July 7, 2007

My Shot: Samuel L. Jackson

One of Hollywood's most acclaimed actors on hitting a driver directly on the face (of the stunt man), taking a shank to the back and outfitting Darth Vader in golf clothes.

Photographed Oct. 27, 2005, at the Scotty Cameron Putter Studio in San Marcos, Calif.

Photographed Oct. 27, 2005, at the Scotty Cameron Putter Studio in San Marcos, Calif.

Actor Age 56 Los Angeles, CA

My character in "Formula 51" carries his golf clubs throughout the movie. There's one scene where my guy gets into an altercation and uses one of his clubs as a weapon. During rehearsals for this fight scene, I almost killed the stunt man I was going up against. I'd picked a Titleist 3-wood to swing at him, and he was supposed to be just out of reach. Either he got too close or my extension through impact is getting better, because I caught him full force in the head. He dropped like he'd been shot. Blood was everywhere, and my first impression was that I'd killed the guy. Eventually he came back to work, with a lot of stitches in his head. The thought that haunted me was, What if I'd used an iron?

During filming of "Star Wars II," I carried my light saber in my golf bag. I had to practice whenever I could because there were 109 movements to learn. We were in Australia, and I'd whip it out on a tee box when play was slow and go through the moves. The people I played with thought that light saber was very cool. It was about the length of a driver and weighed about the same, too. One of those moves is similar to a golf swing, used to block an overhand blow. The hands lead, like you're playing a knockdown shot, and the block comes high in the follow-through. Apparently the move wasn't good enough. In the final "Star Wars," Mace Windu gets killed.

If Darth Vader played golf, he'd for sure wear Nike.

What goes around comes around. I was playing with Bernie Mac in Chicago and had just outdriven him by 25 yards. I went ahead to my ball instead of hanging back. Mistake. Bernie's second shot was a skull/shank that caught me in the center of the back on the fly. Sent me to my knees, but I realized it was my fault for walking ahead of Bernie. Then again, when a brother has the shanks, there's really no place to hide.

I love showing up at a muny course around L.A., putting my name on the waiting list and then playing with whoever they put me with. That's how I learned to play, looping a public par-3 course in Van Nuys all day long. I like the looks of vague recognition I get from the people I'm paired with. Awhile back, an older couple whispered to each other for a long time until, on the sixth hole, the man said, "You're Coach Carter!"

Can you believe there are still clubs around that don't allow you to wear shorts? It's 97 degrees, and they say you've got to wear long pants. Who's running these places? They always give you the option of buying a pair of pants in the shop for $250, which is ridiculous. When I showed up at Sherwood in shorts and was told they had a pants-only policy until the Fourth of July — they've since changed their policy — I refused to buy a pair. Instead I got into Will Smith's locker and borrowed a pair from him. When I left I put the pants and $20 in Will's locker so he could have them cleaned.

Tiger Woods said in that commercial years ago, "There are still courses in the United States that I am not allowed to play because of the color of my skin." On one hand, I doubt that's literally true, because it's too outrageous for any club to disallow anyone based on race. On the other hand, I believe there are courses that would turn Tiger down for some other reason just to show how powerful they are: We're the course that turned down Tiger Woods. It's all about power and exclusivity. They discriminate against everybody.

The day I played with Tiger at St. Andrews, I have to admit I was scared. You can feel the game's history all around you. But I settled down. I shot 78, and I'm pretty proud of that, because people have been known to score worse around there. Tiger gave me some good advice before we teed off. "Stay out of the bunkers," he said.

Tiger's got a temper, but you know who gets even madder? The King: Arnold Palmer. I've played with him several times, including at the Hope, and on practically every hole where he made a bogey, I'd find him on the edge of the green, head down, hissing and growling some language you wouldn't believe. Nobody hears him, but he can color the air blue. If it's OK for The King to get mad, I suppose it's all right if I get mad once in a while.

My Handicap Index is 4.9. It's never been lower, but I had more fun when I was starting out. I felt very little disappointment when I hit bad shots. Today I know what causes my bad shots. Knowledge gives you power, but it also opens the door to frustration and disappointment.

Bill Murray is no 14- or 15-handicapper. In truth he's anywhere from a 6 to an 8, the opposite of the Hollywood guy with a vanity handicap. It's not right that he comes to the ATT with that kind of number. I like Bill, and it isn't his fault. The tournament officials want to guarantee that he's around on the weekend to boost TV ratings and attendance. He always gets good pros, too. Me, I'm lucky to get a B-level pro. Nice guys, but not players known for lighting it up. It hurts to play your ass off and miss the cut by two shots. It's a conspiracy, man. It ain't fair.

I move it out there pretty good, 270 to 280. Not super long, but definitely longer than average. I was in the group ahead of Corey Pavin at the Hope one year and looked back to where he hit his drive. I was longer. As long as Corey is around, when someone asks if I hit it as far as a tour player, I can honestly say, "Yeah, no problem."

I'm privileged to get to play a lot of outstanding courses. This year I played Winged Foot and then Merion before the U.S. Amateur. I'd heard that it's too short to have a U.S. Open, so I thought I'd cruise around there pretty good. But Merion was maybe the hardest course I've ever played. The rough was brutal, the greens were firm, and those wicker baskets they have instead of flags don't tell you which way the wind is blowing. A couple of weeks later I played at Glen Abbey outside Toronto, the same course where Tiger hit that beautiful 6-iron from a fairway bunker to beat Grant Waite in the Canadian Open. "What do you think of the rough?" they asked. "What rough?" I said. "I just came from Merion." The course seemed easy. I shot 81 from the tips.

