From coke addict to golf addict: How Samuel L Jackson found salvation on fairways to heaven

Karen Kay talks to the American actor who has been so badly bitten by the craze that has swept Hollywood that he has it written into contracts that he must have time out from filming to play twice a week

As a boy growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, raised by his mother, Elizabeth, and his grandparents, Samuel Leroy Jackson had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to take to the fairways - to play or otherwise. With black friends who worked as caddies on the courses of the Deep South, he "refused to carry someone else's golf bag". Instead, he spent his childhood playing hide and seek, and ball games in the street with all the other local kids.

As a boy growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, raised by his mother, Elizabeth, and his grandparents, Samuel Leroy Jackson had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to take to the fairways - to play or otherwise. With black friends who worked as caddies on the courses of the Deep South, he "refused to carry someone else's golf bag". Instead, he spent his childhood playing hide and seek, and ball games in the street with all the other local kids.

For the 55-year-old veteran of movies such as Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, Shaft and Pulp Fiction, life couldn't be more different today. Now recognised as one of the Big Screen's most respected actors, he has turned his world around. Once blighted by an upbringing where his father lived hundreds of miles away in Kansas City, Jackson had to fight for his place in a racially prejudiced society, even being expelled from college in 1969 for holding trustees hostage - including Martin Luther King Snr - to protest about the lack of a black studies curriculum.

Since then he's gone on to endure the highs and lows of the Hollywood lifestyle, and today recognises that sport plays a major, stabilising role in his life.

"As I kid I took my outdoor activities for granted. That's all there was to do. Now I am passionate about young people getting out there: physical activity is so important," he says. "To not be in front of a computer or a TV screen, just exercising your thumbs, is so rare these days, and one of the reasons we have problems in society. With sport and other physical activity, you learn to relate to other people, you experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, which is relevant in every area of our lives. All these things build character in a way that video games and television simply can't. And they exercise the mind, too. You know, golf is also a game of strategy and psychology on top of the ability to actually play the shots."

Jackson, a six handicapper who first swung a club eight years ago, was encouraged to pick up some clubs when he moved to Los Angeles from New York in the mid-Nineties, but initially resisted his friends' pleas to join them on the range.

"They kept on nagging at me," he recalls. "And I kept on saying 'no', until one day they tricked me by saying we were going somewhere else and taking me to play golf. Of course, I was hooked by the game immediately. I played as much as I could, at my local public courses: with old ladies, with little kids, I just paid my 15 bucks and went out there to hit balls. I didn't care. I started playing in pro-am tournaments pretty early on, and didn't give a damn that I wasn't up to it. I wasn't embarrassed. By playing with the good guys your game improves much quicker."

The timing of Jackson's introduction to the game couldn't have been sweeter: it came at a point in his life when he was finally coming to terms with alcohol and cocaine addictions he'd suffered earlier in his career.

"It is something I can do that occupies time I would otherwise have spent doing very destructive things," he explains. "I have a sand trap and a putting green in my backyard at home, and a clause in all my contracts that says I have time out from filming to play golf twice a week and have lessons. It gives me a sense of peace every day and I can let go of the business of Hollywood, and the trivial things at home. The golf course is a great place to be, and to learn to live with yourself, finding out who you are, where before I just ran away from all that. It's definitely filled a space in my life. When I had to start dealing with my problems, I was worried I wouldn't find something satisfying, beyond work and family, to keep me going. Thankfully, golf came into my life."

Jackson has just participated in the Dunhill Links Championship, a pro-am tournament played over three of Scotland's finest golf courses: the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. The event saw amateurs such as actors Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper, sports stars Ian Wright and Matthew Pinsent, and businessmen including the racing tycoon JP McManus, the new IMG boss, Ted Forstmann, and the Miami Dolphins owner, Wayne Huizenga, teeing off alongside a field including Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Colin Montgomerie. For the pros, it's a chance to compete for a $5m (£2.8m) purse, and for their amateur partners, it's an opportunity to enjoy one of the most coveted golfing experiences life has to offer.

Jackson was paired with the European Ryder Cup rookie David Howell, and the partnership tied in seventh place on a respectable final score of 30 under par, having held the overnight lead after the second round.

"Oh man, I really do feel great," Jackson sighs, with that oh-so-cool, lazy smile. Reclining prone in his chair in the bar of the Old Course Hotel bar in St Andrews, Jackson is dressed in a tobacco-coloured velour hooded tracksuit. The low, pink, early evening sun is streaming across from the Road Hole fairway outside, picking up a swirl of smoke behind the actor, making him appear like a giant Cohiba laid to rest between puffs.

"I took advantage of some of the stroke holes I had, and even made a few birdies which were useful for our score. It's really important to me that I accomplish what I can on the course alongside the pro. Because of the nature of golf, I can contribute to the team score alongside the guy that makes his living from the game."

How did he feel about that guy being one of the team that beat his compatriots in the recent Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills?

"You know, that's just fine by me. The whole experience of being at that event [Jackson participated in the opening ceremony] was about watching great golfers play great golf. The way the Europeans played with each other speaks volumes about why they won. They played a team game, and played it phenomenally well, and anyone who does that deserves to win. David has great attitude, and amazing focus, but he's fun to play with, too. [Ian] Poulter is cool, and has really brought some rock 'n' roll to the fairways. I love that, man. I really love that rappers and rockers are playing this game."

Today, he's flying back to LA to resume filming on XXX II, and concentrating on taking his game to the next level. After he recorded his first hole-in-one at his home club, Mountaingate, the day before his 55th birthday last year, his ambitions are to defend the only golfing title he has: the Kenny Cup, which is a theatrical society event run by his acting friends in Atlanta. And he'd like to go round a course under par, and play with Singh, the world No 1.

Asked how he intends to achieve his goals, he simply plans on using his acting skills. "I pretend to be a professional golfer. I get into character and go out there and play the part."

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam