Perhaps Barry Jaeckel is just as charming as Satan. Maybe growing up around Hollywood sets, getting bounced on the knee of celebrities, living next door to John Wooden and being the UCLA basketball team's ballboy gives you such a veneer of polish and wit and slim Southern California style and good looks that nobody can get through the surface to the man inside. It could be that Barry Jaeckel is only running a good con, and if we knew him better, we wouldn't like him much.
But it sure doesn't seem that way.
What it seems like is that somebody slipped the 32-year-old Jaeckel a glass of truth serum as soon as he walked off the 18th green at Sawgrass today with a three-shot lead after three rounds of the Tournament Players Championship.
One of the first rules of sport, especially in moments of almost unbearable personal pressure, is not to tell the truth. Whatever you do, don't let the public, and your opponents, know exactly what's going on inside you. At all costs, find a mask, a psychological armor. So, how do you explain this guy?
"On the last three holes, the choke was setting in. My swing was getting shorter on every hole. It was going to the dogs, really," said Jaeckel after his 72 (one over par on the last eight holes) gave him a 211 total, three shots in front of John Mahaffey (71), Jim Simons (73) and Dan Halldorson (74). "The end of the round came just in time. I wanted to get the hell in. (
"Tomorrow, I just want to keep my tempo and not remember where I am," said Jaeckel, who failed the PGA qualifying school four times from '71 to '75 and has been a nonexempt rabbit in six of his seven years on tour. "Winning, and the 10-year exemption that goes with it, would mean even more to me than I can realize now. Basically, it would be a career in one day. I know I'll choke on Sunday. It's just a question of how much. When I make a bogey, I can't say, 'Well, that's all folks, I'm going in the toilet.'
"I've dreamed and daydreamed about a round like the one on Sunday for years. Sure, anybody in my position would," said Jaeckel, who was 116th on the tour in money winnings in 1980 and is 115th this year. "In that dream, I usually wake up screaming. Frankly, I've never gotten to the end of that dream.
"My chances? Well, they're as good as anyone else's. Actually, anyone within seven shots of the lead can win," said Jaeckel, who was so oblivious on the course that he did not know who was in second place or how many shots ahead he was. "If I start trying to watch scoreboards and play golf at the same time, I might as well go play tennis tommorow."
Jaeckel, whose father Richard Jaeckel is a Hollywood character-actor known for getting folded, spindled and mutilated in the last act, has a cast of worthies not too far behind him including Curtis Strange (71) at 215, Bruce Lietzke (68) and Lee Trevino (70) at 216, and Jack Nicklaus (74) and Ray Floyd (71) at 217.
A lot of his fellow pros obviously think Jaeckel is going to get found at the bottom of a lake in the last reel.
Jaeckel, in his open-handed confessional mood, wholeheartedly agreed.
"I've proved I'm capable of doing damn near anything out there . . . I can fall asleep and choke at the same time," said Jaeckel, who chipped in for a 65-foot birdie at the first hole, but at the 11th suffered "a complete mental blackout" when he left a four-foot birdie putt dead in the heart of the cup but one inch short.
Nonetheless, fragments of a less self-depreciating personality showed around the edges of Jaeckel's talk. "Yes, it's unbelieveable that I'm leading. Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened to me before. But my golf has justified it. What the hell, I've played great. I haven't been in serious trouble on a single hole or come close to taking a double bogey. The only place i've gotten wet is under my arms. I think i've got the guts to win. And I think I've got the game to win . . . this week."