Every time I mention Rory McIlroy on the air, there is a pause to make sure I don’t accidentally say, “Roy McAvoy.” Part of the genius of “Tin Cup” is that the sound-alike name of the lead character was an unknown 6-year-old when the film went into production. How in the world did writers Ron Shelton and John Norville come so close to hitting on a name that would become legendary? Was it right out of Hollywood, California, or Holywood, Northern Ireland?
“Tin Cup” runs countless times a year on Golf Channel. Often, I’ll stop surfing and enjoy an endless supply of personal memories from the making of the movie, which was 25 years ago this year.
In the summer before shooting began, Shelton – also the film’s director – and producer Gary Foster made several visits to PGA Tour events to get a better feel for the rhythm and flow of tournament golf. They were also recruiting players for cameos. Gary McCord was vital from the beginning, serving as technical director, consultant and actor. He also teamed with Peter Kostis to build Kevin Costner a golf swing that allowed him to hit all the shots without a stunt double.
In late August of ’95, Kevin and the movie brain trust joined our CBS crew for a week in Akron, Ohio, to witness the World Series of Golf. Kevin’s mornings were spent at The Sharon Golf Club, where McCord and Kostis put him through golf boot camp. By afternoon, the “Tin Cup” crew had devoted hours to the CBS production truck, mesmerised by golf boss Frank Chirkinian working his magic. McCord, seeing similar personality traits, had made the Shelton-Chirkinian introduction a few weeks earlier during the PGA Championship at Riviera. Shelton, watching Frank in action, immediately tweaked the script to capture his presence. Lance Barrow, a larger-than-life character who was Chirkinian’s protégé – and eventually his successor – also caught Shelton’s eye.
A few months later, many of us on the CBS golf team were flying in and out of movie sets in Arizona or Texas to masquerade as actors. My first experience was a scene in which I interviewed McAvoy’s arch-enemy, David Simms, after he grabbed the first-round lead at the “US Open”. Simms was played to smarmy perfection by Don Johnson.
Several weeks later, we were back in Kingwood, Texas, to shoot the broadcast scenes with Ken Venturi from the
18th tower. Shelton, Foster and Costner all stood to the side, offering encouragement and advice. At their urging,
we ad-libbed through those on-camera back and forths that appear often in the film, especially at the climax, re-creating the critical moments when McAvoy went for the green at the finishing hole, which in reality was the par-4 13th hole at the Clubs of Kingwood’s Deerwood course.
By the time our crew returned to Riviera for the LA Open in February of ’96, Shelton and Foster invited us to a private screening of a rough cut of the film.
In June, Foster called to see if I could add a voiceover line to summarise McAvoy’s final putt for 62 in the second round that set the all-time scoring record in Major-championship play. Foster flew with a crew of two to Westchester Country Club to lay down the line. They set up the recording equipment in my rental car on the CBS compound. Minutes away from heading to the tower for the third round of the Buick Classic, Foster explained what the footage looked like. “Just wing it as if you’re on the air,” he said. After one take, I wanted to do it again. “Not necessary,” he said. “It’s perfect.” Sure enough, that call of 20 seconds made the final edit. From my car to the big screen.
Come August, Ron and Gary hosted a special viewing in Louisville for all the tour players involved in the film and their wives. It was the Tuesday of the Mark Brooks PGA Championship at Valhalla. The week after that, Warner Brothers flew our CBS team to California for the movie’s release.
I can’t emphasise enough how generous Shelton, Foster and Costner were to all of us, and the excitement of working on arguably the greatest golf movie ever made. Our time had spanned a year, from Akron to Hollywood, leaving a deep bond that still exists a quarter of a century later. Now, back to McAvoy for birdie at 15. I’m sorry, make that McIlroy!
Feature image by moviestore collection/alamy