We’ve already touched on my personal favorite part of spring, but right behind dawdling on the diamond is The Tradition Unlike Any Other, The Masters. The tournament begins next Thursday, and as always Augusta National will provide drama, tragedy, and the greenest green I’ve ever seen. I can’t fault those who find golf boring and difficult to watch, but the Masters transcends the sport as one of the great traditional events in any competitive realm. Likewise, these three movies provide entertainment for all, no matter how much you may despise the sport.
The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
Blessed with a fairytale true story for source material, director Bill Paxton captured Francis Ouimet’s improbable 1913 U.S. Open with heightened drama and at least semi-believable swings by his actors. Pre-weirdo Shia LaBeouf was still riding the love from Even Stevens, and though he is hard to believe as a talented golfer, his exuberance plays well. This film is meant for kids more than the following two, and beside LaBeouf is Josh Flitter, stealing every one of his scenes as Ouimet’s pint-sized caddy. The playing sequences are not great, and the Ouimet family melodrama seems a bit forced, but the fact remains Ouimet’s story is one of the greatest in not just golf history but in all of sports. A talented amateur taking down a couple of the game’s early titans sounds more like a screenplay than a reality, so even lukewarm acting and plot cannot derail the heartwarming nature of the movie. I would recommend the other two first, but The Greatest Game does provide a good family option as you show your young ones why golf is so wonderful.
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
Combining director Robert Redford with Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Charlize Theron appears on paper to be the recipe for a guaranteed blockbuster, but Bagger actually flopped pretty hard, grossing just under half of its reported budget of eighty million dollars. Like TGGEP, Redford’s movie benefits from the presence of historic figures in Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen (the fantastic Bruce McGill), though the story cannot boast the truthiness of the aforementioned film. Damon plays a WWI vet struggling with PTSD thrust into a exhibition match against Jones and Hagen, unable to find his once-perfect swing until the arrival of the mysterious Bagger Vance, played by Smith. Now, none of the three stars will mark this as a high point in otherwise distinguished acting careers, but the movie is light and entertaining, and the on-course action is probably the most believable of the three films discussed here. Sleepy postwar Georgia makes for a fun environment for the type of sporting event I wish still existed, though I can understand how the movie flopped, as even its final scene redeems the antiquated rules of golf that drive so many people wild or away from watching in real life. Redford loves his hazy mystique, and it works here if you like the sport, though the movie does remain a bit thin.
Tin Cup (1996)
Despite my deep-reaching dislike for Rene Russo, this has to be my favorite of the three. Kevin Costner has made a healthy living off of sports movies, and this may be his most underrated. He plays Roy McAvoy, an overqualified teaching pro wasting away his time on a burnt-out Texas driving range. When Russo’s Dr. Molly Griswold shows up, Costner eventually finds the motivation to try to qualify for the U.S. Open. Armed with a unique swing and Cheech as his caddy, Roy moves through qualifying rounds, regaining his swing and confidence but limited by his stubborn gung-ho style of play. At its heart a romantic comedy, Tin Cup does have good in-game action and hilarious scenes, with Roy forced to overcome the “Shanks” and compelled to show off his unique brand of skill amidst a crowd of other pros. I was going to proudly exclaim the movie’s willful mediocrity, but then I sarcastically searched the title for any awards, finding that somehow KEVIN COSTNER WAS NOMINATED FOR A GOLDEN GLOBE FOR TIN CUP. Let that sink in. Deserved or not, the nomination reflects Costner’s ability to embody the essence of Roy McAvoy, a bum whose greatest obstacle has always been and will always be himself. Tin Cup probably has the most commercial appeal of these three movies, and it will always be rewatchable.
If you’re like me, you know The Masters won’t quite be the same without Tiger next week, but the tournament still represents the best of a flawed game’s many traditions, traditions reflected in varying ways in these three movies. Love golf or hate it, you can’t go too wrong with any of the three.