I could care less about golf. I was more worried about where we were going to eat and what we were going to do and where’s the race track, than I was getting the yardage on the golf course.”

Jacobs knew he could compete with the best players. Even with his wild night life, he managed five second-place finishes on the PGA Tour.

So with a yearning to win starting to burn inside, Jacobs began counting the days until he turned 50 and became eligible for the senior tour in 1995.

“When I turned 50, I figured I wasn’t going to have another chance,” he said. “I thought I’d better put a little more effort into it.

“I just didn’t prepare myself very good when I was a kid. I learned that you have to go to the practice range once in a while.”

Jacobs has no regrets, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t thankful for the second-chance opportunity unique to golf.

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“Golf is the only sport in the world where the athletes are dying to get to 50,” he said. “Most sports you get to the late 30s, you’ve had it. In golf you just try to hold on till you’re 50.”


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