It’s not easy writing about two legends – and the word is not used lightly – at once. In fact, it’s quite intimidating, not least because reading about their exploits and achievements makes you – well, me – feel totally inadequate and think, “what on earth have I been doing (or not doing) all these years? Blimey O’Reilly, how did they do it?”
John Jacobs and Rachael (that ‘a’ in the middle is a blooming nuisance) Heyhoe Flint are the legends in question and they’ve died within a week of each other, at the age of 91 and 77 respectively. John, a towering figure in the world of golf (no exaggeration), did not make the front pages but Rachael, a whirlwind of a Wulfrunian from Wolverhampton, was on the front page of The Times and The Daily Telegraph, for whom she wrote for many years.
This is an appreciation, not an obituary and I would urge you to learn all you can about both these remarkable, inspirational people. Rachael’s autobiography Heyhoe! was published in 1978, featured a foreword by Eric Morecambe, of Morecambe and Wise and millions of viewers, and is candid and entertaining in equal measure. There’s a lovely, loving tribute on the Wolves website, not a natural port of call for a Spurs supporter, where they talk fondly of being Rachaelised, essentially corralled and railroaded, in the nicest possible way, into doing something for the club or the community. Her memorial service will be at Molineux, where, thanks to Rachael, Maureen and I took Dad, a Sunderland supporter, on two occasions. The first time Sunderland were 3-0 down in about 15 minutes; the second time, they equalised very late on, with Dad frozen in mid-cheer, waiting, with a fatalism born of years of disappointment, for the ref to disallow the goal; he didn’t!
It was as a pioneer of women’s cricket that Rachael really made her name, with the help and support of fellow Wolves and cricket fanatic Jack Hayward but she also played hockey for England, taught, coached, wrote, broadcast, spoke, promoted, persuaded, hustled, laughed, loved, bossed, charmed, exasperated and changed the unchangeable. She always denied that she was a feminist but just by being herself, a formidable, competitive, forceful, funny woman who always asked, didn’t take no for an answer and had the unswerving support of her husband, family and friends, she advanced the cause of women. “Girls don’t play cricket,” she was told early on. They do now and Rachael helped persuade the MCC to admit women as full members (long before the R&A saw sense) and she eventually moved from the Long Room at Lord’s to the House of Lords, as Baroness Heyhoe Flint of Wolverhampton.
All that explains why a friend of mine recalled that by far the proudest moment of her sporting career was scoring a goal against Rachael, a one-time England goalie, who played against Scotland at Wembley in front of 60-odd thousand screaming schoolgirls. There were about 60,000 fewer people at Tettenhall watching Tamworth Cricket and Hockey Club beat the home side in an (alleged) friendly one Sunday and it was Chris Allsop ( she won’t mind the name check), now a golfer at Whittington Heath, who scored the winner.
Most of the obits don’t mention golf but a lot of the tributes on Facebook are from golfers because Rachael not only played for South Staffs but also promoted a women’s European Tour event at Patshull Park for several years.
Jacobs, another strong, forceful character, who excelled at shooting and fishing as well as golf and was a cricket buff to boot, was a Yorkshireman who grew up at Lindrick, where his father Bob was the professional and his mother Vivien the stewardess. Bob, who was born in Brancaster and was assistant at Royal West Norfolk, was in the trenches in World War I and committed suicide when John was nine. John’s cousin Jack succeeded his uncle and was Lindrick’s professional for more than 50 years.
The golfing pedigree was impeccable and John became a handy golfer, with golf taking precedence over homework. One early school report was littered with comments like “lacks effort and interest; most disappointing; wastes time; needs to work much harder. Conduct: unsatisfactory.” His mother signed off the report with the warning: “Never bring home another report with ‘conduct unsatisfactory’ in it.” He never did.
John was good enough to play in a Ryder Cup and was captain twice but it was as a teacher that he was to excel, becoming known as “Doctor Golf”. For many years, there was hardly a decent golfer, amateur or professional, who had not been counselled and helped by Jacobs. He set the standard for teaching all over Europe and in America, developed a successful golf school business and was also instrumental in the founding of the PGA European Tour. That was a process not without its intrigue, in-fighting and acrimony and is documented in graphic detail in Laddie Lucas’ illuminating book John Jacobs’ Impact On Golf, The Man and his Methods.
The preface to the book was written by Peter Dobereiner, a golf writer par excellence, once of The Guardian, The Observer, Golf World, Golf Digest. He wrote of John: “He does not teach a system; he teaches people. He assesses a pupil’s potential, decides which areas to leave well alone and concentrates on parts of the swing which will yield major improvements…..His method is pragmatic and individual……..
“Even if he had not been the greatest teacher of his era or the father of European tournament golf I would still have admired and liked him for one reason. He is an enthusiast, a real golf person. For my money, enthusiasm washes away all sins…..”
Jacobs and Heyhoe Flint, enthusiasts both and quite remarkable.