Golf isn’t exactly an action sport. In fact, watching golf can be downright relaxing. But that doesn’t mean it can’t serve as the backdrop for cinematic spectacle. Some of the all-time best golf movies have a place in the cinematic pantheon.
It’s really a three-movie race for the top overall spot, but there are many other golf movies worth a watch. With the 2019 PGA Championship upon us, let’s break down the top golf movies of all-time.
A talented yet underdog golfer (Kevin Costner as Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy) fights his inner demons while trying to become a better golfer and a better man. As happens often in life, a woman helps him get on the right path.
Complicating matters: Dr. Molly Griswold (Renee Russo) is dating Roy’s former golf teammate and PGA Tour pro David Simms (Don Johnson).
You may not be involved in a golf love triangle, but we can all relate to McAvoy, the everyman’s golfer. He thinks with his heart, not his head, as we see numerous times throughout the movie.
He challenges Simms to see who can hit the longest shot with a 7-iron, betting his car on the results. Roy walks up like a hot shot and crushes the ball. Everyone watching goes wild. Then the crafty veteran Simms outthinks Roy by hitting his shot down an asphalt road, where the ball keeps on rolling—then rolls away in McAvoy’s car.
The 7-iron is a central theme to this movie. To get even with David and win the heart of Molly, Roy tries to qualify for the US Open. He gets to a par 5 and tells his caddy Romeo (Cheech Marin) to break out the heavy artillery so that he can eagle the hole. Once again Roy is thinking with his heart, not with his head. Romeo pleads with Roy that he doesn’t need an eagle to qualify, that he needs to practice playing it safe. Roy isn’t having it, and neither is Romeo. The two of them proceed to snap Roy’s clubs in half until they get to the 7-iron. That’s when Roy famously says, “Now there’s the 7-iron. I never miss with the 7-iron. It’s the only truly safe club in my bag.” Roy then goes on to play the rest of his round with just that club, even when putting, and he qualifies for the US Open.
What really cements this scene as a classic—aside from its absurdity—is the legacy that it left on so many golfers. How many golfers believe that their 7-iron is their best club solely because of this movie? Probably a lot. And why might they actually be right? Because golf is as much mental as it is physical. You can tell yourself whatever narrative you want to believe. If you’re shanking the ball, it’s probably the club’s fault, not yours. But when you pull out the 7-iron, you have the confidence that you’ll hit it true, because Roy McAvoy told you so.
In the film’s most iconic scene, Roy thinking with his heart instead of his head is on full display. At the 18th hole in the final round of the US Open, he’s in a three-way battle for the championship with Peter Jacobsen (who finished with a par on 18) and Simms (who played it safe by laying up on 18, which has him finish one stroke behind the lead.) Romeo once again urges Roy to play it safe, get in position to birdie the hole, and win the US Open. As happens often with guys, Roy doesn’t listen to logic, and risks it all to impress the girl. Molly, for her part, eggs him on: Go for it. Roy hits the shot right onto the green, only to have it roll backwards off the green and into the water. Being the bullheaded, all-or-nothing golfer that he is, Roy proceeds to hit the same shot ten more times, each time with the same unfortunate result. He’s down to his final ball. If another one goes in the water, he gets disqualified. Basic math reveals that he’s got no shot to win—but that’s not the point.
Roy knows he can hit the shot, and on his last attempt, he amazingly hits a hole-in-one. Well, a hole-in-twelve, anyway. The crowd goes wild as Molly exclaims, “Five years from now nobody will remember who won or lost, but they’re gonna remember your 12!”
This is so the mentality of your average weekend golfer. Who cares about what your final score says? It’s all about your opportunity for greatness. And before you think, well, this could never happen in real life, take a look at what happened at the 2018 Masters to Sergio Garcia, who just so happened to be the defending Masters champions at the time.
Depending on when you were born, you may consider this the greatest sports comedy of all time. It’s a toss-up between this 1996 Adam Sandler classic and Caddyshack. For many of us, Happy Gilmore was a staple of our adolescence, one of those movies that made you stop while flipping through channels.
