Thursday, August 11, 2016

An Oral History of Tin Cup: One of Golf's Most Iconic Movies Ever Made

Few movies get golf right. Fewer still add to the game's lexicon. (We all know what it means to "pull a Tin Cup" or to "let the big dog eat.") Twenty years after the film's release, the stars of Tin Cup -- Costner! Russo! Cheech! -- take us back to '96 and the making of the most authentic golf movie ever. And yeah, that 18th hole meltdown? It still hurts. "Another ball, Romeo..."

During the final round of the 1993 Masters, Chip Beck etched his name in the annals of golf infamy with his second shot on the par-5 15th hole. Beck trailed Bernhard Langer by three strokes with three holes to play, but rather than go for the green in two, he laid up, inciting the outrage of forehead-slapping second-guessers watching at home. Ron Shelton, the director of such brilliantly offbeat sports movies as Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump, was one of those armchair critics. When Beck made his fateful decision, Shelton immediately called his golfing buddy, screenwriter John Norville. The two men had kicked around ideas for a golf movie over the course of several years and even more adult beverages, but they could never find a way into the story. Beck gave them what they were looking for. What if the hero of the movie was the anti-Beck, a guy constitutionally incapable of laying up, a guy who went for it all the time, even when—especially when—he shouldn't? That was the moment Tin Cup was born.

Released on August 16, 1996, Shelton and Norville's long-gestating labor of love may be the most thrilling (and accurate) movie ever made about golf. The romantic comedy stars Kevin Costner as Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a washed-up pro drinking his days away at a Texas driving range; Don Johnson as David Simms, his smarmy, play-it-safe college rival who's become a Tour star; Rene Russo as Dr. Molly Griswold, the daffy shrink who comes between them; and Cheech Marin as Romeo, Roy's loyal sidekick and caddie. There are cameos by dozens of Tour pros, too, among them Fred Couples and Johnny Miller. But the film is most famous for its excruciating climax, when Roy self-destructs on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open. To commemorate Tin Cup's 20th anniversary, GOLF tracked down the cast and crew for a no-holes-barred look back at an evergreen fairway classic.

Ron Shelton (director, co-writer)
: Our original idea involved a golf hustler at a driving range in West Texas, a guy with a bit of Lee Trevino's background. But we didn't nail it down until the '93 Masters. I was watching at home in Ojai, and John was at home in Oregon. When Chip Beck laid up, we immediately called each other and said, That's the key to our guy: He won't lay up!

John Norville (co-writer): Ron's thinking all along was that we shouldn't write a golf story for golfers. We needed to write a golf story for women who don't play golf—or even get golf. The question became, Who's our character? Well, Ron's family is from West Texas, and there's this great tradition of Texas players who have a whiskey bottle and a revolver in their bag. It's the kind of place where a guy can get lost.

Shelton: We had to overcome the perception of golf as a rich man's sport, because I don't think it is a rich man's sport, it's a blue-collar sport. One of the glorious parts of the game is that golfers will wait in line at five a.m. at a public course to shoot 103. The Chip Beck thing was just the light bulb that went off for us. Our hero's strength and his fatal flaw is that he's more afraid of winning than losing. He'd rather be the big fish in the littlest of ponds than risk winning on the big stage.

Gary Foster (producer): Norville invited me up to Ojai one day to play golf with Ron. We called him "Ballwash Ron" because if he hit a drive off the fairway and over by the ball washer, he'd still find a way to make par. This must have been 1994. Afterward, over drinks, we decided Ron would direct, John would write, and I would produce. Then they went to Warner Bros., because that's where Ron had a deal. It just so happened that Kevin Costner had a deal there, too.

Shelton: When we started writing it, we didn't have an actor in mind for Roy, but about 20 pages into it John and I looked at each other and said, "It's Costner." So I called Kevin, who I'd worked with on Bull Durham, and he said, "I'm taking some time off." I said, "Just read it before you say no." So he did. A few days later, we met for breakfast, and he said, "Damn it. You're right. I gotta do this."

