The past nine months have been a golfer's roller coaster ride for John Jacobs. Riding the crest of an emotional Senior PGA Championship triumph last June at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., Jacobs didn't have much time to celebrate. He suffered a freak accident last August at the 85th PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., that curtailed his momentum for the season.
While walking between the 13th and 14th hole at Oak Hill Country Club during a practice round, a marshal raised the gallery ropes as Jacobs and his playing partners walked through the crowd. The rope caused a young girl to slip in the path of Jacobs, who tripped when he tried to avoid the youngster.
Jacobs suffered ligament damage to his left ankle, and went on to post a pain-filled 87 in the first round of the season's final major before withdrawing the next day.
"I jammed my foot in the ground attempting not to fall on the little girl and I could not put any weight on my left side when I swung the club," said Jacobs. "Had I not been able to ride in tournaments after that, I wouldn't have been able to continue playing on the [Champions] Tour. I probably should have taken the time off."
Now healed, the 59-year-old Jacobs has no intention of slowing down as he prepares to defend his title in the 65th Senior PGA Championship, May 27-30, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. He is currently ranked second on the Champions Tour in driving distance with a 292.7-yard average.
"When I think I'm down, I draw strength from the memory of last year's Championship," said Jacobs. "I think it lets my brain know that I can play this game.
"I feel good, and I'm doing fine. If I can drive the ball straight, then I can play well and keep up. Last year in the Senior PGA Championship, I was pretty focused all week. As soon as I saw how I was driving the ball, and driving it straight was paramount at Aronimink, I knew it was going to be a good week for me."
Last year's major triumph made Jacobs the oldest player to win the Senior PGA Championship since Pete Cooper, at age 76, won in 1976. This year, Jacobs comes into the oldest and most prestigious event in senior golf with a new weapon. He's carrying a new driver, manufactured by Makser of Spain.
"It's going really well for me at this point," said Jacobs, who has won $169,908 in six events and has two top-10 and four overall top-20 finishes.
Jacobs also will be arriving at Valhalla Golf Club, where he has never played before, with a new caddie. Longtime partner Jim Cole also has been on the injury list. He suffered ligament damage in his heel and Jacobs picked up Keith Cornwell of San Antonio, Texas, who formerly worked for Tour professional Frank Conner. Cornwell also is doubling his duty, splitting time by carrying the bag of LPGA Tour professional Lisa DePaulo, a friend of Jacobs.
"I'm looking forward to defending my title," Jacobs said. "That is a special feeling for me. Last year's win was very special to me. I had a hard time walking up 18. I was thinking about my brother (Tommy), who had come so close to winning a major and I ended up stumbling into one.
"I may have won at 58, but I know I can still play and feel I can keep doing so as long as I'm feeling well and willing to work at it. If you can keep your length off the tee, you have a chance."
The 156-player Senior PGA Championship field won't close its entries until April 14. The commitments currently feature 11 past Senior PGA Champions who will be joining Jacobs in the title hunt: Jack Fleck (1979), Arnold Palmer (1980, '84), Jack Nicklaus (1991), Tom Wargo (1993), Raymond Floyd (1995), Hale Irwin (1996, '97, '98), Allen Doyle (1999), Doug Tewell (2000), Tom Watson (2001) and Fuzzy Zoeller (2002).
Tickets to the 65th Senior PGA Championship are available by calling 1-800-PGA-TCKT (742-8258), or by visiting www.pga.com/seniorPGA/2004.
The PGA of America, founded in 1916, is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.
Copyright 2004 by PGA.com. All rights reserved.