We'll soon see how plausible two nongolfers, Helen Hunt and Matt Damon (above), are in roles as accomplished players. In Dr. T and the Women, opening Oct. 13, Hunt plays a teaching pro who falls in love with her gynecologist. In The Legend of Bagger Vance, to be released on Nov. 3, Damon portrays Rannulph Junah, a World War I hero practicing for a 1931 match with Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. To prepare, Hunt took lessons for two months while Damon spent a month with a pro at Hilton Head Island, S.C. Golfers, though, are a tough crowd when it comes to spotting Hollywood's false notes. Here are my favorite movies that use the game as a backdrop—ranked in order of the golf's authenticity—along with the telling detail that caught my eye.
1. Dead Solid Perfect (1988). Randy Quaid plays Kenny Lee, a bottom-feeding pro who wins the U.S. Open. Quaid, a single-digit handicapper at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, has the easy, broad-shouldered manner of a Tour pro as well as the best swing of any actor in a golf movie.
TELLING DETAIL: The name of the millionaire mark played by Jack Warden, Bad Hair Wimberly, is perfect.
2. Pat and Mike (1952). Katherine Hepburn carries herself with the grace of the amateur champ she plays, and her swing, while plagued by a reverse pivot, has enough speed to be convincing. There are great scenes at Riviera Country Club with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who gave Hepburn lessons.
TELLING DETAIL: Hepburn, in a fit of pique, hits nine balls in 10 seconds, the last a corker that goes at least 200 yards.
3. The Caddy (1953). Dean Martin was never better than a six handicapper, but his stylish swing makes him credible as a topflight golfer competing at Pebble Beach. Jerry Lewis, between his relentless shtick, shows a swing technique better than Martin's.
TELLING DETAIL: A down-the-target-line shot of Hogan, in his prime, burning a low fairway wood shot under some branches is a beauty.
4. Tin Cup (1996). After a three-month crash course from Gary McCord, the athletic Kevin Costner nearly pulled off his role as a pro from Texas. Only his outside-in (sheer's) swing gives him away.
TELLING DETAIL: There's just one word to describe the closing scene in which Costner blows the U.S. Open in stubborn pursuit of the perfect shot: dumb.
5. Follow the Sun (1951). Glenn Ford plays Hogan in a confection of the golfer's career up to his comeback, but the unathletic Ford's cramped swing nearly kills the Hogan Mystique (plus, Hogan's trademark tam-o'-shanter sits on Ford's head like a pillow). The film has some effective Ford-to-Hogan cutaways.