Johannesburg - Given the right breaks early in life, Samuel L Jackson reckons he could have been as successful at golf as he is in acting.
“I grew up in poor Tennessee, and in our neighbourhood we used a Quaker Oats box for a football and a rock wrapped in newspaper for a baseball,” says the fit-looking 64-year-old veteran of over 100 films, including Pulp Fiction.
Jackson, who is in South Africa to make a film called Kite, played in the Telkom PGA Championship pro-am at Country Club Johannesburg on Tuesday as a guest of Sunshine Tour executive director Selwyn Nathan.
There was no way, he stressed, that a kid could play golf when he was in his teens because not only was it too expensive, but the snooty, racist clubs weren’t too keen on someone who they felt didn’t have the right skin colour becoming a member.
“When I did take up the game, when I was almost 50 years old, I fell in love with it immediately,” said Jackson, who on Wednesday plays off a very useful six handicap and has a best round of one-under-par 71 at his home club, Mountain Gate, in Los Angeles.
“I’ve always been athletic and my golf improved rapidly. What if I’d started 40 years earlier. Who’s to say? Maybe not Tiger Woods, but you’d recognise me,” he said with a chuckle.
Jackson said the thing they call “the zone” in golf has a parallel in acting. “Good actors reach moments where a scene happens effortlessly.
“It’s easier for me to reach that place in golf, because acting is my calling. But I’ve experienced the zone in golf frequently enough to recognise the feeling, and I strive to reach it, although it isn’t easy.”
Because of his fame, the Hollywood star gets to play in pro-ams alongside the greats of the game at some of the world’s outstanding courses.
“The day I played with Tiger Woods at St Andrews, I have to admit I was scared,” he told Golf Digest. “But I settled down and shot 78, and I’m pretty proud of that. Tiger’s got a temper but Arnold Palmer gets even madder. I’ve played with The King several times. Whenever he makes a bogey, you’ll find him on the edge of the green hissing and growling some language you wouldn’t believe.”
Golf has become the game of choice among the acting fraternity, and Dennis Quaid (handicap 2), Hugh Grant (7), Bill Murray (7) and Kyle Maclachlan (8) are all useful operators who have regularly appeared at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, as has Jackson.
Some of Hollywood’s macho sex symbols, though, find it a lot easier pulling birds than birdies. The last time someone checked his handicap, George Clooney was struggling off 25, as was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even worse were Russell Crowe, Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise - all dedicated hackers close to the maximum handicap limit, which is 36.