Captain MARVEL

Golfer Tony Jacklin, whose life has been a roller coaster, is riding high again as leader of Europe's Ryder Cup team
September 17, 1989

Does that look blue to you?" Astrid Jacklin was holding the beaker from a home pregnancy test up to the Mediterranean sunlight. Her new husband, Tony Jacklin, was lying on the bed listening to a golf tournament on the radio. They had been married five months, and much of that time had been spent trying to sweep sorrow and humiliation under the doormat, and if this damn thing would just turn blue, they might be able to get on with their happily ever after.

You think Greg Norman is golf's all-time heartbreak kid? Tell it to Tony Jacklin, holder of the worldwide rights to bad breaks. Tell it to the man who owned golf 1970 but by 1976 was passing out in hotel rooms from failure. Tell it to the man who had so much confidence that he fulfilled every goal he set for himself, and then so little that he tried blind putting, hypnosis, Scientology and Valium. How about a guy who has more admirers than you could fit in the white pages but can't stand the mere mention of his mother? Three of Jacklin's best friends died within nine months, and one of them was his first wife, Vivien.

"Is it?" Astrid said again.

"Well, if I used my imagination, maybe it could be almost blue," Tony said.

With a sigh, she put the jar down on a table and crumpled on the bed beside him. When the golf was over, she got up to toss the blasted thing in the trash. Only it was no longer sort of blue. It was deep blue; blissfully, wonderfully, rabbit-killing blue.

"Now what color is it?" she said.

What was this? Something going right for Tony Jacklin? No wonder his good luck didn't last.

With Jacklin, it has always been birdies and bogeys, never your basic par. The oldest child and only son of an English truck driver and his wife, he grew up to become the first Brit to win on the PGA Tour since before World War II; he won the British and U.S. opens in consecutive years, 1969 and '70; was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1970; and became the English thorn in the side of American golf in 1985 by engineering Europe's first Ryder Cup victory over the U.S. since 1957. He repeated the Ryder Cup win in 1987 and will try for an unprecedented third Sept. 22-24 at The Belfry, in Sutton Coldfield, England. Then again, he's also the clubhouse leader in receiving telegrams that start "With deepest sympathies...."

But this baby seemed like a new start. Was Jacklin pumped up? When the doctors did an ultrasound that showed not much more than a blob, Jacklin walked around with a photo of the image in his pocket. Sometimes he would whip it out, as if it were a snapshot, after you shook his hand. Just beautiful, Tony. What in the world is it?

Tony and Astrid shared the premonition that it was a boy; they would name him TJ Jr. Jacklin had two boys and a girl from his first marriage. And Astrid had a girl and a boy, too, by an unhappy marriage to former Bee Gees guitarist Alan Kendall. But this baby, this would be theirs, innocent of the old wounds, with no past to see in its eyes, and, besides, the kids were crazy about the idea. It would be a nice blue bow to tie this British Brady Bunch together. The baby was due Christmas Eve, which seemed a particularly propitious time.

Strange. Had it been only 13 months since Jacklin stared down suicide? Since that day in April 1988 when they took him off the golf course near his home?

Vivien, who was 44, had complained of a headache that day, so she took some aspirin. No big deal. But as she was driving their silver Mercedes to get some gasoline for the kids' motorbikes, her brain hemorrhaged massively and she died in that instant. Her car glided off the road into a guard rail. That's where Jacklin's friend at the time, Dave Thomas, found her. Until that day there had been no indication that anything was wrong. She might as well have been hit by a truck.

Who knows what makes a great couple? Vivien was quiet and sweet and Irish, with hazel eyes and a job as a bookkeeper for a draper when they met. He was a Tony Curtis look-alike, a refugee from the hard-hat town of Scunthorpe, near Leeds, where you either fall into the steel works for good or break out. Jacklin broke out like a three-alarm fire. He was so sure he was going to be famous that as a boy he would practice his autograph.

