Even though there’s a sports reference in the title of the CBS Sunday Movie, the telepic is not likely to focus on anything that’s actually sports-related. And, true to form, “Miracle on the 17th Green” is much more about the miracle of family than the wonders of a hole-in-one. While golf fans may be disappointed, the made-for does deliver its share of sweet-natured sentiment without overdosing on the saccharine. Predictable from beginning to end, the film is still engaging enough to be par for the course.
Robert Urich plays 50-year-old Mitch McKinley, an ad exec, husband and father who knows he’s fast becoming a curmudgeon. His work lacks creativity, he’s frustrated by his son’s lack of skill at basketball and he can barely contain his disdain for his daughter’s boyfriend. Mitch is so bad at hiding his malaise that his son starts praying to God to make Daddy happy for Christmas. Lo and behold, Mitch promptly gets fired.
After an unsuccessful job search, Mitch rekindles his nagging dream to join the senior pro golf tour when his childhood golf clubs show up under the Christmas tree. Mitch has always been an excellent golfer, but he butted heads so often with his late father, who pushed him hard to use his talent, that he squandered his gift almost out of spite. Using his grandfather’s putter for the first time in years, Mitch is suddenly able to “see the line” of his putts, and it’s only a matter of time before he convinces his wife that, despite the impracticality of the decision, their future happiness depends on his giving golf his best shot.
As Mitch’s wife Susan, Meredith Baxter does an excellent job of communicating absolute apathy toward the game of golf and bewildered tolerance of her husband’s dream. When Mitch joins the tour, Susan is forced to find resources within that she never recognized before, and she finds a way to keep her troubled daycare center running despite landlord problems.
The heart of this film actually lies more in the daycare center than on the golf course. Despite Ernie Hudson’s charismatic performance as Mitch’s caddy and friend, the golf scenes are always forced and sometimes cheesy –especially when video clips of Lee Trevino and Tom Watson are awkwardly spliced in. But director Michael Switzer shows a real knack for directing kids, and youngster William Pavey, playing a feisty boy at the daycare center who refers to Mitch as “the toilet man,” shows enormous personality with very few lines and deserves a shot at larger roles.
Urich provides a strong anchor for the movie, and there are some genuinely poignant moments, although they tend to happen on the periphery of the story rather than at its core. The climactic moment — which happens, of course, on the 17th green — is a bit of a letdown. A more effective use of the sports element here could have helped with creating some actual suspense.
There are some strong, emotionally charged shots from cinematographer Rob Draper, but, while tech credits are polished, the production struggles to keep track of the story’s one-year time span.