Are golf movies better when they’re made by golfers? That’s the question raised by new golf movie “The Squeeze,” which tells the story of a golf prodigy (Jeremy Sumpter), who becomes the pawn of two high-stakes gamblers.
The movie was written, directed and produced by Terry Jastrow, who produced 62 major championships (the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship) during his time at ABC Sports.
The Squeeze will be released in select theaters on April 17, and is available for digital download and video on demand the same day. Groupon users can download the movie a day earlier (more on that later).
Here are six things to know about the movie.
Jastrow’s first order of business was to find a leading man who could actually hit the high-level golf shots his role required. Jastrow received more than 1,000 applications for the role, but once he saw Sumpter’s golf game, he knew the role was his.
“At the tryout at Belair Country Club, Jeremy hit his first drive over 300 yards,” Jastrow said.
Jastrow sent videos of Sumpter hitting a driver, a 5 iron, a wedge and a bunker shot to friend Tom Watson, one of the movie’s backers, for review. The eight-time major champion approved.
At the movie’s world premier in Chicago, Jastrow confirmed that every shot in the film, sans one, was authentic. The shot in question? It would have been real, had the camera been pointed at the ball, not his face, Sumpter said.
Jastrow’s charmed career in golf, like a lot of people his age, started as a caddie. Then it broke severely from the norm. As the junior champion at his club, he had the chance to caddie for Arnold Palmer when Arnie came to town for an event. Jastrow later got a job at Austin Country Club, where he played rounds with Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, and improved his game under the tutelage of legendary instructor Harvey Penick.
“In Harvey’s second book, the Green Book, there’s a whole chapter about me,” Jastrow said.
Jastrow played collegiate golf at the University of Houston, but didn’t want to be a professional golfer. He got a job at ABC Sports at age 21, and was made a producer at 22. Why so young? At the time “no one there played golf,” he said.
His familiarity with high-level golf, and desire to have viewers feel like they were a part of the action, led to two innovations that changed golf broadcasts forever. He led the first broadcast to put a camera behind a golfer in the fairway, and is the originator of the coverage style that follows a group for all 18 holes in a tournament. Jastrow has won 7 Emmy Awards, and has also produced or directed The Super Bowl, The Indy 500, The Kentucky Derby and eight Olympics.
Those who see The Squeeze will enjoy the major championship-like feel of the golf action in the movie.
The plot of the movie was based on the real-life experiences of Keith Flatt, a Texas-born golfer who was discovered by a gambler after winning a local tournament by 15 shots. The Squeeze’s action covers the last few weeks of Flatt’s time playing high-stakes golf, which saw his life put in jeopardy by gamblers in Las Vegas.
There are several other true stories mixed in the movie, including the opening scene that shows Sumpter and co-star Jillian Murphy playing a game of cross-country golf. As a child, Jastrow played the same game with his brother before church on Sundays. Their “course” covered the span 1.5 miles in Midland, Texas, and ended when one of them holed out at their municipal golf course.
A later scene shows Murray using a clever trick to light the line of Sumpter’s putt, which was inspired by a father-son tournament Jastrow played as a teenager. As daylight waned, spectators brought their cars on the course to illuminate the action. It helped the golfers get to the green, but more light was needed for the winning putt to go in.
“We didn’t know much about USGA rules in West Texas, so we didn’t know we couldn’t put a cigarette on the ground to help us line up a putt,” Jastrow said.
Sumpter missed a putt during a round of golf with Jastrow, and proceeded to scoop the ball up with the back of his putter, toss it above his head and whack it 120 yards. Jastrow put it in the movie, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll see someone trying to emulate the trick shot on the range this summer.
Sumpter, 26, began honing his golf game in Australia during the filming of live-action movie Peter Pan (2003), in which he starred. He’s played a lot of golf since that time, and currently boasts a +1.2 handicap at Moorpark Country Club in Southern California.
When Sumpter isn’t working, he likes to play golf during the daylight hours and shoot pool at night. He told me that he’d really like to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am next year. Then the conversation shifted to what it would take for him to compete on the mini tours. He was serious.
It’s OK to watch The Squeeze with your significant other and/or non-golfing friends. Jessie (Katherine LaNasa) brings laughs as the girlfriend of Riverboat (Christopher McDonald), a character based on legendary gambler Titanic Thompson — and a far cry from his role as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore.
Natalie (Jillian Murray) is a likable character who plays the girlfriend of Augie (Jeremy Sumpter). Some will say she’s reason enough to see the movie. Michael Nouri, who plays Jimmy Diamonds, told me he’s not a gambler, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the film.
Groupon will offer The Squeeze at its first digital download on April 16, a day before it hits theaters. It’s available in two separate packages:
- With Tom Watson’s “Lessons of a Lifetime” DVD set.
- With $10 off a tee time booked at TeeOff.com.
“We’re very excited about partnering with Groupon,” Jastrow said. “The movie business is forever looking for robust new distribution outlets … If this Groupon campaign with The Squeeze works, it could create another huge marketplace for movies.”