Golf is like acting says Samuel L. Jackson
At first glance, golf and movie acting may appear to have little in common, but Samuel L. Jackson, star of such films as Pulp Fiction and the recently acclaimed Caveman's Valentine, finds that the approach that has led to Hollywood stardom, a steady menu of hard work and preparation, has reaped dividends on the fairways as well.
"There's a lot of focus involved in acting, a lot of preparation so that you don't have to think about what you're going to do but can react. Having enough skill and training to react naturally, and not worry about anything else, so that the character you're playing is second-nature, is the key. The same is true in golf. I work hard at it so I won't have to worry about how I'm standing or what my swing looks like."
Jackson did not pick up the game until he was 45 years old. After listening to a succession of California friends extol a litany of benefits about the sport, Jackson decided to give it a whirl. "I enjoyed it," gushed Jackson at last year's Isiah Thomas Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, held at the Detroit Golf Club. "I am also competitive by nature, and that helped draw me to the game."
Unlike most people, Jackson took two steps that made success in golf more likely. He adopted a practice regimen before he stepped foot on a regulation-length course, and he started taking lessons. "I played alone all day on a par-3 course near my house, five to six times each week, playing 36-54 holes a day. My short game got a lot better, and I realized that the game is not played from the tee box, but out on the course. The driver is not the most important club in the bag."
Jackson then set up lessons with a pro, or more accurately, fell into them by chance. He had played the sport for less than one month when he participated in a tournament with some friends. "We went to the banquet later in the day and a guy asked who had the worst score. Nobody else raised their hand, but I figured I had to have shot the highest so I raised my hand. It turned out that I won five free lessons. That got me involved with studying the golf swing and the theory behind it, and helped me understand the game."
Jackson brings an intensity to the game that produces speedy results. He studies professional golfers to learn from their swings or to absorb their approach to the game, and he reads a wide variety of golf books. He plays each day when home, rising at 5:30 a.m. to arrive on the course at first light, and enjoys competing with the same group of friends, especially former football wide receiver Pat Studstill. Jackson has also played with singer Johnny Mathis and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.
Jackson takes pride in what he has been able to accomplish in a relatively brief time. With a 10 handicap fashioned over courses such as Pebble Beach, Spyglass, and New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, he has earned respect from competitors. And that pleases the actor above all.
"I'm an only child, so I played by myself a lot when I was a kid. The sense of accomplishment on a golf course is so great because it is you alone. You are responsible for everything you do right, and for everything you do wrong. I kind of like that. I still have one professional I go to all the time who is my golf guru, and he and the other guys are very proud of what I've accomplished."
Jackson, who uses Cobra clubs, believes his even temperament, unspectacular strategy, and deft touch around the greens have led to his breaking 80 with regularity. "When I hit a bad shot I start thinking of the next, I never hold onto the bad ones. I actually think I play a boring brand of golf, hit the fairways, hit the greens, take your two-putts and an occasional birdie."
Other than in charity tournaments, Jackson rarely plays with other actors. Instead, he enjoys a game with Studstill or his assistant and makeup artist. The stakes, usually one dollar per hole, are not high, but they add excitement and a sense of competition to the game.
Most weekend golfers would envy Jackson's golf schedule, which is boosted by his need to travel around the world to shoot movies. "I'm about to do a film in Liverpool, England called The 51st State, so I will be around a whole lot of golf courses. There are 14 near where I'm staying." He has already tested venerable St. Andrews, where he recorded a 79 despite double-bogeying 17 and 18.
Jackson looks forward to each day, which brings a fresh combination of acting in challenging movie roles and playing on great golf courses around the world. "I love the camaraderie of golf, and the golf courses themselves. I love going out on golf courses and seeing the different terrain and different things that are out there. I've played courses that had alligators and deer. It's just amazing how much beauty and wildness golf courses offer, and I've played on courses all around the world."
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