Kevin Costner (Roy McAvoy)
: "Champagne Johnny" Norville and I had gone fishing together, and I knew he was working on something about golf with Ron. But I didn't think about it too much because I didn't really play golf—maybe once a year with my father-in-law. On the first tee, I tended to hit three or four balls, all to the right, and I wasn't too f---ing impressive. Plus, I wasn't working at the time. I'd just done Waterworld and had gone through a divorce, and my heart was pretty much on the ground. But I knew working with Ron again would be the best therapy, because he basically hands you something you can't fail with.

Shelton: Once we had Kevin, we had to start thinking about the other roles, like Molly. In all sports movies, the woman's role is critical. You want to get the golfer and the person who thinks it's the stupidest sport ever. You want both audiences. There were actresses on our list who refused to audition, but Rene Russo was like, "Sure!" And she was perfect. Not just attractive and smart—she's very appealing when she gets flustered, and I thought I could make something out of that. You could easily believe that she got involved with the wrong guy, and can't figure out how to get uninvolved with him in order to get with the right guy, who happens to be kind of a mess.

Rene Russo (Dr. Molly Griswold): I didn't know anything about golf. And I remember being really intimidated because it was such a good role. And I went in, and there was Mr. Charm, Kevin Costner. I was so nervous, because it was the first film that I majorly wanted. We read together, and Kevin's so good I just fell into it.

Costner: Ron casts broads, and I say "broads" as a term of endearment—a girl who can hang with guys and make everybody feel like they have a chance, even when they don't.

Shelton: For the part of Roy's caddie, Romeo, I must have auditioned every Latino actor there was—even stars from Mexico City. Cheech Marin was the first to walk in the door, and after dozens of other actors I just couldn't get him out of my mind. The character he plays is sort of the moral center of this wacky universe. He's the truth teller, he's got the heart. And the thought of Cheech being the moral center of a universe appealed to me.

Cheech Marin (Romeo): It wasn't like, Oh, we gotta get Cheech for this! I auditioned and months went by. I'd given up hope. This was a big, fat, A-list movie, and it was my chance to run with the big dogs. I mean, I'm half joking. Cheech and Chong was bigger than a lot of movie stars, but I wanted to compete in that race.

Shelton: For the part of David Simms, we needed someone with swagger and who could swing a golf club. Alec Baldwin was going to do it, but his wife at the time, Kim Basinger, was expecting. So he called me up and said, "I'm sorry, I can't do it." Then someone suggested Don Johnson. He could really play, which was crucial because we were about to start shooting.

Marin: We were waiting on the set, and every day there was scuttlebutt about who they were going to get for the Simms part. Then all of a sudden it's Don Johnson, and it was like, Oh, this is going to be f---ing perfect! Don and I were friends going back to when we were both young actors in Hollywood, way before Miami Vice.

Don Johnson (David Simms)
: I think it really came down to who could go toe to toe with Kevin and be believable, and who could play golf. I'm not sure that I qualify in either one of those categories, but I'm an actor, and I can pretend really well. At that time, my game was a lot better than it is now. I was an 8 or 9 handicap. I played some ProAms with guys like Payne Stewart. (...)

Shelton: We needed to get some professional golfers in the movie to give it a flavor of authenticity. So we started calling, and their agents wanted $50,000 for an appearance, like it was a corporate outing. We were like, "No, we're offering them $600." And they all said no way. Then McCord had a great idea.

McCord: I called the players' wives and said, "How'd you like to have dinner with Kevin Costner and Don Johnson? The catch is, your husband is going to have to be on a movie set for a day." We rented a big room in Tucson and let Kevin and Don loose on the girls. I told them, "Be Hollywood, and bulls--- with these women; make them tell their husbands they have to do this movie." In the end, we got 35 players, four U.S. Open winners—and they got SAG minimum!

Corey Pavin: I was the reigning U.S. Open champion when we shot the film, and I still get a residual check every six or eight months, for $1.80 or something.

by Chris Nashawaty, Golf | Read more:
Image: Warner Bros.