New Jersey has hosted its fair share of major golf tournaments. Baltusrol boasts seven U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, the first in 1903. Englewood Golf Club was the site of the 1909 U.S. Open and Seaview Country Club the 1942 PGA Championship. Jack Nicklaus hoisted two trophies in the Garden State while Sam Snead and Phil Mickelson claim one apiece.
Golfers and golf fans count down the days until major tournament weeks begin. It’s when elite players are supposed to shine, underdogs often take center stage and lives are changed forever upon a win.
While victors are praised, mere mortal golfers are often satisfied with playing the best rounds they can muster within our unique limitations.
That’s the theme of the heartwarming golf movie, “The Phantom of the Open,” that opens in theaters nationally beginning June 3.
Based on the true story of the “world’s worst golfer,” “Phantom” holds potential to be the most heartwarming and memorable golf movie of all time. It’s part because the story actually happened, part because the script is full of hilarity and part because the relationship between the main characters is genuinely special and superbly played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance and Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins.
Maurice Flitcroft (Rylance) is a life-long dreamer. Things have never been easy for the working-class family man, but along the way he’s tried his hand at everything from writing and painting to high-diving and songwriting. His philosophy in life is simple: follow your dreams – something he encourages everyone around him to do, as well.
When 1976 arrives, Maurice, with three adult sons and his loving wife Jean by his side, is staring down the barrel of unemployment as the ship building industry becomes nationalized. Facing an uncertain future, inspiration strikes him one day … in the form of a golf club.
With encouragement from Jean (Hawkins), he applies to enter the Open Golf Championship as a professional. The only drawback of Maurice’s plan is that’s he’s never played a round of golf in his life. With pluckiness, optimism and his twin sons – who happen to be champion disco dancers – rallying alongside him, Maurice pulls off a series of stunning, hilarious, and heart-warming attempts to compete at the highest level of professional golf.
All came without success and much to the annoyance of the elitist golfing community. Notwithstanding is efforts delighted fans worldwide where his exploits became folklore.
The crus of Maurice’s historical travails:
At the 1976 Open Championship qualifying round at Formby, Flitcroft made history by shooting 121, 49 over par and the worst score ever in Open history (a record that still stands today and will probably never be broken). He was 46 at the time and playing his first round of golf with a set of cheap mail-order golf clubs packed into his imitation-leather red golf bag.
The British press went wild for Maurice’s story, but golf’s governing body The Royal & Ancient, tried to ban him from ever playing again. Maurice didn’t give up and, over the next two decades, he tried, tried and tried again to qualify for the Open in increasingly bizarre ways.
He continued to enter the Open under pseudonyms such as Gene Pacecki, Gerald Hoppy, James Beau Jolly, Arnold Palmtree and Count Manfred Von Hoffmenstal, among others, sometimes employing elaborate disguises such as fake moustaches, wigs and a deer stalker hat. His golf never improved to professional level, but he was determined to pursue his passion and he last played the Open in 1990.
There’s more to the story, like Maurice’s warm relationship with Jean and his three sons, and his family trip to America to be honored as “the world’s worst golfer.”
Welcome to New Jersey, “Phantom.” Absent of a major tournament this year, you’ll make golfers’ summers even more special.