The record book tells it almost as well. Despite being one of golf's longest hitters and a wizard from deep rough, John Jacobs won only $119,776 on the PGA Tour from 1968 to '80. He finished second five times but couldn't motivate himself to practice. Instead, he bet on the horses, lived off the largesse of wealthy patrons and viewed life through a shot glass. "He's a wonderful guy," says Tom Watson. "I just don't think his lifestyle was conducive to playing winning golf."
At the very least Jacobs deserves a footnote in golf history for his ability to play while impaired. When he crashed his rented motorcycle in Thailand, racing down a flag-lined road from the tournament course after the third round, players who ran to his aid were surprised to find him alive. "He looked pathetic at the hotel that night," recalls Mogg. "His chest was wrapped in bandages, he was dragging his leg, and there was blood on his face."
The next day Jacobs stunned everyone by showing up for the final round. To accommodate a swollen ankle, he cut the top off a golf shoe and taped the spiked sole to his foot. Then, having drunk a bottle of vodka since dawn—"Enough booze will numb you"—he went out and played. "My first drive went 20 yards," he recalls. "My leg was numb, and I was still in shock." Somehow Jacobs scraped it around in 74. Already popular with Asian galleries for his long-driving feats, he achieved hero status with wins in the next six weeks in Taiwan and Japan.
Crazy? More like desperate. Jacobs says he played with a broken leg because he had to; the tournament director had told him he had to finish if he wanted to collect a $2,500 bonus for a third-round double eagle.
Those who knew Jacobs say that the money probably didn't leave Thailand with him. He was the classic golf bum, a nomadic pro who spent freely when he had cash but owned little more than his clubs and clothes. Says Mogg, "He'd leave a 10-buck tip for a two-dollar drink."
The chaos-in-slacks that was John Jacobs seemed an unlikely suitor for Valerie Lennard, the only child of a London clothes manufacturer. "I was wrapped in cotton wool all my life," she says, alluding to a childhood spent in elegant homes and a Swiss finishing school. When their romance began, she would spend two weeks out of six with Jacobs in America, the longest she felt she could leave her boys with a nanny. "It wasn't viable," she says. "Each time it was like a holiday romance."
They drifted apart, but when John played in the 1984 British Open, they met again and rekindled the flame. In 1990, her children now grown, Valerie moved out of her house in London and into a condo she owned in Scottsdale, where she and Jacobs lived like characters in a farfetched romance novel. Two years ago they married and moved into a house on the water that John paid for with cash. Valerie now handles their money, and except for one lapse—John bought a quarter share of a horse with Gary Player while she was in England—he has lived happily on an allowance. "He's not a teetotaling saint," says Tommy, who owns and operates an upscale executive course in Palm Springs, Calif., "but there's much more stability in his life."
John's golf game has benefited from the change. In little more than three years on the Senior tour he has won almost $2.5 million while leading his peers in driving distance in '97 and '98. Tall and straight as a drill sergeant, he shows little wear from his almost 54 turbulent years (his birthday is March 18), save for some white hair and a magnetic bracelet on his right wrist.
The practice tee still holds no allure for Jacobs, but he no longer rushes from the locker room to the lounge after a round. Parties? In the past year the closest thing to a big night out for the Jacobses has been dining out with fellow Senior Bob Duval and his wife, Shari—and even John can't make that sound naughty. Rock and roll? John snorts. These days he gets pumped up for a round by listening to opera on the car tape player.
"When you're a kid, you think you're never going to grow old," he says, smacking fairway woods on the range. "Didn't make a million? You'll make it next year." He stares at the ground. "All of a sudden, 15 years has gone by, and you can't sleep at night."