By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - Hazeltine National, this week's Ryder Cup venue, is a true test and a better layout than it was in 1970 when Tony Jacklin shook up the golfing world by becoming the first British winner of the U.S. Open in 50 years.
American Dave Hill caused a stir when he finished a distant seven strokes adrift of Jacklin in second place, saying the course should be turned into farmland.
It has undergone a couple of facelifts since then. The routing is different this week to how the club members normally play it but Jacklin is expecting fireworks from the 24 players representing holders Europe and the United States.
"It's a big golf course, everything about it is big," the 72-year-old Englishman told Reuters in an interview on the practice range as he prepared to play in the eve-of-competition Past Captains Challenge.
"It's 7,628 yards long, around 500 yards longer than it was back in 1970. There's a lot of sand out there, big greens and it's important to keep on the right side of each hole," added Jacklin, Europe's most successful Ryder Cup skipper of all time.
"It's a good driving course because there are traps everywhere if you miss the fairway off the tee. It's the real deal, among America's top 20 golf courses, no doubt about that."
The holes that are going to play as the 15th, 16th and 17th, where every green is fronted by water, look certain to provide some match play drama this week.
"I was listening to the club professional this morning and he was saying the reason they switched the course around was to make it a very exciting finish," said the Florida-based Jacklin.
"For me it's a bit surreal coming back here, a lot of things have changed, there's a new clubhouse, the course has been redesigned a couple of times but the ambience is still there.
AGAINST THE ODDS
"It's weird, like a lot of things in life. How can you imagine that I won the U.S. Open here almost half a century ago?", said a clearly emotional Jacklin as he gazed at the huge galleries, the vast hospitality areas and the grandstands and signage highlighted by American red.
Jacklin's victory at Hazeltine was achieved against all the odds at a time when world golf was dominated by the U.S., in particular by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
"Guys like me weren't supposed to win," he said. "The all- consuming pair at the time were Arnold and Jack.
"America was the whole central thing, 'Arnie's Army' was in full flow and all of a sudden I came here, won by seven strokes and they were all reluctant to give me the credit that I probably deserved.
"I increased my lead every day, it was no fluke, but Dave Hill got as much publicity as I did that week," said Jacklin, ambassador for the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship (www.britishpar3.com).
"He was whingeing and bitching about the course, saying all it needed was some cattle, some tractors and they could turn it into a farm."
Jacklin, who also won the British Open in 1969, said nothing surpassed his victory at Hazeltine.
"It was a different time back then and golf wasn't as important as some other sports but it didn't diminish things for me, that was the best week of golf I ever had," he added.
"It didn't get any better than that for me, winning against the best field in the world by seven strokes. It was a wonderful time in my life, the best week of my playing career."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)