'Sometimes par is good enough to win.' Cheech Marin's Romeo from 'Tin Cup' had it right.
Or did he?
Fitting that film centers around Costner's Roy McAvoy finding redemption at the US Open. A smart move by the screenwriter. Par can certainly be good enough to win at a 70-par course, the lowest and most notoriously difficult of all majors.
Tin Cup's McAvoy also points out another defining characteristic of the US Open: It's 'open'. To quote from the script again --
Romeo: The US Open. The biggest golf tournament in the world.
McAvoy: Not just the biggest golf tournament in the world, the most democratic golf tournament in the world.
Romeo: What do you mean?
McAvoy: I mean, it's open.
McAvoy: It's open. Anybody with a 2 handicap or better's got a shot at it. You just gotta get through a local and sectional qualifier. And then like, Durrall or Colonial or AT&T, they can't keep you out. They can't ask you if you're a garbage man, or a bean picker, or a driving range pro who's checks' signed by a stripper.. You qualify, you're in.
While times have changed since 1996, the tournament is still very much open to all good enough to compete. Limit of 156 players, but still. You qualify, you're in, no doubt.
Go For Broke, Or Lay It Up
Aside from being one of favorite 90's movies, Tin Cup does ultimately pose a serious golf question worth asking. It's the point of this entry, and goes something like this: what does it mean to achieve greatness in golf? Should you go for it all, or lay it up if you know playing it safe gets you the win?
One of my favorite scenes from that film is at the end. McAvoy has an amazing roller coaster, up-and-down US Open card, landing him squarely in contention on the very final 18th hole. All he has to do is 'take the drop', after he sends his drive into the water on a seemingly impossible tee shot to the putting green. Take the drop, take the penalty, lay it up, and force a playoff for a solid chance at winning.
But where's the glory in that?
Why try the same impossible tee shot until you literally run out of balls and are on the verge of disqualification, as everyone watches you collapse in disgust? Unless.. what if you make an ace on that last shot? Then you're a hero, if only for a moment.
Then the crowd remembers your name and your 15 minutes echo into eternity, as having the most incredible 12 on the final hole in tournament history, as Rene Russo's Molly reminds Roy after reality sinks in on what he just traded. Of course, in epic 90's movie nostalgic fashion, he sinks the ace. And it's a great moment.
Also those same golf fans that will remember your ace will in turn forget who actually won The Open that year shortly after. That's the kicker.
Quick thought experiment, who won the US Open in 2004? What about 2010? Does it even matter anymore, except to the winner that your mind has long forgotten?
I ask a lot of questions. Point is I remember the great moments in golf. I remember the aces. I remember the bad drives far off the fairway, that get brilliantly corrected with a low-lying grounder through a tiny gap in the trees that seems to get magnetically sucked into the hole for a 'crowd-pleasing' eagle.
I remember the glory moments the most. Not the players who won by playing it safe, unless they do it multiple times. Play it safe and win 3 US Opens in a row? Now you have my attention, Mr. Spieth.
I have thought off and on about Tin Cup's philosophical golf question for years. And I go back and forth. If I were McAvoy, I would have probably taken the drop. But I am damn glad he didn't. And I watch golf for the very players that mimic his reckless glory seeking, over playing it safe. For the US Open, bring on life imitating art, Tin Cup style. Par be damned.
The US Open's course is engineered specifically to frustrate the best in the world, par is hard as hell to come by on a good day, and this PGA Tournament is open to all good enough to game. Perfect stage to answer this age old question, either way.
I'll ask but one more question, could you say it any better than this?
McAvoy: Well, I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem. The critical opening phrase of this poem will always be the grip. Which the hands unite to form a single unit by the simple overlap of the little finger. Lowly and slowly the clubhead is led back. Pulled into position not by the hands, but by the body, which turns away from the target shifting weight to the right side without shifting balance. Tempo is everything; perfection unobtainable as the body coils down at the top of the swing.
There's a slight hesitation. A little, nod to the gods.
Dr. Molly Griswold: A, a nod to the gods?
McAvoy: Yeah, to the gods. That he is fallible. That perfection is unobtainable. And now the weight begins shifting back to the left pulled by the powers inside the earth. It's alive, this swing! A living sculpture and down through contact, always down, striking the ball crisply, with character. A tuning fork goes off in your heart and your balls. Such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot. Now the follow through to finish. Always on line. The reverse C of the Golden Bear! The steel workers' power and brawn of Carl Sandburg's. Arnold Palmer!
End the unfinished symphony of Roy McAvoy.