Hollywood Golf Lessons: What American Golf Movies Teach Us About Life and the Greatest Game Ever Played

In the basement of the Lionhead Golf Club, around the corner and down the hall from the Pro Shop are the windowless offices of the Bradlee Ryall Golf Academy. It's in here where faculty members meet to organize hundreds of golf lessons, at five golf courses west of Toronto.

Bradlee Ryall orbits the facility; managing staff and planning all of the educational programs. Despite his busy schedule, he still finds time to coach exceptional students in Junior High Achievement Programs; some of these 12 to 20-year-old players will one day play professional golf.

Photo Credit: Bradlee Ryall

Ryall's subterranean office is a shrine to the game with posters of famous Canadian PGA players, and his own hard-won trophies lining the walls. Visitors to his office cannot help but notice the many golf books and golf movie DVDs also present on the book shelves. The literary works of Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky and Jack Walsh are all sources of inspiration for Ryall, who calls the collection "a library of teachable moments." And beside the well thumbed texts there's an array of Hollywood's best golf movies.

One by one, Ryall detailed what he likes about each of these classic movies, and it became clear to me how each film contains a golf lesson / life experience the gifted instructor could impart to students seeking professional careers in the sport.

Caddy Shack

Caddy Shack teaches 'acceptance' and promotes the idea that everyone belongs.

This 1980s American sports comedy film directed by Harold Ramis stars Michael O'Keefe, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray. Ryall holds this film up as the greatest golf movie of all time, and one of the best movies ever made.

The phrase "some people just don't belong' appears at the top of the movie poster. The line was uttered by the films' antagonist Judge Elihu Smails, played by Ted Knight, about Al Czervik played Rodney Dangerfield, prompting the match and cash wager that led to the Judge's eventual demise. The movie has a clear moral theme that 'everyone belongs' and this is especially true in the game of golf where there are no body type advantages. A tall man can play as well as a short man; big or small, rich or poor, black or white, golf knows no boundaries as world championships are won by people of every description.

Tin Cup

Tin Cup teaches that golf is a state of mind and you only have to find the courage to believe in yourself to be a winner.

This 1996 romantic comedy film starring Kevin Costner and Rene Russo has Cheech Marin and Don Johnson in major supporting roles. Tin Cup teaches us to be fearless and trust your instinct. Ryall said, "I believe it has a deeper meaning. and this is that life is short and we need to take chances to be great. This can be applied to golf and business. Entrepreneurs often take this leap of faith and go for it, while others lay up with the 7 iron and play it safe." That's neither right or wrong, Ryall believes its just fine to play it safe. But the possibility of doing something exceptional often only comes when you believe in yourself, take a chance on yourself and don't settle for the status quo and be content as a follower. "Be a leader in life and create your own destiny."

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The Greatest Game Ever Played teaches us that great achievements require great sacrifice.

The 2005 biographical sports film based on the early life of golf champion Francis Ouimet was directed by Bill Paxton; and stars Shia LaBeouf who plays the role of Ouimet. The film's screenplay was adapted by Mark Frost from his own book, The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf.

"This movie taught me a lot about the game of golf and offers little one liner's throughout that can be applied to being a more competent golfer or tournament player." Ryall said, "What stands out in this movie is the line from Harry Vardon, There are two types of players, those who can handle their nerves and those who cannot, which is pretty profound. I can also relate to this as my golf tournament success was always dependent on how I managed my nerves. If I was calm and had good breathing I'd rank higher on the leader board, But if I was too excited and over anxious, then my skill could not shine through. This movie also taught me the importance of visualization and being able to shut out the noise from peanut gallery and focus on the task at hand and to listen and follow your heart."

Stroke of Genius

Stroke of Genius teaches golfers to play for the love of the game, and apply that same passion to everything they do in life.

The 2004 biographical drama film is based on the life of Bobby Jones, the only player in the sport to win all four of the men's major golf championships in a single season (1930, an era when the majors were The Amateur Championship in Britain, the U.S. Amateur, The Open Championship and the U.S. Open).

