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What is the true story of 'The Long Game'?

"The Long Game" is based on the inspiring real story of five high school golfers who overcame segregation in the 1950s to win a state championship.
/ Source: TODAY

Great sports movies are not just about sports, but about something deeper, says Dennis Quaid — and his latest movie, “The Long Game,” is no exception. 

On one level, “The Long Game” is about a team of underdogs that wins a Texas state high school golf championship against all odds. 

But on another level, the movie is really about “belonging and not fitting in, and what it means to be an American, and what it takes to get that,” Quaid said April 12 on the 3rd hour of TODAY.

“The Long Game” is based on the true story of five Mexican American high school students who were banned from playing golf at an all-white Texas country club in the 1950s. 

Determined to play, they built themselves a makeshift golf course and, with no formal training, formed their own team, the San Felipe Mustangs, and became state champions. 

The Long Game
"The Long Game" is based on the true story of five Mexican American golfers who became Texas state champions after forming their own team.Courtesy Anita Gallón M.

Quaid appeared on the 3rd hour of TODAY with two of his “Long Game” co-stars, Cheech Marin and Jay Hernandez. 

Working on “The Long Game” marked a reunion for Quaid and Hernandez, who both starred in the 2002 inspirational baseball drama “The Rookie.”

“The movies mirror each other, in a way,” Quaid said of “The Rookie” and his latest film. “They’re about underdogs.”

Read on to learn more about the true story that inspired “The Long Game,” and what became of the real-life San Felipe Mustangs.

Is ‘The Long Game’ based on a true story?

Yes, “The Long Game” is based on the true story of the San Felipe High School golf team, the Mustangs, a Mexican American golf team that overcame segregation and discrimination to win the Texas state high school golf championship in 1957. 

The movie is an adaptation of Humberto G. Garcia’s 2012 book, “Mustang Miracle.”

To research the book, Garcia spent four years interviewing the former San Felipe players and reading newspaper archives, according to Texas Monthly.

The movie tells the story of five Mexican American high schoolers — Joe Treviño, Gene Vasquez, Felipe Romero, Mario Lomas and Lupe Felan — who were caddies at a country club in Del Rio, Texas, in the 1950s. 

The boys were not allowed to play at the all-white country club, so they built their own course and taught themselves golf. 

The boys formed a golf team and, against all odds, became Texas state high school golf champions. They were coached along the way by their school district’s superintendent, J.B. Peña.

The Long Game
Jay Hernandez plays J.B. Peña in "The Long Game."Courtesy Anita Gallón M.

“Suicide Squad” star Jay Hernandez plays Peña and “9-1-1: Lone Star” actor Julian Works portrays the leader of the boys team, Joe Treviño. 

Dennis Quaid portrays Frank Mitchell, a member of the country club (and Peña's fellow veteran) who helps the golf team. 

The team's inspiring story gained wider recognition following the publication of “Mustang Miracle.” 

In 2012, the Mustangs were inducted into the Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame

Team member Vasquez, who is portrayed by Gregory Diaz IV in the movie, told Entertainment Weekly last year that this honor was “very gratifying.”

“After so many years, over 50 years, we finally had gotten a little recognition,” he said.

The Long Game
A scene from "The Long Game."Courtesy Anita Gallón M.

In 2016, the Mustangs were also inducted into the National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor.

Vasquez opened up to Entertainment Weekly in 2023 about his team’s remarkable accomplishments.

“It’s a dream come true, only in America, really,” Vasquez said. “We were fighting brutal poverty and brutal discrimination. Our parents were migrants, they were illiterate, and we were very poor. So to us, this was very exciting because we could enjoy caddying, making a little money, and learning how to play golf by mimicking the golfers. And then we got an idea, let’s make our golf course. We started gathering all the equipment, and we started swinging.”

What happened to the real Mustangs?

The former Mustangs pursued various careers over the years. Several of them stayed in touch and maintained a lifelong passion for golf.

Gene Vasquez

Vasquez and one of his fellow former Mustangs, Felipe Romero, attended the premiere of “The Long Game” at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March 2023. 

The Long Game - 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals
Gene Vasquez (left) and Felipe Romero attended the premiere of "The Long Game" during the SXSW festival in 2023.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Vasquez passed away at 83 in 2023, according to his obituary in The 830 Times, which also said he was survived by seven children, 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He previously taught in San Felipe public schools and later worked in real estate, according to Texas Monthly.

Felipe Romero

Romero was previously honored for his achievements by the Texas House of Representatives. In a 2011 resolution, the House noted that after high school, Romero attended the PGA Business School in San Antonio “and learned the business side of golf.” The House also noted that Romero “competed professionally in national and international golf mini-tours while working as a bus conductor and instructor for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Houston.”

Lupe Felan

Felan joined several of the stars of "The Long Game" at a screening of the movie at the White House on April 9, and according to Marin, Felan "still plays (golf) every day."

Texas Monthly previously reported in February that Felan was living in Yucca Valley, California. He reportedly spent his career working for the Marine Corps, then the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Mario Lomas

Lomas went on to work as a caddie on the PGA Tour and later worked as a greenskeeper at a country club, according to Texas Monthly. Romero and Felan told the publication that they had lost touch with Lomas over the years.

Joe Treviño

Treviño died in 2014 at 75, survived by two sons and two daughters. He had a lifelong passion for golf and enjoyed refurbishing golf clubs and giving golf lessons, according to his obituary shared by Trinity Mortuary. He also reportedly had a 35-year career working at Laughlin Air Force Base and later Travis Air Force Base in California. 

How to watch 'The Long Game'

“The Long Game” premiered at SXSW in March 2023 and was released nationwide in theaters on April 12, 2024. 

It is not currently available to stream.