Keeping Score

For obscure Texas club pro, life imitates art

PEABODY, Mass. – Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

Take Ricky “Tin Cup” Arnett. He is a 52-year-old teaching pro in Austin, Texas. He works at a country club now, but for a long time he worked at driving ranges in the area. He played a little golf as a walk-on at Stephen F. Austin State University but was never a “stick” in the strict sense.

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© USGA 
Ricky ‘Tin Cup’ Arnett

© USGA 
Ricky ‘Tin Cup’ Arnett

Eventually, Arnett transferred to the University of Texas and took a part-time job at Onion Creek Club. When the assistant pro departed, Arnett quit school and moved into the golf shop. Earlier this month, Arnett entered the U.S. Senior Open qualifying in Kingwood. They happened to be playing Deerwood Country Club, a course used in the 1996 filming of “Tin Cup.” 

You know, driving-range pro Roy McAvoy, caddie Romeo Posar, five balls in the water.… 

Arnett shot 69 on Deerwood, which tied for the lead and earned one of three qualifying spots. So here he is, playing in his first Senior Open, teeing off at 7 a.m. today (tee times: http://bit.ly/2u9RjGP) at Salem Country Club.

It’s a defining moment in Arnett’s career, and as someone in some movie said, “When a defining moment comes along, you define the moment or the moment defines you.”

Arnett, who was nicknamed “Tin Cup” by a friend some 15 years ago, doesn’t look anything like Kevin Costner. But he can appreciate what’s going on here.

“There are some parallels,” Arnett said. “I taught at some driving ranges in the Austin area before I came into Great Hills Country Club, very similar to what you see in the movie with him and Romeo. But I haven’t stolen any golf balls from the range to use for practice.”

And if you’re wondering, Arnett didn’t hit it into the water at Deerwood. The well-known hole where McAvoy self-destructed was the par-5 18th on a U.S. Open course in the film. In truth, it is the fourth hole at Deerwood, a 453-yard par 4, regarded as one of the toughest in Texas. 

A plaque now marks the spot from which McAvoy “went for it,” kicked away the Open and finally knocked it into the hole for a 12. For his part, Arnett never had to ask for another ball.

“When we played it in the qualifier, it was into the wind and the fairways were wet,” Arnett said. “So, I was about 20 yards in front of the plaque and I had about 210 to the hole. . . . I managed to get it over the water, in the bunker and made bogey.”

When the 5-foot-9-inch, 165-pound Arnett made the field for Salem Country Club, members at Great Hills held a fund-raising scramble to help him defray the costs of the trip. He will have his father-in-law Johnny Fisher, not Cheech Marin, on the bag.

“It was pretty overwhelming, all the support I got,” Arnett said. “It was emotional for my wife and I. It feels good to feel appreciated. I love those guys. Best members in town. Hope they keep me there for a long time.”

Arnett isn’t expecting to shoot a record-shattering 62, like McAvoy did in the second round to make the cut. He probably won’t “try the ol’ ricochet off the Port-O-Let with a hooded 7-iron” either. 

“I think I can shoot a decent score,” he said. “It’s just a matter of not getting too far ahead of myself.”

In other words, he’ll be happy with something close to par. And that’s the truth. 

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD


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