Televised golf has always had something of an absurdist vibe to it. There’s so much dead air time. The announcers speak quietly despite having no need to do so. A self-serious nature hangs over the entire production… so it lends itself well to parody, something Adam Sandler exploited to good effect in Happy Gilmore. There’s none of the wacky hijinks or crudity of that film at work in The Adult Swim Golf Classic, but it works marvelously well, in large part thanks to being played almost completely straight. Aping old-school golf programming down to the details—akin to the earliest days of Shell’s Wonderful World Of Golf—the half-hour special delivers continuous laughs, based almost wholly on one fact: Jon Daly and Adam Scott really suck at golf.
Playing low-key but silly caricatures of the real-life PGA champs also named Adam Scott and John Daly, the special is set in 1966, as a charity golf tournament between the two pros. (Neither of whom, it’s worth noting, was golfing professionally in that era—Australian Scott wasn’t even born until 1980.) There’s $15,000 in prize money at stake (money that actually went to St. Jude’s Hospital and Save The Children), just to further blur reality and mockumentary), and the entire event is structured as officially as a White House Situation Room briefing. Golf Channel announcer Gary Williams and Bel-Air Country Club legend Eddie Merrins narrate the action, and take their jobs as seriously as they would any proper golf tournament. The audience in attendance politely claps, there are era-appropriate sponsors (“Brought to you by Portnoy cigarettes. Portnoy: Now for women”), and the grainy look of an old television special all lend authenticity to the proceedings. It’s very formal.
Until the twist: Scott and Daly are genuinely terrible golfers. Scott, prim and proper and wearing enormously high-waisted khakis, can barely manage to drive the ball without hacking it straight into the ground. His form is laughably bad. Daly, mimicking his true-life namesake’s penchant for splashy and unattractive outfits and colorful behavior (drinking and smoking while competing), is almost as wretched. He, at least, has a sense of how you’re supposed to hit the ball, but that’s about it—and his atrocious short game might be the one handicap he shares with Sandler’s hockey-obsessed duffer. Before they begin, the show wrings minor laughs from some of the beyond-mild observations by Williams and Merrins, such as their brief acknowledgment of the American flag waving above the Trump National Golf Club: “There’s Old Glory—she’s a beaut, ain’t she? And a great indicator of wind direction.” But once the golf swings start coming—and coming, and coming, far more times than even a mildly decent golfer would be swinging over the course of nine holes—the ridiculousness of it all becomes infectious.
Everything pro forma about the sport goes through the transmogrification of the comic actors’ piss-poor skills and becomes delightful, especially once the realization they’re genuinely trying to beat one another sets in. Williams, after Scott takes a bow upon completing another hole: “First bow I’ve seen for a double digit on a par 3.” Daly repeatedly reveals his lack of knowledge regarding the fundamental rules of the game—at one point he says he’ll play it as it lays, but only because he’s been told he can’t move it closer to the fairway. (Williams and Merrins, again: “John’s won two major championships, but doesn’t know that he can’t touch his golf ball.”) Daly also revels in the freewheeling attitudes of his character, at one point wading into a water trap to retrieve a club he threw. “These kids better like this money they’re getting,” he remarks, acidly.
Before long, the two are making hay of the conventions of the game in off-the-greens ways, too. Both wives are there for support, until Daly’s spouse gets bored and decides to take off. “I’ve think maybe I’ve had enough, for… ever,” she says, to which Daly quickly agrees. “This is pretty boring,” he offers. Soon, Scott and Daly are making plans for a lunch date, teasing their caddies, and generally ambling through the competition. It all seems too blasé to work, and yet somehow it does. Unlike an actual game of golf, everything dull becomes part of the joke, more fodder for Daly (who conceived the special) and his cracked comedic vision. By the end, even the two stars seem unsure of how to behave, and that uncertainty becomes part of the joke as well. After surprising everyone, including himself, by sinking a particularly difficult shot, Daly wants to celebrate, but can’t figure out what to say. “Take that… shot,” he crows to Scott, “you… fake golf man!” It’s an acknowledgement of the whole put-on, but just like the announcers, crowds, and solemnity of the proceedings, it’s stupid and funny at the same time.