I tried to re-create that 6-iron Tiger hit. Unfortunately my ball didn't even reach the water, let alone get over it. So I went with a 4-iron, and this time, splash. I was making progress. Eventually I got a club I could reach the green with. I don't mind telling you, it took a 5-wood. That dude is unreal.

I love to sign autographs for kids but insist they say "please." At the ATT this year, I found myself near the ropes by a large group of kids, all of them waving their programs for me to sign. But I don't hear "please," so I figure it's time to enforce the rules. I announce loudly, so the whole gallery can hear, "What are you supposed to say?" The kids don't answer, they just continue waving the programs. I repeat myself, this time more sternly: "What's the magic word?" Still no answer. I'm ready to walk away when one of the bigger kids, with a look of total frustration on his face, starts mumbling loudly. Then it hits me: These kids were from a local school for the deaf. They're on their annual field trip. As the adults shot me looks, I started signing and didn't stop until our group fell a hole behind.

Five years ago, a family asked if they could take a picture of me next to their small child. The next year the same family asked me to do it again. We've done this every year for five years now, and I hope they plan to keep going. It's nice to know I look better than a height chart on a doorway.

Samuel L. Jackson

Given the opportunity, I could have been as successful at golf as I am at acting. I might not have become Tiger Woods, but you'd recognize my name. See, I've always been athletic. I was an only child and became accustomed to doing things alone — golf is a great game for those who enjoy being alone. I've always been able to concentrate. The thing is, it wasn't my destiny. I grew up poor in Tennessee. In our neighborhood we used a Quaker Oats box for a football and a rock wrapped in newspaper for a baseball. There was no way a kid could play golf, even though a golf course was a couple of blocks from my house. When I took up the game, I fell in love with it immediately and improved quickly. I was almost 50 years old. What if I'd started 40 years earlier? Who's to say?

There are some very basic reasons we aren't seeing more minorities excel at this game. Reason No. 1: Slam dunks and end-zone celebrations are first up on the highlight reels on ESPN. No. 2: There are more basketball hoops on urban playgrounds than there are holes in the ground. No. 3: Golf balls cost $50 a dozen, and that's just for starters. No. 4: It's easier to get a golf scholarship to Jackson State than it is to Oklahoma State, and it's obvious which school is going to produce a better higher education in golf. No. 5: The caddie yard is just about gone, and if it's a black caddie yard, that might be a good thing.

I hear of people having these golf dreams that are very frustrating. They keep swinging at the ball and missing, stuff like that. My golf dreams are fantastic. My favorite — and I might have it tonight because I'm talking about it now — is where I play the most incredible individual holes from different courses in succession within the same setting. The 18th at Pebble Beach is followed by the 10th at Winged Foot, followed by the 14th at Shinnecock. But it's all the same golf course. It's like heaven.

Best golf movie ever: "Dead Solid Perfect." It got me started playing golf. I can't say much for the rest of them. The irony of the bad golf movie is, the directors usually understand what real golf is about. Ron Shelton, who directed "Tin Cup," is a good golfer and knowledgeable. But the directors tend to view golf as secondary to the plot, which has to appeal to people who don't play golf. They assume the serious golfers in the audience will forgive the golf stuff and focus on the plot.

My garage looks like an Edwin Watts store.A friend will come over and say, "I need a new driver," and I take him to the garage and he chooses one. I've got 15 sets of irons ready to go at a moment's notice, and a lot just hanging around. Putters? Around 75 or 80, and the number is going up.

I have a putting green at my home ... No, it's not real grass. How rich do you think I am? Vijay Singh gave me the best driving key of all time at the Dunhill Links last year: If you're flaring it out to the right, break your wrists earlier and let your right elbow come away from your side.

Stopping at the turn doesn't work for me. I don't like suddenly having a full stomach. I don't like rushing to No. 10 with my hands full of food, fighting like hell to get my sandwich down before it's my turn to hit. I don't like talking with my mouth full. I don't like having my rhythm broken. I don't like having wet or greasy hands, and looking for something to wipe them off with. I've discovered that with a little discipline, a human being can go four hours without eating something.

Only once did I feel like quitting the game. We played Carnoustie after Jean Van de Velde almost won the British Open there. It was very cold and windy. My feet hurt. The course was hard as hell, and I looked for my ball on probably 12 holes — I hate looking for lost balls. I've never felt so bummed and disillusioned as when I left the course that day. But then it dawned on me that my 85 was four shots better than what Sergio Garcia shot. I realized it was the golf course, not me, that made for such a miserable time. When I got back to the States, I played Spyglass Hill, which is also very difficult, and just sailed around. I felt bad about wanting to quit and promised myself I'd keep things in perspective from then on.

The thing they call "The Zone" in golf has a parallel in acting. Good actors reach moments where a scene happens effortlessly. They get the temperament of the character just right, physically they move easily through their environment and the lines flow from them organically without thinking about it. It's easier for me to reach that place in acting than in golf, because acting is my calling. But I've experienced The Zone in golf frequently enough to recognize the feeling, and I strive to reach it. As we all know, it isn't easy.

I've read about how hard it was to beat Ben Hogan. The old guys talk about how Hogan would give them the silent treatment. If it had been me, I would have fought back. Along about the 15th hole, I would have hidden his cigarettes.