The film was a commercial failure, with an opening weekend gross of $1.2 million and $2,707,913 overall,against a production cost of $20 million. Despite only scoring 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ryall cherishes the bio pic because it communicates the true life story of Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer who played. "it teaches us the power of perseverance and of playing for the love of sport alone.".

The Legend of Bagger Vance

The Legend of Bagger Vance teaches golfers that visualizing success is key to success.

The American sports drama film released in the year 2000 was directed by Robert Redford, and stars Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron. Its based on the 1995 book The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life by Steven Pressfield and takes place in the U.S. state of Georgia in 1931.

Matt Damon's character just returned from the war and is fighting demons and drinking too much. Bagger Vance helps him see a healthier future. The story is very similar to the Hindu epic Mahabharata, a sacred text the Bhagavad Gita, where the hero Arjuna (R. Junuh) refuses to fight. The god Krishna appears as Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) to help him to follow his path as the warrior and hero that he was meant to be.

"Another great movie about clearing out all the noise and clutter in your life or golf game and visualizing or having a plan for your success." Bradlee said, "It really plays on seeing the shot before you hit it and I believe in life it teaches us to believe in ourselves, and visualize success."

Happy Gilmore

Happy Gilmore teaches golfers to never conform, and that evolving a style is part of golf. It also carries the message that in golf, your anger will always backfire.

1996 American sports comedy film directed by Dennis Dugan stars Adam Sandler as the title character, an unsuccessful ice hockey player who discovers a talent for golf.

Happy Gilmore was a commercial success, earning $41.2 million on a $12 million budget. But the film had mixed reviews by critics and has a 60% rotten tomatoes score today. Adam Sadler won a Razzle award because as Roger Ebert stated about the main character, "[Happy] doesn't have a pleasing personality; he seems angry even when he's not supposed to be.'

Ryall loves the movie however and said, "I think this movie shows the world that golf is a great game and can be played by anyone. Race, gender, income level etc.. It truly is a beautiful game for the ages. I think Sandler did a brilliant job of making a comedy that keeps viewers entertained while showcasing golf as a sport for the masses and not reserved for the wealthy.

The Short Game

The Short Game shows the destructive effect of emotional parents hovering over kids in a competitive arena.

The hard hitting 2013 documentary film about age 7 and 8-year-old golfers was produced by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel and was directed by Josh Greenbaum, it presents eight entrants in the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championships who are precocious 7 and 8-year old golfers. The film follows them as they prepare for and compete in the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in Pinehurst, N.C

A notable second-grader is Allan Kournikova, who is the half brother of former tennis professional Anna Kournikova. The case of the overbearing father, Andre Avery, attempting to produce "the next greatest golfer who ever lived," is by all accounts, difficult to watch.

Ryall said, "The documentary shows the increasingly competitive landscape of Junior Golf, and how kids practice and manage their time along with how the behavior of their parents can be beneficial or detrimental to their success. It's a great movie showcasing amazing young kids who are very passionate about the game."

Seven Days in Utopia

This classic teaches parents and golf coaches that they cannot push success on a player. It also teaches perspective - golf is just a game.

In this 2011 Christian sports drama film, Lucas Black plays Luke Chisholm, a young professional golfer who has a meltdown during a tournament.

Most critics agree the movie is "utterly predictable" and "bland," but many film reviewers also praised Robert Duvall, who, as the Arizona Review wrote, "has to be great here just to keep the movie afloat."

Ryall sees it differently, "The movie teaches us that being pushed by a parent or a golf instructor will not guarantee a player's success, but rather will produce an over worked athlete with a bad attitude who gives underwhelming results. I think it's a great lesson for over bearing parents to let their children play for the love of the game (Bobby Jones), and let them decide how much they will practice, and whether or not they want to enter competitions. You cannot a force a winner.

All movie poster images courtesy of Wikipedia.