He took up golf at age nine and paid for his lunch at the course with earnings from a paper route and a job as an assistant to a towel peddler. That didn't leave much money for golf balls, so he would practice in his tiny backyard with little chunks of rubber cut off an old garden hose. You're not a player until you can hook a piece of garden hose around the roof with a three iron. Golf began to look like life itself. Jacklin left school at 15 and worked as an apprentice fitter in the steel works for a year, then as a gofer in a law office. But by 17, in 1962, he was chasing dimples for fun and profit. A year later he turned pro and by 1964 he was playing full-time on the tour.

Why not? He was born for the role. The smile kept women close to the gallery ropes. The swing kept him on the leader boards. He wore gold lamè pants and lavender cashmere sweaters, as if to say "If you're going to be a celebrity, you have to act like one."

He met Vivien Murray in the bar of a Belfast hotel in 1965, and he told his friends that night that he was going to marry her. Pretty plucky, considering she already had a boyfriend. In all things, confidence. They were married 11 months later. She was 22, he was 21. They spent all their money on two plane tickets to the Far East and Australia. He would play; she would caddie. They took their act to the American tour, and he won the Greater Jacksonville Open in 1968.

In the U.S., he sometimes felt as welcome as a boil on the foot. The fans and the marquee players were cordial and friendly, but not the lunch-pail gang—"the Dave Hills, Bob Goalbys, Gardner Dickinsons," Jacklin says. According to Jacklin, Hill once stood two club lengths from Jacklin and said he didn't think foreign players should be allowed to play in America. Other than that, bring on your huddled masses.

"These were the small-minded element on the PGA Tour," Jacklin remembers. "They saw you as putting them one place down the money list." Hill must have known something. By the next year, Jacklin was making him and almost everybody else on the Tour look like entrants in the Scunthorpe Open. In 1969, at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, he won the British Open—attaining a goal he had set for himself six years earlier. The next year he came up against Hill at the U.S. Open, at Hazeltine National Golf Club, and clobbered him and the rest of the field by seven shots.

Even some Americans were glad to see that. Hill had spent that week at Hazeltine sticking his finger in people's eyes. He not only roasted the suburban Minneapolis course—all the place needed, he said, was "80 acres of corn and some cows"—but flogged England as well. "If they ever found me over there again," Hill said, "they'd know I died and somebody sent my body to the wrong place."

Paired with Hill in the third round, Jacklin had to endure the fans' derisive mooing at Hill. Still, he became the first Brit to win the U.S. Open in 50 years. He and his family later shared an airport minibus with Dickinson, who spoke to Jacklin but did not congratulate him.

Such scenes motivated Jacklin then and still fuel him now. "America is portrayed worldwide as being this big, open-armed country, yet the rules have been made extraordinarily difficult for the foreign golfer in the U.S.," he says. "I think it's a sad reflection on the U.S. The Ryder Cup is our one chance to prove ourselves."

Ah, but if America wasn't all Jacklin's, England was. They named a flower after him. He lunched at Buckingham Palace. He had a mansion in the Cotswolds. Vidal Sassoon cut his hair. Rolls-Royce made his car. He was devilish and fun, and seemed to be in it for more than his bank balance.

Great Britain, starved for sports heroes, wasn't about to let go of this one. And that eventually became a problem. Of course, no one could see it then. European golf lay at his feet and when he teed off in the 1971 British Open he thought he could win his third major in three years. Jacklin always thought he could win.

"I never thought Jack Nicklaus was any better than me when it came to playing against him," he says. Athletically, maybe not. Emotionally, certainly so. Nicklaus was unflappable, while Jacklin's confidence was sewn of cheesecloth. Nicklaus could win in a minefield, but Jacklin had to be happy, comfortable, unruffled and settled to achieve. When he was those things he was bulletproof—he once shot 29 on the front nine at St. Andrews in the British Open—and when he wasn't, he could come apart like an 89-cent radio.

