APL Champion Memories: John Jackson (1968)

John Jackson claimed the 1968 U.S. Amateur Public Links in his fifth appearance in the championship. (USGA Museum)
By David Shefter, USGA
July 13, 2014

John Jackson claimed the 1969 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Downing Park in Erie, Pa., by two strokes over Art Fujita, Fred Lufkin, Steven Cook and Joseph Andron Jr., shooting a final-round 70. Jackson, then an Arizona State University student, was competing in his fifth APL. He later turned professional and qualified for two U.S. Opens (1977 and 1984) and seven PGA Championships. Jackson, 65, still remains active in the game by serving as the instructor for 1986 APL champion and current PGA Tour member Billy Mayfair. He currently is the general manager at two Greater Phoenix golf courses: Legend Trail in Scottsdale and Corte Bella, a private facility in Sun City West.

How did you overcome a first-round 79 to win the APL?

Six weeks before, I finished eighth at the NCAAs at The Broadmoor [in Colorado Springs, Colo.]. As we were loading everything and rushing to get back on the airplane, a teammate had this travel bag with five pairs of shoes and all kinds of other stuff. And I went to pick it up and sprained my right wrist. I didn’t play golf for five weeks between that time and the APL. I was really tentative when I played my practice round. I was making everything because all I could do was putt for five weeks. There was no range, so I went down the road after I shot 79 [in the first round] and hit balls until my wrist started loosening up. Then I started playing like I normally had been. I shot 70-73-70.

What were the course conditions like?

The week before in Erie they had nearly 24 inches of rain. Downing Park was 7,100 yards. It was one of the longest USGA golf courses they played at the time. There was no roll. There were a lot of 4-woods hit into par 4s.

You entered the final round five strokes behind 54-hole leader Larry Zee. Were you aware of where you stood during the round?

No. 13 was one of the hardest holes on the back nine and I hit driver/3-iron to 3½ feet and missed the putt. There was a spike mark between me and the hole and the ball hit the mark and lipped out. I knew I was one shot behind. On the next hole, I hit a great shot on the green and made a 30-footer for birdie. I hit the putt and it was about 2 feet off the blade and I had already raised my hand because sometimes you just know you’ve hit a good putt.

What happened down the stretch that pushed you over the top?

[Holes] 17 and 18 were back-to-back 460-yard par 4s with no roll. I drove it in the rough on 17 and made a bogey. On 18, I hit a 4-wood to 20 feet and [two-putted] for par. I knew I was tied at the time. The two guys behind me who were also tied still had to play 17 and 18. Quite frankly, I knew I had won. I am quite serious. The 17th and 18th holes were so hard and as it turned out, one guy finished bogey-bogey and the other guy finished par-double-[bogey].

Where does the APL win rank?

It’s like the first thing on your résumé. They always ask as a golf professional, what is your playing record? National Public Links champion. It’s just one of those things that always stays with you. In 1980, I won the National Assistant Professional Championship.

Did the APL win get you into the U.S. Amateur?

There was no exemption into the Amateur. [As champion] you were allowed to qualify. I went up to Northern Arizona and birdied the last four holes to get into a playoff with Jeff Van Wagenen, who had beaten me in the state junior. I birdied the first three holes to beat him in the playoff.

What were you professional highlights?

I played the PGA Tour in 1976 and 1977 and then came back to the Southwest Section [of the PGA] and was Player of the Year in 1978, 1979 and 1980. As a club pro, I finished sixth in the Tucson Open in 1981. I still play well. Finding the time to do it is the hard part.

Three players from Arizona State have won the APL. How often do you see Billy Mayfair (1986 winner) and/or Chez Reavie (2001)?

I see Billy all the time. I don’t see Chez very much. I’ve got a picture of Chez Reavie, Billy Mayfair and myself. We all went to ASU and in the 2002 ASU Men’s Golf [Media Guide], we were on the cover. I’ve known Billy since he was 6. I was the assistant pro at Papago when his parents used to bring him out.

What are your thoughts about the APL being retired after this year?

I was so disappointed that they did that. It’s such a great tournament. All the guys who have won it that I have known over the years. Everyone said it became a college golf tournament, but what it did make the guys who won it always part of the amateur society.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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