Home » Feature Story

Michael O'Keefe (aka Caddyshack's Danny Noonan): Not just another face in the crowd

By Tom LaMarre,

David Toms looked into the gallery during the second round of the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades and did a double take.

Then he started laughing.

Toms must have thought he was in a remake of the movie "Caddyshack," the 1980 film which has become something of a golf cult classic, because standing in his gallery on the 12th hole at Riviera was actor Michael O'Keefe-who played caddy Danny Noonan in the film.

"I knew David recognized me because he kept eyeballing me," said O'Keefe, who lives in Verdugo Hills. "My friends said he was absolutely staring at me and he couldn't seem to stop.

"When he walked off the next tee, he walked right past me. We kind of smiled at each other and nodded. We didn't say anything to each other, but it was kind of like, 'How ya doing? Have a nice day.' "

O'Keefe, 48, has been acting in movies, on television and in the theater for more than 30 years.

His credits include "The Great Santini," with Robert (not David) Duval; "Gray Lady Down," with Charlton Heston, "The Pledge," with Jack Nicholson, and recently, "Ghosts of Mississippi, with Whoppi Goldberg, James Woods and Alec Baldwin.

O'Keefe, who received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "The Great Santini," has made guest appearances on several television series, including "Law and Order," and "West Wing," and was a regular on the TV series "Roseanne."

He played the lead in the national tour of the theatrical production of "A Few Good Men," and played on Broadway in "Mass Appeal," "The Fifth of July" and most recently in "Side Man," which won the Tony Award for best play.

But everybody remembers him most for "Caddyshack."

"That doesn't bother me at all," said O'Keefe, who was spotted recently in the pro shop at Robinson Ranch golf club in Canyon Country. "People in the business recognize me as a serious actor, which is what matters.

" 'Caddyshack' opened a lot of doors for me and I have been able to play a lot of golf on some great courses because of it. I got to play Riviera twice last year. People recognize me on and off the course. Some people just know I am an actor, but you can see the golfers coming a mile away. They come up to you and want to recite lines from the movie with you."

Bill Murray had the most enduring lines in the film that golfers everywhere repeat to this day, such as "It's in the hole," and "What a Cinderella story this would be, a former greenskeeper about to win the Masters championship."

Murray plays the course superintendent, who is experimenting with a new type of turf that he also can smoke. Chevy Chase, Murray's buddy from "Saturday Night Live," plays a rich but bored member of the club.

Ted Knight is the arrogant and stuffy owner of fictitious Bushwood Country Club, and Rodney Dangerfield plays an irreverent new member of the club who knows very little about golf etiquette and cares about it even less. He ends up buying the club.

Dangerfield challenges Knight to a match and chooses Chase as his partner. Brian Doyle Murray, Bill's brother and the caddymaster at Bushwood who also co-authored the script, is selected to be the referee.

When Dangerfield, who is hitting shanks all over the place, realizes his team is going to lose the big money match, he feigns an injury.

O'Keefe, who is caddying for Knight, is brought in to take his place and winds up sinking the winning putt.

Most professional golfers list "Caddyshack," as their favorite movie about golf. Even Jack Nicklaus, on "GolfTalk Live," on the Golf Channel not long ago said it is the best movie about golf ever made.

"I made it and I can see why it's funny and why people like to so much," said O'Keefe, who even got to do a nude scene with co-star Cindy Morgan. "Everyone says it is the best movie about golf, but the joke is, 'What's the worst movie about golf?' It's 'Caddyshack II' (which O'Keefe was not in).

"Chevy and Billy were hot back then from 'Saturday Night Live.' I was chomping at the bit to work with them and it was a lot of fun. They are just about the way you would expect them to be, basically crazy. I think they were trying to see which one could be the most weird.

"Billy's just a jock. He and Brian played quite a bit of golf while we were making the movie. But I've seen him playing on TV lately (most notably in the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach) and I can see he's probably had lessons. His swing is much better than it was then."

So is O'Keefe's.

He took up the game again a year or so ago after not playing much for the last 20 years and has been taking lessons from professional Patrick Boyd at MountainGate Country Club in Los Angeles.

O'Keefe, who plays to an 18 handicap, teed it up in a charity event at MountainGate and bought a series of lessons from Boyd.

"Everybody recognizes him, but I didn't at first even though I've seen the movie about 100 times," Boyd said. "I didn't know it was him until somebody told me who it was, but we have famous people play here all the time and I never recognize them.

"People come up to him on the range all the time and say, 'Hey, Noonan.' He didn't like it at first, but I told him he's the golf master and he realized there are a lot worse problems he could have."

O'Keefe decided to take up the game again because he was getting offers to play in charity events and didn't want to embarrass himself.

When he went to Boyd for the first lesson, the pro told him he had the same swing that he displayed in "Caddyshack," and O'Keefe thought it was meant as a compliment. Boyd was saying he still had the same flaws.

"He gets it up to the top OK, but then he slams his hips to the left," Boyd said. "O'Keefe hadn't played golf in about 20 years because he's a Zen practitioner and doesn't believe in country clubs.

"But there's no reason why he shouldn't be a good player. The guy has nothing else to do. Acting is a good gig because he only has to work once in a while, so he should have all day to hit balls and practice.

"He's a work in progress but he's getting better. He has long arms and wide shoulders so he should be pretty good. He spends a lot of time chipping and putting in the practice area. And he reads a lot about the game."

It actually was pretty good casting by director Harold Ramis and writer Doug Kenney to tab O'Keefe as Danny Noonan.

O'Keefe always has been intrigued by the game and it actually was a caddy at famed Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., which has hosted four U.S. Opens and the 1997 PGA Championship won by Davis Love III.

"I lived in Larchmont, the town next to Winged Foot," said O'Keefe, who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. "I was a looper for two summers at Winged Foot when Claude Harmon was the pro. I saw Butch (Harmon, who has been a teacher and mentor for Tiger Woods) play when he was in his 20s. They were amazing players.

"I was always fascinated with Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. I read Mark Frost's book about Francis Ouimet ("The Greatest Game Ever Played). I loved golf, was drawn to it, but I never took it seriously as a player.

"When I got the chance to play in 'Caddyshack,' I really wanted to do it. I trained and practiced for six weeks."

O'Keefe had just finished "The Great Santini" when he flew to Florida to film "Caddyshack." He worried about pulling off the golf shots and doing comedy with the likes of the Murrays, Chase, Dangerfield and Knight.

One thing surprised him.

"I had 10 more years of acting experience that Rodney, who was making his second movie," O'Keefe said. "In one scene, he is supposed to make a loud entrance into the pro shop. Harold Ramis yelled, 'Action!' two or three times and nothing happens. Finally, Rodney says, 'Oh, you want me to do the bit now?'

"We made the movie in about six weeks and we had a great time. I got lucky and hit a few good shots. But when I watch the movie, I can see my bad habits. I do this thing where I stick my hip out, but I was able to look like a golfer, I guess.

"We were just making a movie. Who knew it would become a cult classic?"

Or that he would become more than just another face in the crowd?

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Long Ago and Fairaway

    interlooper wrote on: Jun 29, 2018

    This man was, and shall ever be, the Luke Skywalker of golf. Caddyshack inspired an entire half generation of college slackers to run midnight beer, balls, chicks and sticks missions at the local green (Blessed be Harold Ramis forever).


  • Great article

    mc wrote on: Dec 27, 2009

    Great Article. Very nice writing and O'Keefe sounds like a cool dude.