Sharp Movie Rewind: Handicapping “Tin Cup” at the 1996 U.S. Open
Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Costner
- Relative unknown Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy tries to win the U.S. Open in order to impress the beautiful Dr. Molly Griswald.
- After a disastrous first round, McAvoy rebounds to grab a share of the lead heading into the 72nd hole.
- His second shot on the final hole has ramifications, not just for him, but for the entire betting public.
Every so often we take a break from analyzing real-life events and look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game. With the 118th U.S. Open teeing off on Thursday in Shinnecock Hills, let’s look back at one of the most memorable sporting events in history. Without further ado, the tragic story of Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy at the 1996 U.S. Open.
1996 was a magical year for sports fans. Michael Jordan led the Bulls to 72 wins and their fourth NBA championship, Kerri Strug vaulted the U.S. gymnastics team to a gold medal on one leg and Tiger Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur championship.
But the most memorable moment undoubtedly came from the 1996 U.S. Open, which featured the hauntingly beautiful tale of amateur golfer Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy. McAvoy gave viewers — and bettors — some of the highest highs and lowest lows in the history of the tournament.
McAvoy wasn’t always an unknown amateur. He was once a promising prospect, winning multiple titles at the University of Houston along with current PGA superstar David Simms.
However, McAvoy struggled with demons. He had a weakness for drinking, gambling and strippers. But his most prominent weakness was his inability to play the safe shot. Telling McAvoy that he couldn’t hit a particular shot would have the same effect as calling Marty McFly a chicken: He had to prove you wrong, even if it was to his own detriment.
McAvoy was inches away from making the PGA Tour in 1981 during the final round of Qualifying School at Fort Washington Golf Club in Fresno, Calif. He was sitting pretty, needing only a 12 on the final hole, but his pride got the best of him. He proceeded to hit the ball out of bounds on five straight shots before finally knocking it stiff from 230 yards with a 3-wood. McAvoy eventually tapped in for a crowd-pleasing 13, but he was forced to give up his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. To quote his caddy Romeo, “Roy would bury himself alive just to prove he could handle a shovel.”
The hits didn’t stop there for McAvoy. He was forced to relinquish the deed to his driving range after losing $12,000 he didn’t have to a bookie who also happened to be his stripper ex-girlfriend. He also had to sell his golf clubs to a pawn shop, and he was able to get them back only by winning a golf prop with a shovel, rake, garden hoe and baseball bat.
McAvoy even managed to blow a sweet gig caddying for Simms at his charity tournament by getting fired with two holes to go. He seemed fully content to go through life without ever realizing his massive potential.
Everything changed when McAvoy met Dr. Molly Griswald, a beautiful psychiatrist who was looking for golf lessons. McAvoy was immediately smitten, but there was a problem: Dr. Griswald was dating Simms, who had become his sworn enemy after college. It’s hard to compete with a professional golfer when you’re living in a Winnebago and making $7 an hour at a driving range.
McAvoy’s plan to win Dr. Griswald over was simple: Go out and win the U.S. Open. He knew that he couldn’t do it alone, but he had Romeo to help with the technical part of his game and enlisted Dr. Griswald to help him with the mental aspect.
McAvoy got off to a great start at the regional qualifier, shooting 5-under par on the first nine holes, but things are never easy with McAvoy. He got into a pissing match with Romeo over club selection at the 10th tee box, and what followed was one of the most bizarre sequences in the history of golf:
- Romeo snaps McAvoy’s driver and 3-wood in two after he refuses to listen to him about hitting the safe shot.
- McAvoy reluctantly grabs the 2-iron, but decides to turn the tables on Romeo and breaks that club himself.
- Save for his trusty 7-iron, McAvoy proceeds to snap every other club in his bag — even his putter!
Seems like a perfectly sane thing to do when trying to qualify for the toughest golf tournament in the world. With just a sole club left, Romeo storms off and leaves McAvoy to finish the round on his own. McAvoy would still manage to shoot par on the back nine, which was good enough to get him through to the next round of qualifying.
Still, there were ramifications. McAvoy would have to face sectional qualifying without Romeo on his bag and would lean instead on the services of long-time friend Big Earl. Earl was a massive downgrade and spent the majority of the round messing up club selections and teetering on the verge of a heart attack. McAvoy is forced to carry the bag toward the end of the round and claims that Earl ultimately cost him three strokes a side. His spot in the U.S. Open would ultimately come down to a 30-foot double breaker on 18, but McAvoy would coolly roll it in to secure his spot in the field. Regardless of McAvoy’s flaws, Tin Cup always had a flair for the dramatic.
As you can imagine, folks weren’t exactly lining up to place bets on the amateur with the weak mental game and possible drinking problem. Even though he had Romeo back on his bag and despite going off at nearly +50000, McAvoy got barely any action in Vegas. However, he did attract some daily fantasy sports attention from sharp high-stakes players due to his elite ball-striking ability. Making birdies has never been a problem for McAvoy, and that’s ultimately what daily fantasy golf is all about. He was owned at just 0.05% in the Milly Maker but got as high as 1.5% in the Thunderdome.
