Golf Hard To Portray On Screen
Real or Not, Difficult to Get It Right
I recall freaking out at a movie on Charlie Chaplin in which he plays the violin. No one on the project seemed to notice that he was playing it backward – left-handed, fine, but some important adjustments were totally wrong, like reversing the order of strings and the tilt of the bridge (not to mention not holding the bow like drumstick.). When I saw Bagger Vance, the same thing happened. It was all right for an actor to portray Hagen. His swing was undoubtedly researched, but to the modern spectator, it isn’t an iconic visual of the game’s history. The standard is not so well-defined. The poor fellow who has to portray Bobby Jones, however, has a bigger job. Jones looked good, really good. His swing looked like a joint project between NASA and the national poet laureate. In a similar case, what was poor Katherine Hepburn to do in Pat and Mike, playing an all-around athletic sensation under the watchful eye of agent Spencer Tracy? She was a fair amateur golfer in real life, and had to prove it on more than one movie set, pulling it off admirably, but playing Babe Didrickson is quite another task, just like Jones.
In golf, even the real thing was hard to put together for early coverage. They had to get a close-up shot of the swing with the full length of the player still visible, then find a way to follow the ball over hundreds of yards. During that brief period, the background changed more than once. It was mostly air, the color of which almost completely wiped out the ball from human vision. Then, rapidly passing trees were added, with nearby communities and onlookers at the landing. Portraying the raw nerves of a player on the first tee was tricky, as the pros are good at hiding such things. A typical nightmare of the weekender is that he or she will whiff on the first drive, in front of several groups waiting to start. The embarrassment of missing the thing entirely is compounded by the almost audible groans of bystanders, who are suddenly faced with a long day, and no avenue to play through on the first tee.
Television eventually figured these problems out, but movie producers and directors did not. The sound of the impact is never really right, the swing is suspect, and worse, we know that the ball didn’t really travel 250 yards, so there’s no panning the sky to follow it. The problem that creates is that we know full well what’s happening. Some poor lackey who is good at at horseshoes or lawn bowling is completing the shot by tossing the ball on the fairway or onto the green, without the authentic carry that a real golf shot would have. So, Hepburn sticks a driver onto a postage stamp green as if she has just hit a wedge. We have to ask, by the way, how many times she and other actors had to try that thirty putt before it finally went in. Use a golf stunt person? Fine, but it’s no cinch for a pro, either, unless Paula Creamer has a spot in her schedule for an hour’s worth of shooting. It was one thing for an old movie to include the gallery back then. There was a code of respect for the moment of the golf shot in those days, and people behind the ropes stood like Shropshire sheep until it was over before applauding sedately. Today, it’s hard to know whether we’re attending a golf tournament or a hockey match. Getting that perfect shot of an elderly golf devotee screaming “Go get ’em, Tiger,” has to be done just right.
Things that are hard to do in life are also hard to fake on the screen, and I hope that those in charge will pay more attention to detail, whether it’s golf or playing the violin – “rahllly I do.”