Tony Jacklin exclusive: The truth behind my teenage 'sex scandal' - and how I found love after losing my wife

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Tony Jacklin exclusive: The truth behind my teenage 'sex scandal' - and how I found love after losing my wife - Custom image
Tony Jacklin exclusive: The truth behind my teenage 'sex scandal' - and how I found love after losing my wife - Custom image

There was no Ryder Cup in 1988 and it was a real shocker of a year for me.

My wife Vivien died suddenly in April at the age of 44 after having a brain haemorrhage at the wheel while driving near our home in Spain.

It came completely out of the blue. Our three kids, Bradley, Warren and Tina, were teenagers at the time and our whole world was turned upside down.

I was playing golf at Valderrama with Sean Connery, my racing driver friend John Fitzpatrick — the European Grand Tour champion in 1972 — and Japanese property developer Shun Tezuka.

My good pal and former Ryder Cup playing partner Dave Thomas rushed to the course to give me the tragic news. He had found Vivien at the scene and heard her last breath after opening the car door.

As you can imagine, I was in a complete daze. In Spain, funerals are normally held within 24 hours, and suddenly, there was police everywhere, making enquiries and ensuring nothing untoward had occurred.

Everything was happening so quickly. Nick Faldo and European Tour chief Ken Schofield travelled over, as did my parents. Sean and John organised the church service and Viv was buried in San Roque the very next day.

It was so, so difficult to come to terms with it all. After a few days, everyone went back to their normal routines; the kids were at school again, and it became a lonely old world for me for a while.

Tony Jacklin and his wife, Vivien, pose with his trophy at the Hazeltine National Golf Club - AP
Tony Jacklin and his wife, Vivien, pose with his trophy at the Hazeltine National Golf Club - AP

I lost the will to live for a spell and contemplated doing something terrible. I was diving into the whisky every night and I could easily have drunk myself to death.

Six weeks after Viv died, I travelled to London to play in the Four Stars Pro-Celebrity tournament at Moor Park and it was there that I met a young waitress called Donna.

I never asked her age, but it turned out that she was only 16. As I’m sure you can imagine, my head was still all over the place, and she eventually came home to Spain to stay with me for a few days.

At the same time, a friend and neighbour of mine told me about a Norwegian lady travelling to the area to stay with her sister and brother- in-law. He thought I ought to meet her, so I went around.

Astrid was in the swimming pool when I arrived. Her sister introduced us, and it was pretty much love at first sight. That was that as far as Donna was concerned.

She was in tears when I told her our brief liaison was over, and it was at that point that I put her on a plane in Gibraltar. She flew home and walked straight into the London offices of The Sun newspaper to spill the beans.

In no time at all, our relationship was being plastered all over the front pages and dozens of British press guys started to camp outside my front door in Spain.

Donna Methven aged 18 - Alamy
Donna Methven aged 18 - Alamy

Meantime, Astrid and I were getting to know each other a little better. We were going on picnics and stuff but, with all the fuss going on around us, we decided to clear off one night.

The two of us escaped into the country to a hotel near Malaga called La Bobadilla — somewhere the King of Spain used to stay. We spent about a week there, and Dave Thomas was one of the few people who had my number.

We kept calling to see if it was all-clear to return, but the answer was always ‘no — it’s still on the front pages’.

Then, after a week or so of anonymity, Astrid was in the pool when I went up and told her it was time to leave because the former Manchester United football star George Best had stepped up to the plate.

George said he’d known Donna for quite some time and, to cut a long story short, it seemed as though I was now off the hook as far as the tabloids were concerned.

As quick as a flash, the publicity turned positive; it was now a ‘Jacklin finds love’ type of story. Astrid and I were hounded for a while, but we just started to get on with everyday life.

She had been divorced five years earlier and had two young kids in tow - Anna May and AJ.

Tony Jacklin of England with his wife Astrid during the US Masters Golf Tournament
Tony Jacklin of England with his wife Astrid during the US Masters Golf Tournament

Astrid was living in Miami when we met, but I told her to stay with me and that I’d take responsibility for the kids too. It was a whirlwind time, as I’m sure you can imagine, and we decided to get married in the first week of January.

The British press got hold of the story, so we stole a march on them and tied the knot on December 29 at the same church in Gibraltar where John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married.

