Van Cynical Mailbag: ‘The Squeeze’ Is OK — For a Golf Movie

April 14, 2015

We still don’t have a winner in the Greatest Golf Movie category. The default champion would be Caddyshack, I suppose, because it’s got a dozen funny lines that are still quoted three decades later, but golf is a sport that has never had its Rudy or Jim Thorpe: All-American film moment.

At last, however, we’ve got a winner for Best Authentic Golf Swing by an actor in a golf movie. The Squeeze is teed up to hit theaters this week. It’s a movie about golf and gambling and finally, the lead character in a golf movie is someone who can play golf instead of a Hollywood poser who wouldn’t know a birdie putt from a badminton racquet.

Kevin Costner, Don Johnson, Shia LaBeouf, Jim Caviezel, Matt Damon (OK, especially Matt Damon!), Adam Sandler, Caddyshack’s Danny Noonan and the other non-golfers should sit down in the cart and watch.

The Squeeze features Jeremy Sumpter, 30, as Augie, a small-town phenom who plays muni golf in cut-offs and makes the dubious choice to earn money by joining forces with a sleazy professional gambler — played by the guy who made you love Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore. The startling news is Sumpter is a player. He’s got a 1 handicap out in La-La Land (California) and has shot a scratch 66.

This makes Augie one of the few believable golfers in golf movie-dom. Lucas Black looked decent in Seven Days In Utopia, a good book made into a terribly shallow movie that hardly anyone saw. Black now stars in NCIS: New Orleans.

There’s a scene in The Squeeze in which Augie uses the back of his putter to scoop his ball off the fairway, flip it up in the air, and then swing his putter like a baseball bat to hit it onto the green. When Sumpter showed off this trick during an audition round at Bel-Air Country Club with director Terry Jastrow and pulled it off, Sumpter got the job on the spot.

Before Sumpter and Black, the most believable golf movie swing in a starring role probably belonged to Katherine Hepburn at Riviera in Pat and Mike. After she tanks a match with her husband’s boss, Hepburn vents her frustration by stepping up to a row of teed-up golf balls and impressively ripping off a series of bullets in rapid-fire fashion.

So The Squeeze has authentic-looking golf scenes for the most part, something Hollywood has always had trouble with. Remember in The Greatest Game Ever Played, the story of Francis Ouimet, and the producers changed the scores in the big match to make it more dramatic? Yeah, why stick to history in a biopic if it doesn’t fit your storyline? Inexcusable.

The only authenticity glitch in The Squeeze is the cross-country-through-town match (a dreadful cliché, by the way) in which Augie’s girlfriend competes. Jillian Murray, the actress who plays Natalie, wouldn’t get anything airborne with that inadequate swing but at least she makes up for it by setting up the movie’s best line.

Playing through a subdivision, she hits her ball into a backyard swimming pool. Two young teenage boys are sitting poolside when she rushes up, strips down to her sports bra and dives into the pool to retrieve her ball. She climbs out, takes a drop and hits another shot. The google-eyed boys stare at her shapely, dripping-wet form.

“What are you doing?” one of them asks. Playing golf, she answers before she sprints off. One teen says dreamily, “I love golf.”

The dialogue in The Squeeze is otherwise totally pedestrian. It reminds me a bit of Tin Cup because while it has some fatal flaws, it earns points for originality. The ending of Tin Cup was inane because no golfer would ever, ever, ever stand in the fairway and empty his bag hitting a 3-wood shot. That was beyond stupid. But since you expected the standard Hollywood ending and the hero made a big number and lost the U.S. Open instead, it wasn’t all bad.

The Squeeze goes in directions you don’t expect, which is good. The plot can’t be explained in detail without giving too much away. Basically, Augie needs money and against his girlfriend’s wishes, he starts playing money matches for Shooter McGavin’s gambler. That’s when things start to go awry.

