The Long Game, screencap via YouTube.

There are so many sports stories out there worthy of becoming movies. It’s always fascinating to see which screenplays get made and which ones wind up collecting dust on a self. The lucky scripts tend to follow the same underdog plotline. Against all odds, the protagonists triumph and inspire. Perhaps they even change society for the better. 

The basic narrative of The Long Game feels familiar even though the tale is unknown to most. It’s based on the real story of  Mexican American high schoolers in the 1950s who won the Texas state golf championship. There have always been preconceived notions and misconceptions about who gets access to the game of golf and who doesn’t. Many people still see it—fairly or unfairly—as being the sport for wealthy Caucasian men. 

Back in the segregated America of the 50s, several things were the sole domain of wealthy Caucasian men. The biggest obstacle the heroes of The Long Game face is racism. In the movie, these Mexican American teens work as caddies at the local golf club in a border town. But there are no members there who look like them.

J.B. Peña, played by Jay Hernandez, is a World War II veteran and the new school administrator who intends to change things. Peña starts the high school’s first golf team in a bold attempt to play at the state championship. Not coincidentally, the event is held at that previously mentioned golf course. Director and co-writer Julio Quintana portrays the teens as a talented but raw bunch. We’ve seen this before in sports movies. A mentor figure needs to come along to mold them into a unit. Usually, there is at least one member who is not fully on board with the program.

In The Long Game, their best player is mercurial and reluctant Joe (Julian Works). Works’ character is the most interesting. He’s believable as a youngster just trying to navigate young adulthood but also dealing with pressures and obstacles. Sometimes he responds with rage, which is understandable. Unfortunately, while the audience gets to know Joe, the rest of his teammates aren’t as well-rounded. Instead, Quintana focuses on Jay and devotes more screentime to Jay’s buddies than is necessary.

The most famous actors In The Long Game have supporting roles: Dennis Quaid (Frank) and Cheech Marin (Pollo). Quaid, who has starred in more sports movies than Kevin Costner, could do this role in his sleep. He’s Jay’s assistant coach and fellow ex-Marine. Frank shows the teens some of the finer points about golf. However, the movie leaves out what he’s teaching them. We never see or learn how the San Felipe High School team improves. Instead, there’s a montage of them at various courses. That’s it. No details. A missed opportunity that would have made the story richer.

Marin’s character is the wise groundskeeper at the Whites-only club. Pollo walks around in a cage-like suit to protect him from being hit by stray golf balls. That’s the extent of his character development. His purpose is to drop words of wisdom and encouragement and secretly help the team. But we don’t learn much about the man.

The story arc of The Long Game goes exactly the way you expect. There are few surprises. You wish at times it went deeper on exploring racism. But the film does solid work in terms of introducing us to a story most of us never knew. The Long Game was made to entertain more than educate, and sometimes that’s enough.

The Long Game is available only in theatres. 

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.