Twenty years ago this week, golf finally got its wish – a brash young player who could convert the masses to start following the game that by and large was without a true megastar, the days of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer having receded.
His name was not Tiger Woods; it was Happy Gilmore.
Played by crude ‘Saturday Night Live’ man-boy Adam Sandler, “Happy Gilmore” told the tale of a wayward failed hockey player who realizes his powerful slap shot can be converted into a massive golf swing, prompting him to qualify for the professional tour in order to save his grandma’s house from foreclosure. Along the way he introduces the PGA crowd to a considerable amount of violence and colorful language, is tutored by a guy who lost his hand to an alligator, and gets in a fist-fight with celebrity pro-am partner Bob Barker.
Released on February 16, 1996, about 14 months before Woods won his first Major at Augusta in record-setting fashion, the movie is beloved by today’s pros, with Rory McIlroy, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker, Jonas Blixt, and Marc Leishman all tweeting out favorite lines and scenes in the past few days.
It was Sandler’s second starring vehicle, and made nearly $39 million on a $12 million budget, an unqualified success. A lot of that was Sandler’s already loyal legion of fans – yours truly, all of 20 years old in 1994 – included, but more so were the golf jokes, the announcers, and the cameos – most notable Lee Trevino, consistently disappointed in Gilmore’s behavior.
Christopher McDonald played Tour pro Shooter McGavin, who, well let’s just say it, could very well have been the movie’s Bubba Watson given his aloofness alone; and Barker, 72 years old at the time of the film’s release, stole the show, as his disdain for Gilmore’s poor performance during a pro-am turns into the most unlikely brawl in cinema history, which won it the first-ever MTV Movie Award for Best Fight.
As for the most memorable quote from the movie, it’s downright impossible to pick one, and not ethical to print several in this R-rated comedy, but here’s a few to remember Gilmore by as he turns 20.
Garry Potter (Kevin Nealon) giving Gilmore advice on the green: “Oh yeah. Lotta pressure. You gotta rise above it. You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. Feel the flow Happy. Feel it. It’s circular. It’s like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and AROUND. It’s circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.”
Verne Lundquist (as himself): “What a shot by Happy Gilmore! Who the hell is Happy Gilmore?”
Happy Gilmore commenting on his fellow golfers’ course attire: “If I saw myself in clothest like that, I’d have to kick my own ass.”