When Happy Gilmore, a sophomore at Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, hit the first tee of local US Open qualifying at Old Oakland Golf Course in Indianapolis last week, he was met with a familiar reaction. from his fellow players: a late reaction.
Come on, boy… HAPPY Gilmore?
It was the equivalent of a young baseball player jogging onto the diamond and introducing himself as Roy Hobbs, or a rookie race car driver holding out his hand and saying, “Nice to meet you, I’m Ricky Bobby.” Where is the hidden camera, right?
The fictional Happy Gilmore, played by Adam Sandler in the 1996 sitcom, surely needs no introduction to most of this audience, but for the uninitiated, Sandler’s character was an emotionally volatile former hockey player who rose through the ranks of golf. thanks to his monstrous caricature. tee shots; the film culminates with Gilmore (spoiler alert!) taking down his sycophantic nemesis, Shooter McGavin, in a hard-fought Tour Championship. Vocation Happy Gilmore Iconic would be giving it too much credit but it’s certainly a cult classic.
“Yeah, they looked at me a little bit,” the real-life Happy said the other day on the phone. He was talking about his teammates in the qualifier. “I had to shake my head and say, ‘It’s crazy, but it’s true.'”
Happy was not baptized with the name; his birth certificate says Landon James Gilmore. The nickname just came to him. When she was 9 years old, she won a long-running contest at Pepsi Little People’s, a youth event in Quincy, Ill. A blockbuster kid with the last name Gilmore? it would be a crime not to call him Happy. So a couple of attendees did it, and then a couple more, and then a couple more. The name stuck because, well… of course it did.
It didn’t hurt that Happy had game, playing in high-profile junior events across the country. (Carrying the weekend hacker name would feel hollow.) In 2020, he was the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour Player of the Year. Last year, he tied for eighth in the Indiana high school state championship. Last week, he came into the US Open qualifier hoping to advance to the sectionals and beyond that, who knows, maybe a dream start to the US Open, at The County Club near Boston next month. (Hey, if Danny Noonan can caddy at the Open…)
I had to shake my head and say, ‘It’s crazy, but it’s true.’
After a shaky double on the first, Happy set out to play the next five holes one at a time. He wasn’t out of it yet, but he was about to be. The 7 at Old Oakland is a sweltering par 4, with OB to the right and a creek to the left. Happy did something his namesake would never have done: he hit a 3-iron off the tee.
The conservative approach didn’t pay off when he saw his ball go flying out of bounds. Happy reloaded, this time with driver. OB again. On his third attempt he cut off a branch near the tee and fell into a creek. Happy took a drop and needed four more hits to hole out. The resulting 10 on his card (he would later sign for a very respectable eight over 80, given the mess on the 7) was no laughing matter until his caddy lightened the mood with, what else? – an Happy Gilmore line: “Well, better luck next year!”
Happy naturally knows the movie well. “I’ve probably seen it a thousand times,” she said. “I can almost recite everything.”
Start a line, Happy can finish it.
“Just touch it. Just touch it. Give a little…
…tappy. Tap, tap, tap.”
“Could you bother me for a…
… hot glass of shut up!”
“The price is…
And, yes, he’s also mastered Happy’s patented hockey-style fictional tee shot. “It never fails,” he said of the players he knows on the youth circuit. “Every tournament, every round, somebody, like, can you do the Happy Gilmore?”
Happy’s name is so well known locally that his appearances on field rosters or markers rarely cause much of a stir. But that’s not the case when she strays farther from home. “Many people will doubt [the name] or look at me weird,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t believe it.” Happy recalled a tournament where he was dropped, assuming he was pulling a prank. “We had to call and tell them that I am a legitimate person,” he said.
Is there any PR benefit to sharing a name with one of the game’s cult heroes?
“Oh yeah,” Happy said. “I don’t think shooting 80 in a US Open qualifier would have gotten me that much publicity.”
A couple of US golf sites picked up the story. So did Bunkered, in the UK. Even Barstool Sports got in on the action, running a post with the headline: “Some kid named Happy Gilmore (no, seriously) played in a local US Open qualifier and shot an 80.” The highlight of the media blitz, Happy said, was getting a art greeting imitating life from Shooter McGavin’s official Twitter account. “If anyone sees this kid,” Shooter wrote, “tell him I’d love to meet him tonight on the 9th green at 9.”
Happy says adopting the name was never a marketing ploy, even if it helped him make headlines. He has his own website at TeamHappyGilmore.com, which is run by his caddy, Chris Blackmore. But it’s less a money-making venture than a blog that keeps family and friends up to date on Happy’s progress. Happy’s long-term golf goals include playing college golf and from there “taking it as far as he can go.”
Among his shorter-term goals: legally change his name.
“My dad and I want to do it,” Happy said, “but my mom isn’t quite ready yet.”