Hitting the Long Ball

September 30, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROGER ROSENBLATT: Sports stories are either about people going up against physical obstacles, people going up against other people, or people going up against themselves. The movie “Tin Cup” is about all of these but mainly it is about going up against oneself. Actually, it’s about going along with oneself. It is also one of the more delightful movies to come out in a long time in my meager judgment, which, I should add, may be called into question, since I hate golf, and “Tin Cup” is about golf. “Caddy Shack” is my favorite movie about golf because it effectively ruined the sport.

CHEVY CHASE: (scene from “Caddy Shack”) The Zen philosopher Basho once wrote: “A flute with no holes is not a flute, and a doughnut with no hole is a Danish.”

ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don’t even think of golf as a sport. Once I got into trouble with my friends in Washington when I publicly described the city as a golf course without holes. If anyone knew what I thought of a golf course “with” holes, they would have known how deep the insult went. Clubby– boring, pink pants–boring, plaid pants–boring, eagle, birdie, bogy, dog legs, sand trap–boring golf. “Tin Cup” has not altered my opinion but it has taken the golf out of golf by focusing on a particular kind of behavior that I admire and understand. Basically it is a story of a meathead. He goes for the long ball where a couple of short shots win him fame, stature, and a championship.

He doesn’t go for the long ball once or twice. He always goes for it. And it isn’t that he doesn’t recognize what he’s doing. He recognizes, but he can not, will not help himself. Something in him tells him that if he fails, he must fail on his own weird terms. Failing is not going for the long ball. Failing is playing it safe. What’s interesting about this lovely meathead is that he knows what it means to be alone with one’s ability. Most people care what other people think about them. He couldn’t care less. The matter of the long ball, the long shot, the brave and crazy gamble is between him and him.

ROBIN WILLIAMS: My God woman, no, no, no, where did you get this coat? My God, Nanook of Marin.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Robin Williams goes for the long ball in every stand up. He doesn’t know where to stop. He doesn’t want to know. Thomas Wolf didn’t know where to stop in is prose, Keats in his poetry. “Load every rift with ore,” he said. Ted Williams went for the long ball in his way on the baseball field. Remember the shift that other teams put on Williams? He always hit into it and through it, not to stick it to them, I think, simply because he wanted to hit the ball where he wanted to hit the ball. He probably could have hit 500 away from the shift, but, no.

Remember his last home run in his last career at bat, how he refused to acknowledge the Boston fans, the same guy who hit into the shift. So the story of “Tin Cup” is the old one about safety and risk. And the point is that to be alone with one’s ability is the most secure position possible. It is where self-respect lies. It’s the story of Christopher Columbus. It’s the story of Don Quixote, and it’s a love story.

KEVIN COSTNER: Tell me you’re not at least moderately attracted to me.

RENE RUSSO: You have moments. Why?

COSTNER: Yeah. Well, you tell me which ones are my moments, and I’ll try and duplicate them.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: To do that, he had to see into her heart, which appearances to the contrary not meaning a thing, really wanted a meathead who chose his own form of glory. Hers, like his in the end is a practical decision.

MAN: Just–how to get in your heart.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: She loves the guy who lives in his own pure mind. It’s the safest place on the course.

I’m Roger Rosenblatt.