LONDON (Reuters) - Former British Open winner Tony Jacklin borrowed a remark made famous by an erstwhile prime minister when he looked ahead to this week's Royal Birkdale major and declared that English golf had "never had it so good".
Twelve Englishmen currently occupy a place in the top 100 of the world rankings, led by former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose at number 12, the in-form Tommy Fleetwood at 14 and the Arizona-based Paul Casey at 16.
Luke Donald (90) failed to qualify but Lee Westwood (57), Chris Wood (63), Andy Sullivan (70) and Ian Poulter (85) go into the third major championship of the year trying to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992.
"We've never had it so good in England," Jacklin told Reuters in an interview, repeating a statement made by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan that painted a rosy picture of Britain's economy in 1957.
"We've got as big a chance of pulling it off this year as we've ever had. We've got so many world-class players."
Faldo won each of his three Opens in Scotland and Jacklin was the last Englishman to triumph on home soil when he defeated New Zealander Bob Charles by two strokes at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1969.
"Justin will obviously be our trump card," said Jacklin, "but I can also see the likes of Fitzpatrick and Sullivan doing well.
"Those two are the sort of steady players who could thrive on a par-70 course like Birkdale where you need to plot your way around and display plenty of patience."
The last Englishman to win golf's oldest major on home soil before Jacklin was Reg Whitcombe at Royal St George's in 1938.
Jacklin, who also lifted the U.S. Open title in 1970 and is Europe's most successful Ryder Cup captain of all time after leading the team to two victories and one tie in four matches between 1983-89, said Birkdale was one of his favorite courses.
"It brings back such great memories for me," said the 73-year-old. "I have a special feeling for Birkdale because I was named Most Valuable Player at the 1969 Ryder Cup there.
"I won the most points that week and, of course, it became famous for Jack Nicklaus's last-green concession in his halved singles with me that led to the match finishing in a 16-16 tie.
"I also remember producing one of the best putting displays of my career when I finished third as Lee Trevino won the 1971 Open at Birkdale."
Jacklin forged a close relationship with Spain's late, great Seve Ballesteros during his time as Ryder Cup captain.
Going back to Birkdale as a spectator next week will also remind the Englishman of the player he referred to as his "one-man army" in the matches against the Americans.
"Birkdale was where Seve introduced himself to world golf when he finished joint second with Jack Nicklaus in 1976 behind American Johnny Miller," said Jacklin, ambassador for the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship from Aug. 8-11 (britishpar3.com).
"The place has got so much history. It's a great Open venue."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)