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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most