In "Miracle on the 17th Green," Robert Urich plays an advertising executive who loses his job around Christmastime and decides to pursue his dream of becoming a professional golfer, although following his dream to the seniors tour may jeopardize his relationship with his wife, son and teen daughter.
While he's gone golfing, Meredith Baxter, as his wife, is struggling to keep open the church daycare center and coping with an owner who won't repair the building's leaky roof.
The movie, airing Sunday at 9 on CBS, isn't a Christmas story as much as it is the tale of a man who wants to combine his love of golf and love of his family. (There's a bit of a miracle involving a putter that helps him "see the line," in golf parlance.) Pro golfers Lee Trevino and Tom Watson make brief appearances in the movie, which is based on a book by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge.
Urich chatted as his wife of 24 years, Heather Menzies, drove him and their 19-month-old daughter, Allison, up Connecticut Avenue to find a Christmas tree for the rented apartment where they're staying while he's appearing in "Chicago" at the National Theater.
After the musical's short run on Broadway, the Urichs will move into a new house along the seventh fairway of Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The house will be a treat for Urich, 50, who has been treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to battle synovial-cell sarcoma, a rare form of connective-tissue cancer.
" `Miracle' is a story of second chances," said Urich, "and I know something about that in my personal life. This cancer event just about three years ago was in many ways a life-affirming thing. It was certainly a reality check for me; I had to take a look at my own mortality. I've always played heroic characters -- I've supported my mom since my father died -- I was always the guy to do it all. The real feeling that overtook my whole persona was that I'd let people down -- but I know that's not the case."
Nevertheless, he said, "there were some dark moments."
One occurred when his series "Lazarus Man" was canceled. "The minute they heard I was sick, they canceled the show," he said.
"But there were some friends too." One was Aaron Spelling, who hired him for "Love Boat: The Next Wave."
"I feel good," he said. "I walk to and from the theater. I get check-ups frequently -- you have to be ever-vigilant. I go around the country speaking to survivor groups on this issue. I wanted to prove to a lot of people that it's a disease you can live with and work with. I preach the gospel of survivorship."
Meanwhile, making "Miracle on the 17th Green" turned out to be "a Walter Mitty dream come true."
Urich's character, Mitch McKinley, "has sublimated his own dreams and died a little because of it. He finally sees the line in his own life too, things that make life worth living."
The story calls for Mitch to sink an especially long putt on a sloping green. Urich, who said he has a 9 or 10 handicap, has played in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am Tournament. But as co-executive producer, he had set aside $10,000, he said, to pay for computerized special-effects to get the ball in the hole.
"A greenskeeper would never cut the pin on this slope," he said. "But I kept practicing this putt. And when we filmed it, I stood over the putt and hit it, and then I looked and it went into the hole."
And saved the production $10,000.