In anticipation of the biggest round of his life, McAvoy did what any rational human would do: He got blackout drunk. He and Romeo stayed up past 3 a.m. downing tequila shots, and they barely managed to make it to the tee box for his 7:04 a.m. tee time. As you might expect, he didn’t exactly crush it on Thursday. Between being extremely hungover and veering too far toward conservative play, he managed to card a disastrous 83 and was a full 16 shots back of the leader after Round 1.
McAvoy debated just turning around and going home while brooding at the local library — just kidding, he was at the bar — when he finally caught a stroke of good luck. Dr. Griswald finally saw the evil side of Simms when he refused to sign an autograph for a young fan and his grandparents. She clearly didn’t believe in a mourning period, as she dumped Simms virtually on the spot and made her way to McAvoy’s corner. They spent the night making passionate love — Tin Cup clearly doesn’t believe in the concept of a good night’s sleep — and McAvoy was ready to go for Round 2.
His performance on Friday was nothing short of spectacular and goes down as a clear victory for #TeamSex. He had everything working and shot 10-under par, a U.S. Open record that still stands to this day. All that did was bring him to 1-over for the tournament, but with the leaders sitting at just 5-under, he was well within striking distance heading into the weekend. He was still a relative long shot in the sportsbooks but was starting to gain support from the public. The public loves backing an underdog with a story, and Tin Cup fit that description to a T.
He followed up his performance on Friday with another beautiful outing on Saturday, shooting 8-under-par and bring himself to 7-under for the tournament. That put him in a deadlock for the lead with none other than Simms, and the two would comprise the final pairing for Sunday’s final round. You couldn’t have scripted a better story.
By the time Sunday rolled around, McAvoy had become a slight favorite to win the tournament in Vegas. After all, he did shoot 18-under-par over the previous two days, and the public predictably pounded the lovable loser. The sharps were a little more skeptical of the driving-range pro, and opted instead for the safety of established pros such as Simms and Peter Jacobsen at better than even money. This set up a classic Pros vs. Joes showdown heading into the final round, which would turn out to be one of the most memorable in the history of the PGA.
Sunday got off to a disastrous start for McAvoy, as he shanked his drive into the woods and wound up with a dreadful lie. It took him two shots to ultimately chop it out, resulting in a double bogey. He recovered with a nice drive on the par-5 but proceeded to blast his second shot well over the green. Those who backed McAvoy feared the worst, but he would pull out a bit of magic with his third shot:
McAvoy was able to two-putt and save par, and that ultimately kick-started his round. He would shoot 3-under-par over the next 15 holes, which moved him into a tie for first with Jacobsen headed to 18. Simms was just one shot back after making 17 pars through the first 17 holes, and both he and McAvoy hit perfect tee shots on 18. Jacobsen would make par in the group ahead, setting the stage for Tin Cup to win the tournament with a birdie or force a playoff with a par of his own.
McAvoy’s relationship with the 18th hole was a delicate one. It was a long par-5 with a false front and a small lake ready to devour any balls that came up short. Not surprisingly, McAvoy went for the green in two in all three of his previous rounds and would ultimately find the water in all of them. He managed to save par in two of them after utilizing the drop zone, but you could see the frustration beginning to mount.
After Simms laid up with his shot, McAvoy had a chance to vanquish his demons at 18 and win the U.S. Open. All he needed was one good shot, and he proceeded to rip a beautiful 3-wood to within feet of the cup. Unfortunately, the wind kicked up at the most inopportune time, and the ball would spin back slowly into the water.
McAvoy was livid. He had finally vanquished all his demons and risen to the moment at the perfect time, only to be undone by a puff of wind. He had seen enough. Instead of taking his drop, McAvoy was determined to hit the shot again from the same location. Romeo begged him not to do it, but there was no stopping Tin Cup when he got like this. He dropped the ball, and the collective gasp from McAvoy ticket holders around the world was audible. He now needed to get up and down from 230 feet just to force a playoff.
What proceeded from there was a mix of humorous, depressing and difficult to watch. He hit his next four shots into the water, each one earning a bigger groan from the gallery, before finally holing out for a 12. He dropped all the way from tied for first to 15th, potentially costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars, but at least he proved he could make that shot!
While the course patrons erupted in applause at the spectacle they just witnessed, the majority of the betting public was livid. They ripped up their tickets and vowed never to back another amateur again. Meanwhile, the sharps quietly walked to the window and cashed their Jacobsen tickets, providing more proof that betting with your head is almost always better than betting with your heart.
The few DFS players who rostered McAvoy were also rewarded, as he led the field in birdies or better by a wide margin at just $6,000 on DraftKings. You couldn’t win the big money at the 1996 U.S. Open without McAvoy on your squad.
Romeo would never caddy for again, as the mere thought of stepping on a golf course would give him Vietnam-style flashbacks. He took his share of the winnings and opened up a Tango studio in Salome.
Dr. Griswald picked up a host of new clients after the U.S. Open despite the fact that McAvoy showed virtually no improvement in his mental game. Unfortunately, most of her clients dropped her services when they found out that sleeping with her wasn’t part of the therapy. She would eventually leave the psychiatric business to become prominently involved with Amway.
Simms was so traumatized by the whole experience that he vowed to play future tournaments even more safely. He never again made a score other than par on the PGA Tour.
McAvoy chose to forgo the potential riches of playing on tour and returned to his driving range in Salome. He can still be found drinking, gambling with his buddies and teaching the art of the perfect golf swing: