Sports Cinema: Tin Cup

This year, I decided to begin a new personal tradition – watch Tin Cup every year over U.S. Open weekend.  I figured that since The Masters is a tradition unlike any other, I might as well create a new tradition for my second-favorite golf major of the year and our very own national championship. And that new tradition involves all things that are good – a true underdog story about the U.S. Open starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, and a myriad of real-life golf announcers and players from Jim Nantz and Ken Venturi to Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Lee Janzen, Corey Pavin, Peter Jacobson, Craig Stadler, and the man whose stories inspired parts of the film, Gary McCord.

It’s a sports film that perfectly captures what we love about sports movies and golf.  True underdog, who for whatever reasons, has wasted his or her potential.  In the case of Tin Cup, most of the reasons are completely his fault.  He’s not disciplined.  He’s a drunk.  He’s lazy.  He hasn’t grown up.  He operates a driving range in the middle of nowhere.  He’s a womanizer.  Mostly things that stop people from fulfilling their potential… unless you’re Tiger Woods. And, even then, when the shtuff hits the fan, it still impacts your game.

But like a mumbling Bill Murray in Caddyshack, everyone loves the true underdog story.  Everyone, especially in the game of golf, roots for the journeyman who has beat back the demons, gotten his life/game together, sharpened his mental game, and has a chance to live up to his potential.

Throw in a late 90s Hollywood babe who is dating the old friend-turned-nemesis of our underdog hero. And, what do ya know, that beautiful woman is also a head doctor to help our hero with his mental game struggles… sooner or later, our hero and this lady may just be doing BOTH things that you can enjoy without being any good at them.  But luckily for Rene Russo, Kevin Costner seems to be pretty good at both of them.

 Tin Cup resonates so strongly as a sports film because it manages to be, at the same time, a classic sports movie formula (underdog overcomes obstacles to compete against jerk-rival-who-used-to-be-a-friend; they have battles of wit and skill; our guy has the one flaw he’ll have to fix to win; the gorgeous girl helps him fix it; he falls right before the finish line right before…)

And that’s where Tin Cup throws a twist into things…

Our hero can’t overcome his lack of discipline. Roy McAvoy goes for the kill instead of the safe win.  He dances with the girl that brung him. And the girl just kicks him in the groin.

The movie plays with our emotions. It lets us think he’s going to win… then he’ll save it.  He keeps asking Cheech for more balls and he keeps putting them in the drink.

He doesn’t win the U.S. Open. He finishes with a 12 on the final hole.  But he holes the shot that destroyed his tournament.  He makes history.  The music swells.  He gets the girl.  He gets his historic moment, proving all the doubters wrong.  Jim Nantz may not understand why he did it.

And, to an extent, it’s a meltdown we don’t really understand either.  But that’s the beauty of Tin Cup in the pantheon of sports films.  It turns what the ending should be on its head.  Other films have done that too, sure.  But it turns out the world will remember Roy McAvoy not for beating all the odds and demons to win the U.S. Open.  But for him going out on his own terms.

Which is better is up for debate in bars, living rooms, and frat houses across the country.  But we’ll keep watching this movie when it’s on TV.  We’ll keep laughing at the lighter moments, wincing at the moments when McAvoy is his own worst enemy, fist pumping when he shows that he’s the most talented in the game, and debating when it’s over.

When the defining moment comes along, after all, either you define the moment… or the moment defines you!

Top Seven Quotes/Pieces of Dialogue from Tin Cup

#7: [In preparation to shoot over the water hazard at hole 18 at the US Open]
Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: This is for Venturi who thinks I should lay up.
Romeo: What does he know? He only won this tournament before you were born.

#6: Dr. Molly Griswold: There’s no such thing as semi-platonic.
Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: Well there ought to be.

#5: Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: This is everything, ain’t it? This is the choice it comes down to – this is our immortality.
Romeo Posar: You don’t need to be thinking immortality – you need to be thinking hit the 7 iron!

#4: Romeo Posar: Look, boss, I only got one rule. And that’s never bet money that you don’t have on a dog race with an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a stripper.

#3:  Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: Greatness courts failure.

#2: Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: Sex and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you’re not good at them.

And the #1 piece of dialogue from Tin Cup is…

Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: You know why I still hit that shot?
Romeo Posar: Yeah, because it’s the only way you could beat Dave Simms.
Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: No.
Romeo Posar: ‘Cause it was that look in your face…
Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: I hit it again because that shot was a defining moment, and when a defining moment comes along, you define the moment… or the moment defines you.

For the other articles in this series, breaking down sports films (all starring Kevin Costner so far), check out:

Sports Cinema: The Natural

Sports Cinema: For Love of the Game


Posted on by Joseph Williams in Featured, Golf, Movies, Sports

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