Happy Gilmore is peak Sandler, filled with non-stop comedy. Happy was an unsuccessful hockey player with a powerful slap shot who discovers a talent for crushing a golf ball. He parlays the new-found skill to pay back the IRS on his grandmother’s soon-to-be foreclosed home.
The movie has a great cast of characters, from the romantic love interest Virginia Vinit (Julie Bowen, who would later star on perennial Emmy winner Modern Family) to the ultimate golf villain, Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), to Happy’s one-handed caddy Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers, aka Apollo Creed from Rocky). Ben Stiller also makes an appearance as the very hateable Hal, the nursing home attendant where Happy’s grandmother lives.
If you play golf and you’ve seen Happy Gilmore, there’s a 100% chance that you’ve tried at least once to drive the ball like Happy does. We’re all suckers for letting the big dog eat, and no one mashes the ball more than Happy. The movie’s also filled with memorable quotes, many of which find their way onto the course:
“The price is wrong, bitch!”
It’s Adam Sandler fighting Bob Barker. This is without a doubt the greatest fight scene involving a game show host ever.
“Tap, tap, tap it in.”
Putting seems so simple. All you’ve got to do is just tap it in. Running this quote through your head as you stand over a 5-footer gives you positive reinforcement. Just go to your Happy place and you’ll sink it. Or not.
“Why didn’t you just go to your home? That’s your home. Are you too good for your home?!”
Every golfer ever has left a putt just short. When that happens, this is your go-to quote. Make everyone else laugh while you’re secretly dying inside.
“This is Shooter’s tour.”
Shooter McGavin is just great. So cheesy, so unlikable, you gotta love him. Any time you’re playing golf with friends and you sink a big putt, you just gotta pull out those two finger guns and let ’em know who’s boss.
But there would be no Happy Gilmore without Caddyshack. It’s both the pinnacle of sports comedy and the foundation upon which all other sports comedy movies rest. What helps make Caddyshack so iconic is the cast, starring three of the greatest comedians ever – Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield. But it’s also one of the most re-watchable movies ever. No matter what part of the movie you’re watching, something memorable is going to happen. For example:
Greenskeeper Carl Spackler (Murray), standing at the country club among a row of flowers with a golf club, delivering the best monologue of the movie: “What an incredible Cinderella story! A former unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack at Augusta. He’s at the final hole. He’s about 455 yards away, he’s gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think.” Spackler swings, crushing a flower. “Oh, he got all of that.”
Or Bishop Fred Pickering (Henry Wilcoxon) coming up to Spackler and saying, “I was hoping to squeeze in nine holes before this rain starts.” Thus begins a scene that’s incredibly relatable to golfers everywhere. You’ve got the itch to golf but Mother Nature isn’t going to comply. You rush out on the course to see if you can get in your round before it pours. And predictably, it begins pouring. But as luck would have it, Bishop is having the round of his life. No amount of rain, thunder, and lightning will stop him. After sinking an incredible putt he asks Spackler if he should keep playing. Spackler then delivers the line uttered anytime someone is playing in bad weather since: “I’d keep playing. I don’t think the heavy stuff is gonna come down for quite a while.”
Meanwhile, Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) and Judge Smails (Ted Knight) are the perfect foils. Czervik is a loose cannon, the life of the party (“Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”) Judge Smails is entitled, by the book, and the perfect antagonist.
As Ty Webb, Chevy Chase plays it straight while dropping comedy bombs left and right. Walking alongside Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), he deadpans:
“You do drugs, Danny?”
“Good. Then what’s your problem?”
Then there’s the gopher, Carl Spackler’s bete noir, unleashing havoc on the course. But the little fella’s so lovable! They even turned him into an officially licensed club cover.
Those three stand at the top, but golf is fertile cinematic ground. Here are a few more golf movies worth your while.
The Legend Of Bagger Vance
Pat And Mike
Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius
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