Jacklin didn't come apart in 1971, but he didn't win either. Lee Trevino did. Lu Liang Huan was second, Jacklin third. In 1972 at Muirfield it came down to Trevino and Jacklin. Making like Houdini among the hillocks, Trevino holed a sand shot and chipped in from 30 feet during the third round alone. Still, the two men were tied for the lead on the last day as they came to the par-5 17th. Trevino's guardian angel was starting to lag behind. Lee hooked his drive into a bunker—he hits a hook once every British coronation—blasted out sideways, hooked his third shot badly, then pitched over the green. What could stop Jacklin now?

What stopped him was the unthinkable. Slapping at his chip disgustedly and almost without thought, Trevino sent his shot toward the other side of the green, but the ball unexpectedly deposited itself in the cup for a par. Jacklin three-putted from 16 feet for bogey. Jacklin was flabbergasted. Here was his Open being handed to someone who didn't seem to even want it. Trevino won with a routine par on 18, and Jacklin never contended in a major again.

"I felt bloody sick," Jacklin said. "Nothing's fair. Life and golf are for the takers. You've got to take it, grab it and keep it. Never give anything away."

That three-putt hung on his shoulder like a rotting fish. Suddenly, one of the most confident players in the world got the shakes over a tap-in. As the family grew—Brad was born in 1969, Warren in '72, and Tina in '75—Vivien was staying home more, and Tony was miserably alone, especially when he played in the U.S. In 1973, he quit the American tour.

The British press reacted in predictable fashion, JACKLIN, FALLEN IDOL screeched one headline. His putting only got worse. By 1977, he had resorted to a variety of desperate measures, including not looking at the ball when he putted, not opening his eyes when he putted, putting cross-handed—everything but getting down on his hands and knees and blowing the thing into the hole. One day in 1976, while playing in the Bob Hope Desert Classic, he became so terrified of his putter that he went back to his hotel room and passed out.

True, he would win a German Open and an Italian Open and a British PGA Championship now and again, but nothing befitting a man who once wore gold lame. So, in 1983, he gave it up and moved to Sotogrande, 20 minutes from the Rock of Gibraltar. That year he was the nonplaying captain of the European Ryder Cup team, and his team nearly knocked off Nicklaus's in his first try, losing by one point at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; he broke through at The Belfry in 1985 for the first non-U.S. win in 28 years, beating a team led by none other than Trevino. In 1987 the Europeans repeated, defeating Nicklaus's team at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, the first time the U.S. had ever lost on home soil. "Jacklin should be knighted for what he's done for European golf," said Welsh golf star Ian Woosnam. Jacklin wanted to retire then, but the Ryder Cup players wouldn't let him. They petitioned him to stay, and he agreed, for one more match.

Through it all, through every three-putt, through every struggle, through every nightmare, through every Ryder Cup victory and every happy new business deal, the hazel-eyed Irish bookkeeper was there for him. Stay by me all of my life, he once wrote in a poem to Vivien. My friend, my lover, my woman, my wife.

And so when they buried her on May 1, 1988, seven months after that last Ryder Cup triumph, it was as if he were staring down into his own grave. Alone? How could he be alone?

Who could he turn to? His life unraveled. Manuel Corillo, a real estate agent who helped him find the land for his newest golf course, in San Roque, had died of cancer in March. In December, his close friend Juan Luis Bandrez, who owned a line of ferries that operated between Morocco and Spain, was shot to death by, an angry ex-employee. His 25-year friendship with Thomas ended bitterly as the result of a business dispute.

He and his mother were barely speaking, and when they did he wished they hadn't. She has not been to Spain to see Jacklin since he remarried. "My mother and I don't get along," he says. "To get along with people I have to like them. I don't share the belief that blood is thicker than water. She has tried to run my life long enough." Jacklin has helped out his parents financially for the last 15 years. He says that never once has his mother thanked him. Asked to comment, Doris Jacklin declined.

Tony saw life as a joke that doesn't quite come off. "You look around and you see guys who can't stand their wives—like my dad—couples that have lived 50 years in absolute purgatory and they just go on and on in a mindless state of not caring. And then this happens to me and Viv, and you can't take it all in, there's just not enough time.

