Happy Gilmore: The Adam Sandler film that changed golf forever

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In July 1996, Adam Sandler got down on his knees and screamed at a tiny white ball for not wanting to go home.

That tiny white ball was, of course, a golf ball, its home the hole in the middle of the green.

And no, Sandler isn’t an overzealous golfer with serious putting woes (well, not that we know of anyway).

His on-course outburst was part of his performance as the titular ice hockey player turned frustrated golfer in Happy Gilmore.

With the Paddy Power golf shootout set to offer us a unique golfing fix on Friday, we’re looking back on Sandler’s hilarious foray into the world of professional golf.

Adam Sandler starred in Happy Gilmour, one of the greatest sports films of all-time
(Image: Publicity Picture)

Long before Sandler experienced newfound popularity as a New York City jeweller desperately trying to retrieve a rare black opal in Uncut Gems, he was pumping out box office hit comedies in the 1990s, starring in Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy and Big Daddy between 1995 and 1999.

Happy Gilmore’s premise is straightforward. Happy, a failed ice hockey player, is aghast to find out that the IRS has repossessed his grandmother’s house due to her not having paid her taxes in years.

Then, when two movers discover his extraordinary power off the tee after challenging him to a long drive competition in her garden, Happy realises he may be able to win enough money from playing golf – which, to him, is a loser’s sport that requires “goofy pants and a fat ass” – to get his grandmother’s house back.

Paddy Power’s golf Pro-AM could be a real life version of Happy Gilmore

And thus begins his wildly controversial golfing career.

Coached by Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers), a former pro who was forced into early retirement after when his hand was bitten off by an alligator, Happy is widely ridiculed during his first few tournaments.

As well as holding his putter like a hockey stick, he adopts a unique approach to driving, hitting the ball on the run which, when executed, booms his tee shots 400 yards – could we see any of that from Harry Kane and co at Paddy Power’s event?

While he attracts criticism from other pros, particularly conceited top dog Shooter McGavin, Happy proves a hit with fans, helping to attract thousands of new fans to the sport.

Happy Gilmore is one of the top feel good sports films
(Image: Getty Images)

Despite PR director Virginia Venit (Julie Bowen)’s best efforts, Happy’s erratic behaviour – including a fight with prickly television gameshow host Bob Barker – becomes a problem for the tour, who are hesitant about suspending him due to his increasing popularity coinciding with unprecedented TV ratings.

Following the death of Chubbs, who died after Happy showed him the head of the alligator that bit his hand off, Happy faces a showdown at the Tour Championship to win his grandmother’s house back from Shooter, who outbid Happy at the auction.

After a rollercoaster ride, which included everything from being run down by Shooter’s hired heckler to a miraculous shot over a befallen TV tower on the 18th green, Happy wins the coveted gold jacket and wins back his grandmother’s house.

Golf, much like football, has had a complicated history on the big screen.

Carl Weathers and Adam Sandler during the filming of Happy Gilmore
(Image: Universal Pictures)

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For every Caddyshack, there is Who’s Your Caddy? For every Tin Cup, there is The Legend of Bagger Vance.

However, Happy Gilmore succeeded by putting Sandler front and centre. Happy represents a lot of golf’s naysayers in the 1990s. Like them, he viewed it as elitist, exclusive and haughty, preferring the blood, sweat and tears of the NHL.

But once he got into it, he started to enjoy the competitive edge.

It’s important to note the film was released in 1996, before Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene at the 1997 Masters and single-handedly launched golf into a new era.

Almost a quarter of a century on, Happy Gilmore remains endlessly rewatchable, whether it’s for Christopher McDonald’s on-point portrayal of pantomime villain Shooter McGavin, or the array of bizarre characters that play a minor role in Happy’s journey, from his homeless caddy to Mr Larson (Richard Kiel), his former boss who develops his own rivalry with Shooter.

And, of course, there is Gary Potter (Kevin Nealon), the eccentric pro who tries to help Happy relax during his pre-putting routine who uttered the following immortal words.

Adam Sandler plays a shot during Happy Gilmore
(Image: Universal Studios)

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“It’s like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. It’s circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.”

Sage advice.

Finally, there is Ben Stiller, who plays a psychotic nursing home orderly who you most definitely cannot trouble for a glass of warm milk.

Stiller is one of several recognisable faces in the film. The golfer who shakes his head at Happy’s foul-mouthed rants is six-time major winner Lee Trevino, while the television commentator is legendary CBS announcer Verne Lundquist, renowned for calling Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters.

It doesn’t matter how many times you watch Happy Gilmore: it never fails to bring a smile to the face.

This Friday, it’s the perfect post-Paddy Power shootout viewing option.


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