Roy 'Tin cup' McAvoy, a failed pro golfer who lives at the run-down driving range which he manages with his sidekick and caddy Romeo in the West Texas tin pot town of Salome, ends up signing over ownership to a madam of 'show girls' to pay off debts. His foxy novice golf pupil, female psychiatrist Dr. Molly Griswold, turns out to be the new girlfriend of McAvoy's sarcastic one-time college golf partner, slick PGA superstar David Simms, who drops by to play into Roy's fatal flaw: the inability to resist a dare, all too often causing him to loose against lesser players, in this case gambling away his car. Falling for Molly, Roy decides to become her patient; in order to earn her respect, he decides to try to qualify for the US Open, after starting off as Simm's caddy 'for the benefit of his experience'. His talent proves more then adequate, but over-confident negligence of risks, while pleasing the crowds, is murder on his scores, while Simms spits on the fans but never wastes a point...
Writer/director Ron Shelton is the master of the sports film. He known mainly for the classic baseball movie, BULL DURHAM, but he's also the creator and director of WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, COBB and PLAY IT TO THE BONE. Three pretty good films. Whenever he ventures into the non-sports movie-making world, he always fails (try watching BLAZE, or the almost unwatchable HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE). But perhaps TIN CUP is his greatest achievement because this is a film that has a little more depth to it, plus has one of the most polarizing endings in sports movie history.
If you talk to people about the US OPEN 12 on the 18th hole ending, many love it and many hate it as they want Roy to finally learn his lesson and not succumb to his inner demons of always wanting to go all the way. After all, that's how most Hollywood movies end - with the main character learning from a past lesson in the 1st act and achieving some sort of victorious outcome, while also making him a better person in the process. Especially in a sports movie. Isn't that why most sports films are made? To make the audiences feel good about themselves when the team/person you're rooting for wins the big game?
Ron Shelton doesn't give us that sports ending because as he has said in many interviews in the past, he hates those kind of endings. But couldn't he do it in TIN CUP. Of all the characters he's created, the role of Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy deserves the happy ending. But if you're paying attention during the movie, you know that's not how Shelton is going to end it. And if you're also paying attention, Roy does really get the happy ending even though he screwed up his US OPEN victory.
The character of Roy is very similar to the Woody Harrelson character in WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP. A talented athlete who is doomed to fail because he just can't control his urges of self-destruction. It's a theme Shelton obviously likes to explore as there are probably many talented writers and actors that's he's met who are like that too.
I've met artists like Tin Cup in my past many times. The person the public never knows about even though they are more talented than many people working in the movie industry. These people seem to have this fear of success. Whenever they come close to achieving a higher status in their field, they seem to go out of their way to destroy it. To many people, it's easier playing the victim and/or the underdog in life. They learn a misguided lesson early in their life that the world isn't fair and that they will always fail, so they make sure that this belief rings to in their own life.
And then there are the people who are just afraid of a giant leap of change in their life. And when you become successful, change does happen in big strides. Your lifestyle changes because you now have a more disposable income, but most importantly your influences change. Imagine an actor living modestly working as a waiter in a restaurant. Then they get a job on a soap opera (not exactly giant success) and all of a sudden who they interact with daily are other successful actors, directors, writers and producers. The actor goes from hanging around people at the restaurant he was working at to a group of people who are all making a living at his passion. In just one week, his world changes as he's around people who are consistently doing what he wants to do in his life. And many talented people can't handle that.
And that's who Roy McAvoy is. A talented golfer who is probably better than most of the other golfers on the PGA tour, but he had the unique ability to self-destruct when success is near. The only reason he got as far as he did in the film is because of a girl. But as soon as he know he has the girl no matter what, he goes back to his old ways.
Perhaps Shelton could get out of his non-sports movie funk and make another version of this story in the real world, or even the world of the movie business. Something I'm sure he knows a lot about.