If truth be told, the deep feelings of grief were still hanging over me. Viv and I had been happily married for 22 years but Astrid seemed to understand and gave me the time and space I needed to slowly come to terms with everything.

My secret five-year battle with cancer

I used to think I was immortal when I was trotting around the globe in my golfing pomp.

If world rankings had existed in that era, I would almost certainly have occupied the No1 slot after I had followed up my victory in the 1969 Open by winning the 1970 US Open.

Now, sitting here in my Florida home in my mid-seventies, I can smile wistfully at the mirror, knowing that I’ve had to dodge a few curveballs as far as health issues are concerned.

I need to wear two hi-tech hearing aids due to being profoundly deaf; I suffer from dangerous sleep apnoea — which means my breathing stops and starts at night — and I’ve been undergoing treatment for cancer on and off for the past five years.

My wife Astrid sprang a surprise by organising a 70th birthday party for me at The Belfry — the iconic Ryder Cup venue — in July 2014. More than 90 guests were there, including Jack Nicklaus, who was in town for the Wimbledon tennis and The Open, and it was around that time I felt a lump in my groin region.

I’d had a double hernia when I was a baby, and that was the first thing that went through my mind. I booked in for a hospital scan, but it took quite a while to get a diagnosis.

Eventually, I had a biopsy and, when the results came back around Christmas that year, I was told I had follicular lymphoma.

The doctors said it was incurable but manageable with the correct treatment, adding the proviso it can also turn into something more serious in 10 per cent of cases.

The first thing I did was call a golf-mad Scottish friend of mine, Dr Ian Hay, for advice. Straight away, he said I should book myself an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota with Tom Habermann, who apparently was the No1 oncologist expert on lymphoma.

Astrid and I jumped on a plane the next day, flew up there for a second opinion, and he confirmed the original findings. Although it was all deadly serious and extremely worrying, looking back, it’s funny to recall what happened while I was waiting for his diagnosis.

Dr Habermann was also a golf fan and while I’m anxiously fretting as I wait to discover if I’m going to live or die, I have to listen to three long-winded stories about Ben Hogan before he gets to the bottom line.

Finally, he said, “If you’ve got to have lymphoma, you’ve got the best version of it. You won’t die of it; you’ll die with it.” Phew, what a relief!

After getting home to Florida, I received four one-litre infusions of Rituximab over one month. This is a medication given for several hours via a slow injection into the veins.

Clearly, Minnesota is a fair old way from Florida, so I needed to enlist the services of a local oncologist, and I found a guy by the name of Dr Manjesh Lingamurthy.

I continued having scans so the specialists could determine the severity of the lymphoma. The Rituximab was doing its job, but a bit of a conflict arose between my two oncologists.

Dr Lingamurthy wanted to include an element of chemotherapy in the injections, but Dr Habermann was against the idea, saying the Rituximab was working fine on its own. He was proved right; I started to feel better, and all I needed to do was get checked out every six months.

Then, suddenly, at Christmas 2019, my left ankle started to swell up — the cancer had returned. This time I did need chemo with the Rituximab, six sessions over six months. “S---”, I thought, “that’s not what I want to hear.

On day one, I had six hours of Rituximab and chemo before going back on day two for only chemo. After a couple of weeks, my ankle started to get back to its normal size.

It transpired the combination of Rituximab and chemo was working as it should. I went on to have the third and fourth bouts of treatment, after which the oncologists said it had all gone so well, I wouldn’t need the fifth and sixth sessions.

Although both doctors were fully involved in the process, I always put Dr Habermann first in terms of advice.

To try and make sure I kept Dr Lingamurthy onside, I took a signed copy of my fictional book Bad Lies to his clinic, and dedicated it to him in a short note along with the words, “Thanks for everything you do”.

An hour later he called me to say thanks. But he kept asking, “Are you Tony, Tony the golfer?”

You see, every time I had visited him, he called me Anthony and this time the penny finally dropped. It was another amusing moment because suddenly he was all over me like a rash, wanting to talk about golf, and I couldn’t get off the phone.

The most important thing, though, was the cancer was now in remission. The doctors explained that I would continue to need regular check-ups but it could be that I wouldn’t need treatment again for another five or 10 years.

I feel lucky that my disorder is not life-threatening although it could have been if I hadn’t taken care of it.

  • Tony Jacklin: My Ryder Cup Journey is published by Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie

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