Here’s the other parallel to Tin Cup: Costner’s character was a self-important jerk. Compared to Don Johnson’s villain, yeah, he’s the good guy, but you’re really not rooting that hard for him because he’s not likable. Augie has the same problem. Are we supposed to be rooting for him because he uses his illegal gambling money to buy his little sister a cheerleading outfit? Because he brings cash home and gives it to his mom, who apparently is broke? Because he stands up and is ready to fight his drunk, abusive father in a dinner scene that has little to do with the rest of the movie?

Augie gets into money matches even though his girlfriend philosophically opposes gambling. He goes to Las Vegas to play in a tournament, also against her wishes. There, he starts drinking before a money match (why?), cheats on her with a lounge singer (again, why?) and gets threatened by a rival gambler — it’s Michael Nouri, who steals every scene as a menacing Godfather type. If you don’t recognize him, he was the love interest a million years ago in Flashdance.

After all those mis-steps, Augie calls his girlfriend back and asks for help. Frankly, I was hoping she’d hang up on him. What part of being a selfish twerp doesn’t he get? The Squeeze needed to give me a reason to invest in Augie. Being a good golfer wasn’t enough and Augie’s character, like all of the characters except Nouri, seemed flat.

The action gets darker after that and to say any more would be require a spoiler alert. The plot twists and turns save this film and make it reasonably entertaining. It winds up feeling more like an episode of Rockford Files than a golf movie, which isn’t all bad.

Whether you think the ending is believable doesn’t matter. The ending is unexpected and surprising enough that you feel good about investing your attention. The best part is, the leading character swings like a real golfer, because he is. The golf in this movie looks authentic. Finally. This movie deserves a B for that alone.

Let’s move on to the post-Masters Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, Not to put a damper on the Masters and its 2015 champion but does Jordan Spieth look a little like Lee Harvey Oswald? — Brian Bailey via Twitter

I’m not even sure how to respond to this one, Bailjumper. You have left me Spieth-less. But the 18th green at Augusta could be called a grassy knoll, I suppose.

Is Jordan Spieth the best athlete in sports under the age of 25? — Fandings via Twitter

Are you serious? He’s a golfer. Everyone in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft is a better athlete than a golfer. OK, everyone in every round of the upcoming NFL draft. If you meant most successful athlete under 25, that’s still a no. Baseball MVP Mike Trout is only 23. Spieth isn’t even golf’s best athlete since world No. 1 Rory McIlroy is still 25. Rory has three more majors than young Jordan, a couple hundred million more dollars and, oh yeah, is ripped like a gladiator.

Van Cynical, Only on Twitter would a bunch of weekend hackers criticize a three-time Masters champion when he explains how to play a shot. — Steve Borza via Twitter

Weekend hackers? Excuse me, I hack seven days a week, so don’t insult me. Also, I’m not a total hack, having played in two of the last three U.S. Senior Amateur Championships and once in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier. Only on Twitter would people continually miss the point — that Nick Faldo played a different game in a different era with bump-and-run shots and now they all play through the air with 60- or 64-degree lob wedges. Faldo being stunned Saturday by Spieth’s flop shot at the 18th was a tipoff when Faldo admitted with surprise, “Gee, I never thought of that.” The game has changed, Nick. And that 9-iron you chipped with in 1985 has been de-lofted and effectively turned into a 7-iron, which is why nobody chips with it anymore.

Van Sick and Tired, What’s your Tiger takeaway? Rounds one and four say he’s still far away and should forget about 18 majors? Or do rounds two and three say he’s close? — Ragan via Twitter

It’s like this, Mr. President: It’s way too early to talk about Tiger getting back on the chase for 18 majors. It’s also too early to rule that out. Tiger looked pretty close to the form he had in 2013 when he won five times. His short game was better than solid. His putting was better than solid. His iron play was mostly good. If he can fix his tee-ball game, he can be dangerous because even without it, he was a semi-contender until the fourth round at the Masters. That’s been a ten-year issue, but don’t tell The New York Times, which had this laughably wrong online headline on one of its Tiger stories from Augusta: “Tiger’s driving, usually a strength, deserts him.” The Masters showing says Tiger is on the rise and that success may have fired up his interest in pushing on, if not his glutes.

