"The Long Game," A True Story the Golf World Needs to Hear, Debuts at South By Southwest
By Jesse Dodson
"The Long Game" centers around the true story of the San Felipe High School Mustangs’ golf team, who are led by characters JB Peña , played by Jay Hernandez (far left) and Frank Mitchell, played by Dennis Quaid (far right). (Photo courtesy of Anita Gallón M)
Golf was centerstage at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, when “The Long Game” premiered at the historic Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue, Sunday, March 12.
Directed by Julio Quintana and starring Dennis Quaid, Jay Hernandez and Cheech Marin —who makes memorable appearances offering life advice as a golf course superintendent— “The Long Game” is an underdog drama based on the true story of Mexican-Americans blazing a trail of change in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, in the 1950s. Together, they used golf to alter the fabric of a sport that made them feel unwelcome.
Despite not being allowed to play at the club, five Mexican-American teenagers fell in love with golf while working as caddies in 1956 at the Del Rio Country Club, an exclusive club with all-white members.
San Felipe High School students Joe Treviño, Gene Vasquez, Felipe Romero, Mario Lomas and Lupe Felan (played by actors Julian Works, Gregory Diaz IV, Miguel Angel Garcia, Cristian Gallegos and José Julián, respectively) forged their own makeshift course by hand in a nearby field simply to play the game, and enjoy it any way they could.
Their work caught the attention of the new San Felipe School District Superintendent JB Peña, a Hispanic-American World War II Veteran played by Hernandez. With the hope of gaining access to the well-manicured Del Rio Country Club, despite being turned away by the club when seeking membership, Peña formed the first-ever San Felipe High School Mustangs’ golf team with the help of Frank Mitchell, Del Rio’s golf pro and Peña’s war companion played by Quaid.
Regardless of the racial ridicule the team faced, not only during tournaments but in their hometown, they defied all odds by making the High School State Championship — and then defied them again by winning the whole thing at Del Rio Country Club.
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Their love for the game drove them, but their courage to stand up for what they believed in mattered even more. Golf simply was the vehicle for change.
The PGA of America and Make Golf Your Thing hosted an after-party for “The Long Game” cast in downtown Austin following the premiere, the story’s message aligning with the efforts of the PGA and Make Golf Your Thing’s pursuit in helping everyone realize that golf is accessible.
Make Golf Your Thing is a multi-faceted, multi-year campaign started by a collaboration of golf’s biggest organizations, including the PGA of America, to invite people from all backgrounds to the sport, and enjoy the game of a lifetime in their own way.
“The PGA of America and Make Golf Your Thing are in pursuit of a game, golf industry workforce and supply chain that mirror America,” said PGA Chief People Officer and Make Golf Your Thing Co-Chair Sandy Cross. “The incredible courage these young individuals showed back in the 1950s is truly inspiring, and will hopefully help others realize today that golf is a game for all. The joys of the game for those who play it and work in the business are countless, and it’s more accessible now than ever before.”
The film, inspired by the book “Mustang Miracle” by Humberto Garcia, clearly displays the extreme exclusivity that golf — and America — once had, then beautifully demonstrates how the sport can make a difference by helping create relationships between people from all backgrounds.
Even with all the progress the golf industry has made over the years, some people still have trouble seeing golf as a sport for them.
“When I was younger, I saw golf as stuffy and overly restrictive, but once you get into it, by the very nature of the game, it requires a lot of virtue, honor and trust,” said Director Julio Quintana. “Over the course of making the movie, the game really transformed into a very noble sport that elevates people. You have to have high character to participate in this game; I found a new respect for the whole sport.”
The “golf bug” was certainly caught among the actors, too, who also didn’t realize it was a game they could easily participate in and enjoy.
“I think this movie is great because it really shows how accessible golf can become," said Miguel Angel Garcia, who plays “Felipe” in the film. “Even with the trouble these boys went through, they still became obsessed with the game and really involved themselves in any way they could.
“I was a caddy all throughout middle school and high school. For me, it just didn’t feel like an accessible game. Once we did the movie, I was so upset with myself that I didn’t start sooner.”
Before being cast to play “Gene,” Gregory Diaz IV never could see himself playing golf.
“In all reality, being a Hispanic man in America, I thought it was kind of elitist,” he said. “I thought it was a game that belonged to white people. After hearing this story and the fact it’s a true story that took place in the ‘50s, when they had so much more to deal with than we do today — and how they overcame it all —made it so much fun to not only be a part of the film, but also to have the amazing opportunity to learn to play golf and fall in love with the sport.”
The game has seen rapid growth in recent years, and Make Golf Your Thing is using this emerging opportunity to bring greater diversity to the game and build on the momentum golf has experienced since the pandemic in 2020.
In 2012, the Mustangs were inducted into the Latino International Sports Hall of Fame for their historic victory. They inspired others to play the game in the ‘50s, and their influence continues today thanks to “The Long Game.”
If you are interested in learning to play golf, or simply want to get better, visit PGA.com/coach to find a PGA Professional in your area. You can also visit MakeGolfYourThing.org if you’re interested in making golf your game, career or business.