Jared Van Snellenberg is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook doing serious and important research, as detailed in his Twitter bio: "Cognitive neuroscience, working memory, psychotic disorders, fMRI methods development."
But what is up with that Twitter handle: @HappysCaddy? Hey, people are complicated.
One day you’re a 14-year-old getting assaulted by Adam Sandler on a golf course movie set in Canada in a silly sports comedy, the next you’re a 40-year-old father of three and a Ph.D trying to help humanity on Long Island.
"There is value to both," he said, with a laugh.
Before getting to the road Van Snellenberg took from there to here, a word about why his name came up publicly this month: As Will Zalatoris performed well at the Masters, some noted his resemblance to the actor who played Sandler’s righthand man in the 1996 film "Happy Gilmore," including his wavy blond hair.
Come Sunday, Sandler was tweeting side-by-side pictures of Zalatoris in 2021 and Van Snellenberg a quarter century ago, writing, "Have fun today young man. Mr. Gilmore is watching you and very proud."
After finishing second, Zalatoris – who was born the year the movie premiered – responded, "If you’re ever in need of a caddie again let me know. I’ll be better this time. I’m always available for you, Mr. Gilmore."
Van Snellenberg soon knew all about the exchange. "I got a flood of emails about that, and text messages," he said. "It was pretty funny."
So yes, the professor has a sense of humor about his claim to fame.
"This has been a fact of my life since I was 14, when we shot ‘Happy Gilmore,’ so I guess I’m fairly comfortable with it," he said. "Why not have a little bit of fun with it?
"It’s a movie that virtually everyone in my generation has seen, at least. People get a kick out of it when they find out, because it is pretty far afield from what I do for most of my career now."
Van Snellenberg, who is from Vancouver, British Columbia, caught the acting bug at a Shakespeare workshop as a tween. He had a knack for it, which eventually led to his mother finding him an agent.
When "Happy Gilmore" began production in Vancouver in mid-1995, he tried out, not knowing a key to his eventual success was what he called an act of teenaged rebellion: bleaching his hair blond.
"All of my friends were doing their hair in wild colors – purple and blue and red and so forth – and I knew my mom was really putting a lot of pressure on me not to do that," he said.
"I eventually just bleached my hair, out of the blue, and that’s where that distinctive yellow color comes from. My mom’s initial reaction was, ‘You’re never going to book anything with your hair like that.’"
When Van Snellenberg was called back after his first audition, he noticed everyone in the waiting room also had bleached hair, although his was curlier and more unruly than most.
Eventually he met Sandler, who practiced "sort of throwing me around the room," to reflect an early scene in which Sandler’s character shoves his caddie to the ground.
A few days later the producers called Van Snellenberg’s agent and booked him for a few days of shooting three months later. They left the agent with one strict instruction: "Tell him not to cut his hair."
The set was great fun for a young actor who never had had a gig of that magnitude. And the grownups seemed to get a kick out of his teenaged m.o.
"I was smoking at the time, so people thought it was hilarious to see me smoking cigarettes," he said.
There are two lines for which his character’s work at the fictional Waterbury Open are best known, one of which was delivered by Sandler and cannot be repeated here.
The first is delivered by the youngster himself. He takes Happy’s bag, the golfer mistakes him for a golf club thief and pushes him to the ground. Van Snellenberg responds, "Mr. Gilmore, I’m your caddie!"
For 10 years or so, Van Snellenberg heard that line repeatedly when recognized in public, less so as time passed and his hair normalized.
He continued acting, most notably in the 2001 film "Rat Race," but as he got deeper into his studies at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, he found he enjoyed learning about psychology and no longer had time for acting.
In the mid-2000s, he continued his education at Columbia, eventually getting his Ph.D there, and in 2016 moved to Stony Brook with his postdoctoral mentor, Anissa Abi-Dargham. He lives in Franklin Square.
Van Snellenberg’s work focuses on how the brain works and responds during tasks. He long has had a particular interest in studying people with schizophrenia.
"We’d like to understand how the brain handles these tasks differently," he said. "Can we identify a mechanism in the brain that explains the deficit in task performance?
"That might then open the door to developing a treatment for that brain difference in order to help their performance on these tasks."
He has not watched "Happy Gilmore" in its entirety in 15 years or so and is not aware of plans for a sequel, although Sandler has not ruled it out. Even if there were one, he figures Zalatoris is a better candidate to play the part.
Said the fictional-caddie-turned-professor, "He looks more like me at 15 than I do."