Golf goes to the movies

Most sports movies stink. I’ll start with that as the initial premise. I’m not sure why that’s the case considering that sport frequently contains all the elements of great drama and comedy and should rightfully be a terrific platform for exploring the human condition. Nonetheless, most fail for a variety of reasons.

For every “Raging Bull” that captures the tormented world of Jake LaMotta in stark and compelling detail, there is a “Babe Ruth Story,” which shows only that William Bendix should have stuck to his offering of Chester A. Riley. When he says “what a revolting development this is,” he could easily be referring to his performance as “The Babe” in one of the worst sports movies ever.  And who the hell cast Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall in “Fear Strikes Out?” Did they ever watch him throw?

Golf is not immune from this curse. When I was a kid, I saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in “The Caddy” and even though I am neither French nor Japanese, I thought Lewis was hysterical.  Fortunately, age and maturity conspired to make me realize that old Dino was really the talented one, but not enough to save this turkey. But golf, I think, lends itself well to both drama and humor, yet it is interesting that my favorite golf movies are almost all comedic in nature. 

Surely, “Follow the Sun” is an interesting, if somewhat bland, description of the travails of Ben Hogan but it is not in my top five. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is a nice try at capturing the meta-physical aspect of the game and any movie with Matt Damon and Will Smith in it can’t be all bad and “Bagger Vance” isn’t. All bad, that is. Just mostly. And “Greatest Game Ever Played” is a good flick, worth watching, albeit a bit slow for me. So what are my Top Five?  My five favorite movies about the game I love.

No. 5: “Pat and Mike.” It’s Tracy-Hepburn at its best, she the accomplished linkster and he the slick sports promoter who is going to make her a big star. Clearly, the heart of the movie is not about golf and that line is always overpowered by the fascinating chemistry that Kate and Spencer exude. The humor is very 1940s, smart and refined, but you don’t have to be an old gaffer like me to enjoy the wit and wiles of this venerable pair.

No. 4: “Happy Gilmore.” I have worked hard at finding Adam Sandler unfunny and I must finally admit that I have failed. He sometimes a tad too sophomoric for me but, I gotta admit, this is one funny flick. Sandler does have a good sense of what is the nature of sport and it shows in what he chooses to lampoon. A fist fight with Bob Barker in which he gets his butt kicked by the wily old “Price Is Right” host is the highlight for me. I dare you not to laugh.

No. 3: “Dead Solid Perfect.” I have always enjoyed this film if for no other reason than the great Dan Jenkins adapted his hilarious novel for this made for HBO offering.  Randy Quaid is terrific as Kenny Lee, an underdog pro golfer, trying to make his way to the top of the heap though one obstacle after another, many of them self-created, stand in his way. Jenkins knows these characters oh so well and his description of the Texas hustlers is hysterical. My favorite character is Hubert “Bad Hair” Wimberly, a wealthy but degenerate gambler, played to the hilt by the great Jack Warden. Not everyone liked this film. I did. A lot.

No. 2: “Tin Cup.” This movie is so good, it overcomes the huge obstacle that Kevin Costner is in it. Actually, Costner isn’t bad as Roy McEvoy, the Texas driving range pro who is a renowned ball-striker but failed competitor consumed by the thought of a “defining moment.”  I hate the ending and the stupid message it sends but there are some many neat characters in the McEvoy entourage, none greater than Cheech Marin as Costner’s loyal caddie, Romeo Posar. Watching Costner and Marin deal with a case of the shanks is priceless, mostly because its so reality based. Who among us?  Huh?

Don Johnson does a nice job as McEvoy’s arch-nemesis and there are some great cameos from Gary McCord, Frank Chirkinian, and a host of other PGA Tour types, giving the flick a heavy dose of reality theater. Ultimately, the script and direction of Ron Shelton prevail and there isn’t a golfer alive who can’t relate to some part of this sentimental comedy.

No. 1: “Caddyshack.” This is not only the funniest sports movie ever. It might be the funniest movie ever, replete with hilarious lines, brilliant improvisation and performances by Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray and Ted Knight that are unforgettable. 

Dangerfield: “Oh, this is the worst-looking hat I ever saw. When you buy a hat like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh?”
[looks at Judge Smails, who's wearing the same hat] “Oh, looks good on you though.”

Can’t stop laughing.  Knight is the perfect foil throughout the film, channeling his best Ted Baxter from the MTM show. 

Murray’s bit on the young hopeful golfer, while chopping the heads off the chrysanthemums, is a classic.  “Cinderella story.”   “It’s in the hole.”

Chevy Chase: “Don’t sell yourself short, judge. You’re a tremendous slouch”

And Murray’s improv on his encounter with the Dalai Lama is just comedic brilliance at its best.  “So I said, ‘Hey Lama.  How about a little something for the effort.’”

Every golfing buddy trip should include a showing of Caddyshack.  I laugh just thinking of it.

Jim O’Neill is a member at Great Neck CC.

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