New favorite golf movie (after Caddyshack): The Greatest Game Ever Played
Caddyshack is arguably the favorite golf movie of all time. One could also argue, however, that Caddyshack is not really a golf movie, but rather an examination of existential angst and the power of self-determinism set against a rigidly stratified caste system, all wrapped up in a classic coming-of-age story and bound with the baling twine of satire. And the characters just happen to swing some clubs (badly).
Still, as far as golf movies go, there is precious little to choose from. Tin Cup had its moments, but ultimately left me flat, wondering how, exactly, do fatal swing flaws and pig-headedness attract women anyway?
I must admit to never having seen The Legend of Bagger Vance, and reviews do not bode well for me ever seeing it. The main problem with it, in my admittedly uninformed mind, is that it’s a legend, and in legends, anything can happen and usually does.
Last Friday, an ice-storm closed my eight-year-old daughter’s school and we slipped and slid to the video store to find her a movie to watch. Imagine my surprise when the movie she pulled The Greatest Game Ever Played down from the shelf.
Me: “So honey, why’d you pick this one?”
Her: “I saw it advertised on Disney Channel. The boy on it is on Even Stevens.”
Me (grimacing): “You know it’s about a golf match, right?”
Unable to dissuade her, and expecting an absolutely awful film, I tried to look on the bright side: As a TRUE story, based on the acclaimed book by the same title by Mark Frost, I might learn something.
But come on. Francis Ouimet as played by Shia LaBeouf from the Disney Channel? Well, at least he’s of French heritage…
Fast forward two hours plus (yes, it’s a bit long this film, even for golf history buffs), to my daughter and me snuggled on the couch brushing away tears as the movie ends not long after Ouimet’s shocking victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
If you’re a true golf fan, you already knew this, so I didn’t spoil anything (as I inadvertently did for my daughter).
And that, in a nutshell, is the point: Even though I knew the story very well, knew what would happen and how, I was completely wrapped up in the drama both on and off the course. I couldn’t help but cheer out loud for the 20-year-old amateur and former caddie as he battled Vardon in an 18-hole play-off. I was moved by Ouimet’s inner battle to find the courage to stand up to his disapproving father and the class-based prejudices of the time.
(Of the time? Hmm, Caddyshack seems very relevant here…)
And the little kid, Josh Flitter, who played Ouimet’s teapot-shaped 10-year-old caddie, Eddie, was simultaneously hilarious and stirring in his depiction of hard-scrabble pluckiness and naiveté.
Sure there are weaknesses: Some sequences are overly long, but mainly for non-golfers. Us golfers – or at least I – like on-course action. And some viewers might take issue with the jazzed-up special effects intended to portray the inner-workings of top-golfers’ mental tactics. But again, as a golfer, I found it quite interesting to ponder just how professional golfers are able to keep their minds clear and bodies steady under intense pressure.
In sum, The Greatest Game Ever Played ain’t Caddyshack (but that’s OK), and it sure isn’t some dopey “legend.” It’s an excellent depiction of American golf’s defining moment, and my new favorite true golf movie.
We could use a Francis Ouimet on the 2008 Ryder Cup Team.
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