‘Tuneup’ puts Tim Jackson on right track at Mid-Amateur final

Early this summer, Tim Jackson felt a little out of sorts with his golf game. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was, just that something wasn’t right.

“I just felt a little stale,” said Jackson, a member of the 1995 and 1999 U.S. Walker Cup teams. “I needed a little tuneup, I guess you could say.”

So on the Fourth of July, Jackson, 42, from Germantown, Tenn., and the 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, turned to Charley Long, an instructor based out of Spring Creek Ranch in Tennessee, for some assistance.

“We worked on my posture, stance, alignment for the first few lessons and then a little on my short game after that,” Jackson said.

The lessons proved to be pivotal.

In August, Jackson won the Tennessee State Amateur by five strokes, and the first week in October he captured the Tennessee State Mid-Amateur, by six shots.

But the best was still to come.

On Oct. 18, in the first 36-hole final in the 21-year history of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, Jackson drained a 15-foot birdie putt on the 36th hole to score a 1-up victory over George Zahringer III of New York City, at San Joaquin Country Club. Zahringer, at 48 years, 6 months, was trying to become the oldest winner of this championship by two months over 1998 winner John “Spider” Miller.

“I played solid all week,” said Jackson, who was a Mid-Amateur semifinalist in 1997 and a quarterfinalist in 1995. “I hit some bad shots, but I hit a lot of good shots. And I putted really well, especially in some clutch situations.”

With the victory, Jackson, who became the fourth multiple winner of the championship, earned a gold medal and custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Mid-Amateur Trophy for the ensuing year.

And, of course, there’s the special bonus for the winner – an invitation to play in the 2002 Masters. As the ’94 champion, Jackson played at Augusta National Golf Club in 1995 and missed the cut.

“It will be an honor to get back there again,” Jackson said of the Masters. “I’m an amateur and have no desire to be a pro. A lot of Masters history is amateur golf, so I’ll be happy to be a part of it.”

Also, Jackson is exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur for the next 10 years, as well as for next year’s U.S. Amateur. Zahringer gets qualifying exemptions for the 2002 Amateur and Mid-Amateur, which will be played at his home course, the Stanwich Club, in Greenwich, Conn.

And, while Jackson, who was 2 up after the morning 18 holes, is truly a deserving champion, so, too, would have been Zahringer, who never led in the match but displayed the guts and determination.

“I thought the quality of golf was really good today, especially the last 27 holes,” said Jackson. “George is a tremendous competitor and an outstanding player. It was a great match.”

Zahringer, an eight-time Metropolitan Golf Association player of the year (soon to be ninth) and five-time MGA Amateur champion, was equally complimentary.

“Tim is a great champion,” he said. “He played very well today. We both did. He just made the key putts when he had to, and that was the big difference. Both of us are out here representing the working class and I think we represented it well.

“I would have liked to have gone extra holes, but I’m thrilled to have had a very successful tournament. I’m excited about how I played and especially about how I was able to grind it out and go the distance.”

Zahringer, an investment banker who also plays out of Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset on Long Island, was 3 down with three to play. Then he won No. 16 with a par as Jackson missed a 6-footer for a halve. The bogey was Jackson’s first since the 10th hole of the morning round (23 consecutive holes without a bogey).

Zahringer followed at No. 17 – the 35th hole – by draining a clutch 14-foot birdie putt and was 1 down going into the final hole.

At the par-5 18th, Zahringer, who had reached this green in two throughout the week, decided to lay up, leaving himself a 120-yard shot. Jackson’s second shot was left, 60 yards from the hole, and on a hard-pan lie with two bunkers to carry.

Zahringer knocked his third shot to 8 feet and Jackson punched his to 15 feet right of the hole.

Jackson, president of an automobile leasing company, rolled his left-to-right putt into the center of the cup, giving a slight fist pump as the ball came within a foot of the hole. Giving Zahringer his birdie putt, the two halved the hole.

Afterward, both players agreed that a 36-hole final is the best way to determine the champion.

“I feel 36 holes brings out the better player,” Jackson said. “In this case, though, I was just a smidgen better than George. It was that close.”

Added Zahringer, “Playing 36 holes is tough, especially on the older guys. But I do feel it brings out a true champion. And Tim is, no doubt, a worthy champion.”

No one at San Joaquin Country Club for the 36-hole final would have disagreed, regardless of who won. There was a winner and a loser on this day, but each showed he was deserving to be the champion.

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