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Captain MARVEL
Rick Reilly
September 18, 1989
Golfer Tony Jacklin, whose life has been a roller coaster, is riding high again as leader of Europe's Ryder Cup team
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September 18, 1989

Captain Marvel

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

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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 lamé 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.

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