Happy Gilmore

Six things we still love about "Happy Gilmore" 26 years after its debut

February 16, 2021

(Editor's Note: This story was originally published in 2016) The list of golf movies is lean, to put it lightly. Don't believe me? Try to name five golf-centric films off the top of your head.

It's a rough topic to tackle, mostly stemming from the golf swing. Signing a decent actor is tough as is; grabbing one that knows what they are doing with the hickories? Like finding a Titleist in a snowstorm. Even the genre's crown jewel, "Caddyshack," realized this: Most of the drama is focused off the course than on it.

Which is what makes "Happy Gilmore" such a nonsensical stone-cold superstar.

The Adam Sandler film about a hockey player turned golfer works because it doesn't try to adhere to the sport's specifications and limitations. Instead, the movie breaks the fourth wall, a proverbial gaze at the audience with a "This is so ridiculous, isn't it?" wink. Hell, the climatic scene involves the protagonist ricocheting his putt off a fallen TV tower.

Make no mistake: "Happy Gilmore" is not a national treasure like "Caddyshack." Depending on your age and comical preferences, the movie is either a classic or a dud, with no room in between. Yet even the film's detractors would concede that, by almost any standard, "Happy Gilmore" is the second-most influential golf movie ever produced. Any "Follow the Sun" claims are there just for the sake of argument.

But what, exactly, gives "Happy Gilmore" such gravitas? As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, here are six things we love about "Happy Gilmore":


The Swing

Even those who've never watched "Happy Gilmore" know the Happy Gilmore swing. If you've never tried it, you're either a) too old to pull it off or b) a liar. Oh, I'm sure there's a puffy crowd stating the act is above them.

The Horrible Attention to Golf Details

Where to begin? A "400 Yard" sign on a driving range; a caddie suggesting a 5-iron for a green-side chip; the "Professional Golfers Tour;" Happy putting with a hockey stick, which I'm sure was USGA conforming; professional golfers, some of the most well-dressed athletes in the world, rocking wardrobe that looks to be from thrift stores; hole fly-overs that are clearly from a different course.

But, echoing the above's position, that's why the movie works. These are inside jokes; a non-golfer wouldn't recognize the absurdity of a 400-yard driving range sign, or the idea of a "gold" jacket. (Note: I once constructed a 400-yard sign at the course I worked at, thinking people would get the reference. They did not.)

So yeah, watching one of the movie's characters hit a ball off a giant's foot because the rule book states you have to "play it as it lies" garners an eye roll, but it's an eye roll coupled with a laugh, knowing you're one of the few in on the proceedings.


Verne Lundquist and Lee Trevino Cameos

Uncle Verne has called many an epic call: Jack Nicklaus' putt on No. 17 at the 1986 Masters, the Iron Bowl Kick Six, Christian Laettner's shot over Kentucky, Tiger Woods' chip-in at the 2005 Masters. Yet, according to the announcer on SI's Media Podcast, what most fans identify him by is, "Who the hell is Happy Gilmore?" Lundquist's presence gives the movie a sense of authenticity and validity. It feels like a big event because he's there.

As for Trevino, his indignation and disdain for Gilmore's antics continue to kill after hundreds of viewings. And while the movie offers a host of quotable dialogue, Trevino's "Grizzly Adams DID have a beard" remains my favorite line.

Julie Bowen

I'm told the average male hits puberty at age 13, but I remember Bowen eliciting a "Hey now, this girl doesn't seem to have cooties" response from 10-year-old me the first time I saw this film. I also recall my fellow elementary classmates calling me crazy; she wasn't THAT attractive.


A decade later, Bowen became the mom of America thanks to her role in "Modern Family:"

The lesson: Elementary kids are dumb.

The Gilmore - Barker Brawl

I would have loved to be in the screenplay pitch when, "So, we were thinking we'd have a tournament mimic the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with Sandler paired with Bob Barker, and eventually they fight to the death" came up. It's wonderfully orchestrated, with Barker buying into the scene wholeheartedly:

Shooter McGavin

Forget sports cinema; McGavin might be the greatest cinematic villain, period. Played brilliantly by Christopher McDonald, McGavin is a jealous, callous, obnoxious bastard. He steals every scene, with every line more poetic than anything Walt Whitman could conjure:


His popularity is evident: One of Golf Digest's most-read posts of 2015 was a picture of Tiger with McDonald. Moreover, a Shooter McGavin parody Twitter account—whose existence is merely applying McGavin quotes to real-time events—has more than 410,000 followers.

Better yet, McDonald, who boasts an impressive IMDB resume, has embraced the persona. I was once at a Buffalo Bills game, and because McDonald was buds with Bills legend Jim Kelly, McDonald was near the Buffalo bench. Once the "spirited" fans realized Shooter was on the sidelines, the "SHOOOOOTTTTTEEERRR!" catcalls were as loud as any cheers for on-the-field plays. While some celebrities would abhor this reaction, McDonald dramatically turned to the crowd and whipped out the infamous Shooter pistol celebration. The stands went wild.

In short: McGavin, while the movie's bad guy, is unquestionably its hero, helping keep the movie relevant more than 25 years later.