Van Sickly, I know Jordan Spieth doesn’t like it, but this still feels like “a run” to me. Or do you believe he can sustain his golf domination? — The Bogey Train via Twitter

I don’t believe this is a run. Jordo has the coveted clutch gene. Need to hole that last shot? He’ll do it. Domination may be a strong word. We’re used to dominant players dominating with their length — Tiger, Phil, Rory, Norman, Nicklaus, Palmer, Seve. Spieth, who is short-ish by Tour standards, is also a little crooked off the tee. But when he misses greens, he gets up and down and when he hits greens, he sinks birdie putts at a ridiculous ratio. Spieth is not a ballstriker supreme like Hogan or Faldo who plays chess on the course, he simply scrambles so well he doesn’t make bogeys, the secret of golf that Tiger at his best uncovered. I don’t know that Spieth will dominate but getting the ball in the hole and not making bogeys is a plan that works at every major championship. The Clutch Gene means he’s going to win a bunch of majors.

Van Cynical, Do the Masters poobahs react/overreact to -18 next year? — Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

They don’t think like us, Lion Man, and that’s why they’re poohbahs. My reaction would be, ‘Hey, that was one of the best Masters weeks of this century, let’s try to duplicate it.’ Low scores equal a star-studded leaderboard so set up the course with receptive greens every year and let the birdies and eagles and superstars begin. Really, does anybody care what the winning score was? They shouldn’t. Nobody tunes into the Masters to see a bunch of pars and bogeys.

Sickle cell, I heard a number of “nothing stands out” comments in regard to Spieth’s game. Why do analysts downplay the dominance of his putting? — Lional Mandrake via Twitter

Maybe because they weren’t paying attention, Lion Man. I agree with you. Putting is the great equalizer in golf, not to mention the greatest weapon. I can’t wait to see Spieth paired with Rory at Augusta because Rory will blow it 60 to 70 yards past him on occasion. Yet it was Spieth who dominated. I think Spieth’s success is going to change the focus of golf (temporarily, anyway) from power to scoring. Mark Broadie, golf’s supreme stat guy, reported that Spieth gained 1.8 strokes per round putting and 3.0 strokes per round tee to green during the Masters. You can look up Broadie to get those definitions but those numbers ranked Spieth first in putting and fourth in tee-to-green performance. Spieth looks like the next Ben Crenshaw, only with a flawless short game and with better ballstriking. I’ll bet nobody on the European Ryder Cup team is volunteering to face Spieth in singles next year.

G-man, I’m tired of all this CBS crap about the future of the game is so bright and in safe hands because of Jordan Spieth. That just means the future of the PGA Tour is looking bright. Golf as a recreational sport is still in serious trouble, isn’t it? — SoCal Golf Guy via email

To be more precise, LoCal Guy, it means CBS golf’s future is looking bright because here’s a new face it can sell/market/hype. In the real world, yes, golf is in deep you-know-what as the number of players and number of courses continue on a steady decline. At best, the game is shrinking. At worst, you don’t want to know.

Van Yips A Lot, Know any 16-year-old amateur studs who need a caddie? It worked for Jordan Spieth’s bagman. — Andrew Polson via Twitter

That caddying stuff is seriously hard work, AP. Those 16-year-old studs are going to need agents to cut big deals with Nike someday. The lifting is lighter and the percentage is higher.

Van Czar-ical, Will Jordan Spieth turn away from his destiny of being the greatest follically challenged golfer ever? — Rick Fisher via Twitter

Well Fishbait, Jordo has a long ways to go to surpass Sam Snead in both departments. I say he goes oh-for-two there. The Slammer had a big hat to fill.

For more news that golfers everywhere are talking about, follow @golf_com on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube video channel.