'Shooter McGavin' on the enduring legacy of golf comedy classic Happy Gilmore

The movie Happy Gilmore came out 25 years ago - the golf comedy which helped to make Adam Sandler’s name as a box-office draw
'Shooter McGavin' on the enduring legacy of golf comedy classic Happy Gilmore

'Everybody imitates Shooter when they make the putts. It makes people laugh and they love to throw it out there,' says actor Christopher McDonald who played the character in the clasic Happy Gilmore

The movie Happy Gilmore came out 25 years ago - the golf comedy which helped to make Adam Sandler’s name as a box-office draw.

Still beloved today, the movie features characters such as villainous golf pro Shooter McGavin, and the actor who played McGavin, Christopher McDonald, reminisced with NBC Sports this week about the film.

“It’s different now because I’m wearing a mask, but when I don’t have my mask on and I’m walking around I hear people saying ‘Shooter!’ all the time - it’s incredible. It’s generational now, kids watch it with their grandparents.” 

 Asked to explain the film’s enduring popularity, McDonald pointed to an obvious answer.

“If anybody could predict that (a film’s popularity) while making movies they'd be sainted because making movies, nobody knows, particularly when you don’t have a history. If you’re doing a Marvel movie you have a built-in audience.

“This movie has legs because it’s funny, really funny. It comes on television - that’s why it exploded, because it would come on television and people had to watch it because it was funny.

“Kudos to Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, who wrote it, Judd Apatow, and the great cast. It goes on and on and on, and I’m just so glad to be part of it.”

The actor added that the role of McGavin was a career highlight for him.

“It’s really funny, I was doing something the other day, watching golf pros on the championship tour and they were doing the Gilmore swing.

“Everybody imitates Shooter when they make the putts. It makes people laugh and they love to throw it out there.

“Playing a villain like this is a lot of fun, people love to hate him - they love to hate the Shooter.

“My Dad told me that as an actor you get five really great roles in your career. Some people get a lot more but if you have five you’re a success, and this is in my top five.

“It’s a great movie that makes people feel good. I can’t believe it’s twenty-five years, but there you go.” McDonald said shooting the movie was a very enjoyable experience all round: “You’re paid to play golf, so it’s not too bad. Dennis Dugan, our director, kept the spirit light.

Happy Gilmore was the break-out film for actor Adam Sandler
Happy Gilmore was the break-out film for actor Adam Sandler

“We had fun with each other, ad libbed here and there, and the shoot was a joy.

“Working with Julie Bowen, Richard Kiel, Carl Weathers and Adam, it was a complete joy. We had weekends off in beautiful Vancouver, it was a lot of fun to make.”

McDonald identified Greg Norman as an influence on the character of Shooter while also crediting real life game show host Bob Barker for a great performance in the film’s famous fight scene.

“I knew I had to be this very elitist kind of guy, and I used the Shark (Greg Norman). I didn’t have his hat but I wore his clothes, I had my jet waiting to take me to the next tournament, that kind of thing.

“Bob Barker was not the first choice, we had another actor in there but they went to Bob and that was a stroke of genius.

“Bob said he would do it if he could do the boxing himself - he said he was a bit of a pugilist and liked to do his own stunts.

“So they said, ‘sure,’ and that scene is one of the biggest laughs in the movie.” Asked for a modern equivalent of Shooter McGavin, McDonald pointed to the biggest names in American football.

“I love it when these great quarter-backs react - I’m a Buffalo Bills fan and to see Josh Allen spike the ball in someone’s face - even though he’s going to get a penalty - to me that’s bad-ass, that’s a villainous move.” 

Other times Adam Sandler ventured into sports films

The Waterboy (1998): Two years after Happy Gilmore Sandler went back to sports, this time taking up pads and a helmet for an American football movie.

Sandler plays the inept water boy for a college football team who discovers an innate talent for tackling and ends up leading his side to glory.

With cameo appearances by NFL legends such as Lynn Swann, Lawrence Taylor, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, the film was a box-office smash. Filmed for $20m, it earned almost $200m.

The Longest Yard (2005): Sandler returned to sports movies, and to American football, with action comedy The Longest Yard. A remake of a 1974 film, it tells the story of a former professional player who is sent to prison, where he organises a team of inmates to take on the guards in a challenge game.

Among the cast was Burt Reynolds, who played the central character in the original movie, Terry Crews, Chris Rock and Brian Bosworth. Though it cost $82m to make, the movie did very well at the box office, earning over $190m.

Uncut Gems (2018): Sandler’s latest foray into sports movies is not a comedy but a thriller.

Uncut Gems is the story of a jeweller and gambling addict in New York - played by Sandler - who is struggling to pay off his debts and to recover a valuable gem which he has loaned to real-life NBA star Kevin Garnett, who plays himself.

Sandler’s performance drew huge praise and the movie was a hit at the box office, earning $50m on a $19m budget.

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