2020’s summer blockbuster season has been put on hold because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the movies from the past that we flocked out of the sun and into air conditioning for. Welcome to The Ringer’s Return to Summer Blockbuster Season, where we’ll feature different summer classics each week.
I’m just going to say it: There are a lot of bad golf movies out there. That said, there are a lot of great, fun, and downright terrible golf swings within even the worst of golf movies, and that’s why we’re here today.
Sunday marks the 24th anniversary of the release of Tin Cup, one of three or four Actually Good golf movies. To celebrate this special occasion, I took a look at golf swings in movies and ranked some of the best (and worst). I didn’t include any biopics or stories based on real life, because then the actors are just imitating actual people and where’s the fun in that? Instead, we’re going pure fiction and having some fun on the internet.
So please allow me to do my best Max Homa impression and say: Let’s roast some movie golf swings.
12. Christopher Hawkins, Who’s Your Caddy?
Honestly I’m not even really ranking this last because of how bad of a swing Hawkins (played by Big Boi) has, but rather because of how ridiculous this movie is overall. It’s not great when a film’s first line on Wikipedia includes the phrase “universally negative reviews and commercial failure.” The film’s premise, if you’re lucky enough to not have seen it, is that Hawkins basically bribes his way into a membership at an exclusive country club, and the rest of the club’s members scheme ways to try to get him kicked out. If this was a serious look at the exclusivity of golf courses and how they treat nonwhite patrons, I’d be all for it. But Big Boi spends more time farting on the tee box than seriously approaching those themes.
11. Luke Chisholm, Seven Days in Utopia
Speaking of movies that don’t include much golf. Up until Tuesday, I had never heard of Seven Days in Utopia, a movie which is seemingly about a struggling golfer’s return to the PGA Tour but ends up being more of a Touched by an Angel knockoff. In the film, Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) has a Jean Van de Velde–esque meltdown at a tournament, spraying his ball into a pond, refusing to take a drop, and eventually attempting to hit the ball out of the water. His abusive father/caddy abandons him, and he goes on to crash his car into a fence in the small town of, you guessed it, Utopia.
He ends up meeting Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), who was himself a top golfer back in the day (seriously, did this movie just steal its plot from Cars?), and eventually the two repair Chisholm’s game by painting, fly-fishing, flying a plane, and more. Sure, Chisholm’s swing improves, and the final product itself may deserve to be higher on this list. But if you can get to that point in the movie, you’re a stronger person than I am.
As the icon Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film: “I would rather eat a golf ball than see this movie again.”
10. Mike McDermot, Banning
Ahh yes, the 1960s at their cheesiest. This movie features a litany of misdeeds, few of which are related to golf. We’ve got bribery, cheating, the mob, affairs, and—last but not least—human auctions. Mike Banning, a.k.a. Mike McDermot, a.k.a. Robert Wagner starts off the movie as a PGA professional. So he gets some points there. Soon, though, he’s kicked off the Tour (through no fault of his own), and forced to find his way as the assistant pro at a dirty country club. He finds his game again at the end (I’m sensing something of a pattern with these movies), but it’s only good enough to help him win a club tournament—a pretty far cry from the professional ranks.
9. Judge Elihu Smails, Caddyshack
8. Al Czervik, Caddyshack
7. Ty Webb, Caddyshack
It feels almost blasphemous to have three of the most iconic movie golfers ever ranked this low, but let’s face it: They deserve it. This trio is funny mostly because of its on-course antics. Judge Elihu Smails likes to kick his ball ahead to “improve his lie,” which he deems part of the club’s winter rules. Al Czervik fakes injuries, hits into the groups ahead of him (quite literally, in the case of Smails), and has an absolute unit of a golf bag that pops his clubs out with the press of a button.
Ty Webb is the only decent golfer of the trio. He’s sort of a free spirit, so he doesn’t keep score—neither do I, though for different reasons—but apparently he recorded a 68 in one of his rounds. A score like that probably deserves a higher placement on this list, but he also pulls shit like this on the greens, and if there’s one thing I don’t stand for in golf it’s a lack of etiquette.
6. Joe Anthony, The Caddy
The Caddy is that rare movie which mixes golf with [checks notes] musical theater? Sure! Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin play a dynamic duo—the former is a golf instructor who gets Martin into the game, and Martin is the up-and-coming player who gives Lewis a bigger platform. In the end they fight on the course, get discovered, and become entertainers. But before that happens: Look at Martin’s swing!
The form, the smoothness, the ease—it’s beautiful. Too bad it ultimately wasn’t enough to keep his character in the money.
5. Rannulph Junuh, The Legend of Bagger Vance
Matt Damon does an admirable job of playing Rannulph Junuh, a World War I–era golfer who is traumatized by his experiences in the war and also, to a much lesser extent, the loss of his golf game. In comes Will Smith’s Bagger Vance to become his caddy and help Junuh deal with his demons and find his way back on the course.
Damon’s stroke is fine—and Junuh does get a hole-in-one in the third round of a tournament to put himself back in contention. But the magic of his game comes entirely from Vance, and the one time Junuh doesn’t listen to his caddy, he hits his ball into a forest. Imagine if every time Jordan Spieth didn’t listen to Michael Greller, he hit his ball out of bounds. Oh, wait ...
4. Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore
Shooter McGavin of the Pro Golf Tour, the First of His Name, King of the Finger Guns and the Ninth Green at 9, Protector of the Gold Jacket, the Father of Rhyming, the Buyer of Grandma’s House, the Unchill, Breaker of Happy Places.
Shooter is an iconic movie villain—the guy you just constantly want to punch in the face. He absolutely never puts his money where his mouth is, but that’s fine because we need his vocal chords to stay free to set up one-liners for everyone from Happy Gilmore to Mr. Larson to Lee Trevino. Also, he’s actually … pretty good at golf? Not good enough to win the gold jacket, mind you, but solid enough to hit off a giant’s foot in the middle of a pressure-packed situation without causing serious injury. I think that’s more than enough to earn him a top-5 spot.
3. Pat Pemberton, Pat and Mike
Katharine Hepburn, who played Pat Pemberton in Pat and Mike, was a serious golfer. She won multiple club tournaments when she was young in Connecticut, qualified for the state championship at 17, and often played the Wilshire Country Club with Howard Hughes as an adult (they lived near the course’s 8th green). So when it came time to make Pat and Mike, a film about a female golfer/tennis player who fights society (and an overbearing fiancé) to achieve her sports goals, of course she wasn’t going to use a double to film the sports scenes.
The one below is a favorite of mine—the sheer force of will behind her “watch this” proclamation should be enough to shut any overly quaffed country club member up. Then she goes on the blast nine balls straight down the fairway. My hero.
2. Roy McAvoy, Tin Cup
I’ll just leave this here:
(Kevin Costner could still get it.)
1. Happy Gilmore, Happy Gilmore
Who else could it be?
The figure who led an entire generation to desecrate sacred golf courses by trying to hit their ball off the tee with a running start; who caused me to try to put with a hockey stick, since he putted with a hockey stick; who punched Bob Barker so squarely in the face I thought for sure I’d never see him on The Price Is Right again. (Related: “The price is wrong, bitch.”)
Happy Gilmore’s swing isn’t “good” necessarily, or “technically proficient,” but any time you can drive the green on a par 4, good things will happen for you. Just ask Collin Morikawa.