"There was definitely a time when I didn't want life to continue," he says of the period after Vivien's death. "I contemplated doing away with myself." And when he would snap himself out of that, and maybe start feeling good again, he would get another batch of the more than 2,000 cards, letters and telegrams of condolence—from Denis Thatcher, Lord Whitelaw, Edward Heath—reminding him how terrible he felt.

How could he be alone? He couldn't. Six weeks after Vivien's death, he met a 16-year-old waitress named Donna Methven at a golf tournament in England. "I was at my lowest ebb," he said later, "and Donna was kind and sweet, a shoulder to cry on." They had a two-month affair.

Who could guess that Methven was a budding journalist? For a reported $75,000, she sold her story to The Sun, London's biggest and yellowest tabloid, in which the "Page 3 Girl" wears nothing but Page One. The front-page, war-is-declared headline in the Aug. 30 edition read JACKLIN SEDUCED VIRGIN, 16. Included were not only details about when they made love, but also where, how and who was physically compatible with whom.

According to Jacklin, the story was filled with lies. Still, he was flattened. "To try and ruin a life," he says of The Sun's story, "to purposely try to destroy a life just to put something on somebody's knee as they ride the bus to work is more pathetic than I have words to explain."

Still, flowers bloom in the damnedest places. One day he dropped by a Sotogrande neighbor's house and met a Norwegian beauty, Astrid Waagen, 37. You know the formula. "I knew right then I wanted to marry her," he says. Four months later, in December 1988, they were married.

As expected, his mother gave the happy couple her blessing. "He's flipped his lid," Doris Jacklin told the papers. Not that it mattered. Jacklin was in love, no longer alone (he still hasn't been on a trip without Astrid) and wondering how much fun the holidays could be with a house full of five kids.

But on Thursday, July 20, at this year's British Open in Troon, Jacklin's luck returned to form.

Astrid began having contractions, which wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been four months too soon. "Not unusual," she said that day. "All my babies did this." But when the contractions got worse on Friday, it was unusual. On Saturday, they needed to get to London, quickly, to see Astrid's doctor. Nicklaus lent them his private jet. By Monday, Astrid had miscarried. You want a bad break? The doctors said that, in all likelihood, it was a routine test, an amniocentesis, that ended the pregnancy. The fetus was probably perfectly healthy.

Tony Jacklin is sitting in his car. The Rock of Gibraltar looms on the horizon. Jacklin always thought he made a lousy rock himself. Three days after losing the baby, he's crying a little, laughing a little, hashing over the scorecard of his ridiculously uneven life.

"I guess life is kind of like golf," he says. "It's a little like Trevino's chip-in. Anything can happen to you, anytime, so what's the point trying to understand it? You can't make sense of it anyway, so why try?"

Sure, he'll go on. They'll go on. The doctors say Astrid can have more kids if she wants, and she definitely wants. He's the director of golf at the San Roque Club near Sotogrande and he's designing four other courses around the world. He's building an even bigger house for the Brady Bunch, he loves Astrid and he's got the Yanks on the run. Even if his team loses next week's Ryder Cup, it will have been the first time in history that Goliath came in as the underdog.

Yeah, he'll go on. He's used to it now. You take your bounce and you hit it where it lies, right? But why did they have to tell him? Why did they have to give him something else to forget? It was a boy.

PHOTOALLSPORTAfter the '87 Ryder Cup, a jubilant European team hoisted its captain to its shoulders.
PHOTOGERRY CRANHAMThe lavender-clad Tony and his late wife, Vivien, celebrated at the '69 British Open. PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR.Jacklin won the U.S. Open in 1970 but met with hostility from some of the Americans PHOTOGERRY CRANHAMThough Jacklin came close in the '71 British Open, he would never win another major. PHOTOJULIO DONOSO/SYGMATony fell for Astrid the day they met and married her four months later.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)