An ode to Shooter McGavin, the ultimate sports movie bad guy
"Let’s get one thing straight, this is Shooter’s Tour. I’ve worked hard my whole life, paid my dues, and now it’s Shooter’s turn."
It's tough to find a great movie villain.
They have to be driven and powerful. They have to stand for something and be willing to go to any length to reach their goal.
Great villains serve as foils for the adversary and drive the story forward. Bonus points for a cool nickname, sharp catchphrases and talking in the third person.
Shooter McGavin in "Happy Gilmore" is such a villain, the best kind of villain.
The 1996 sports comedy stars Adam Sandler as Happy, a failed hockey player who needs to make money to save his grandmother's home from the IRS, and begrudgingly decides to turn to professional golf after he finds out how lucrative it is (he can drive the ball really far). But Happy isn't like the other golfers. He's rough around the edges and edgy. He likes to fight and curse and drink his beer from a keg.
Everyone on the tour warms up to Happy, especially Virginia Venit (Julie Bowen), who handles PR and begins dating Happy (conflict of interest, anyone?). She sees Happy as a "colorful, emotional, working-class hero."
Everyone warms up to Happy except Shooter, played by Christopher McDonald.
Shooter is the biggest star on the tour -- a master of the short game, with the finger gun celebration to match. He makes a shooting gesture whenever he sinks a putt. He's corny and smarmy, repeating the same bad jokes involving sand and David Hasselhoff and wearing golf sweaters over his shoulders.
Shooter's singular goal in life is to finally win the tour championship and get a gold jacket. The other big golfers have one. Not Shooter.
To Shooter, Happy is a threat to the status quo. Shooter looks down on Happy and his supporters. He looks down on everyone.
"Let’s get one thing straight, this is Shooter’s Tour. I’ve worked hard my whole life, paid my dues, and now it’s Shooter’s turn. And Shooter’s not about to let his reign at the top be spoiled by some freak, sideshow clown," he tells his rival.
And Shooter will do whatever it takes to take out Happy, including calling on his friend Donald, a heckler, to rattle Happy and take him off his game. Donald's incessant shouts of "jackass" during the Pepsi Pro-Am spark Happy's rage and lead to a fistfight between Happy and "Price is Right" host Bob Barker.
But Happy -- who lost the fight -- isn't banned like Shooter wished, only suspended. Which causes Shooter to take a more costly and excessive measure. He buys Grandma Gilmore's home, the singular reason for Happy joining the pro tour.
"Real estate speculation is a hobby of mine," Shooter quips when confronted following the auction. But this isn't about a house, it’s all about golf.
"You lay another finger on me, I burn the house down and piss on the ashes," he tells Happy.
"What do you want for it, Shooter?"
"You know what I want: you off the tour. Quit, and the house is yours."
"Fine, I quit."
"Oh, no he doesn't," Virginia butts in. After a spirited discussion, and consideration about the upcoming tour championship, Happy comes to a solution.
"If I beat you, I get the house back. You beat me, I'll quit," Happy tells him.
"You're gonna beat me? At golf? Oh, you're on," Shooter says, shaking Happy's hand. "You're in big trouble though, pal. I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast."
"You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?" Happy fires back.
"No," Shooter shouts.
The stage is set for the tour championship, and wouldn't you know it, Happy and Shooter are paired together. Happy, showing remarkable improvement in his short game thanks to guidance from his deceased coach Chubbs Peterson, is finally a match to Shooter as a golfer.
"Do you know what the pathetic thing is? You have been doing this your whole life," Gilmore tells his rival.
Happy is poised to win. But after Donald, Shooter's heckling buddy, drives a car into Happy and damages his shoulder, all hope appears lost. His momentum is gone. He's haunted -- in his dreams, Happy sees Shooter bedding his girlfriend and tonguing Grandma Gilmore in her Kiss mask.
Happy is beaten. Shooter is in line to win. The gold jacket is all but his -- 44 long, with the right arm that's a little bit longer than his left.
Obviously, Happy makes a furious comeback (the movie isn't called "Shooter McGavin") but even in defeat, Shooter isn't ready to give up the gold jacket he believes is rightfully his, leading him to receive the beatdown the audience has been awaiting for most of the movie.
Shooter has been one of my favorite movie characters ever since I first watched "Happy Gilmore," and as a result, I came to appreciate McDonald, too. So much so that, during the late 1990s or early 2000s, I sent a letter to him in the mail. He sent me back a signed headshot and an autographed promo photo, and inscribed it.
To Danny, Best wishes and thanks, Christopher McDonald "Shooter"
I came across the picture recently when going through my childhood belongings.
In the years since I received the signed photo, the legend of Shooter McGavin has taken on new life. The Twitter account @ShooterMcGavin_ is a chance to celebrate all things Shooter.
Any great movie villain is defined by the memes, and Shooter has lots of them. This one of him celebrating after sinking a putt is the best.
Earlier this year, a video challenge featured Sandler and McDonald as their iconic characters. Sandler sets up the camera and takes his swing as Happy Gilmore one more time.
"Shooter McGavin, this one's for you," he says as he prepares to blast a drive into orbit.
"You're dead, Shooter."
The video cuts to McDonald as McGavin, indoors.
"Nice drive, Gilmore. Twenty-five years, huh? Let's see if it's Shooter's tour," he says as he putts into a cup across the carpet. "Oh yeah. It's all about the short game. Drive for show, putt for the dough. Money. Shooter, still got it."