The Phantom of the Open: Review of the new movie celebrating the great one-off Maurice Flitcroft

He was entranced by golf, but the sport rejected him in the 1970s.

If you thought the fuss made about the design and difficulty of 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass at the weekend was bad, just imagine if Maurice Flitcroft had been in the field.

They wouldn't be finishing the event 24 hours late, they'd have been lucky to end the second round before everyone was due to make the drive up Magnolia Lane to the Masters in April.

Because Maurice, as many of you will already be aware and others will soon discover, was the world's worst golfer (a description he was no fan of, admittedly).

He was also a gloriously stubborn character who might easily have flatly refused to pick-up as his every thrash disappeared into the drink and instead continued bashing balls at the island green even if there were one hundred of the world's finest golfers stacked up behind him on the tee.

That tenacity served him well in his long-running dispute with the R&A, a kerfuffle that is celebrated in the new film 'Phantom of the Open', adapted from his book (co-written with Scott Murray) by Simon Farnaby, who also co-wrote Paddington 2.

The big screen's relationship with golf is long-running but has mostly met with mixed results. Arguably the game's finest moment was when the Home of Golf (specifically St Andrews' West Sands) stood in for Broadstairs beach in Chariots of Fire: a grinning Nigel Havers running to the first tee, through the surf, barefoot in his long johns, with the Vangelis soundtrack tugging at the heartstrings.

Havers' character was a toff who practised by jumping hurdles which had glasses of champagne balanced on them so could hardly contrast more with Phantom's hero because crane driver Maurice famously entered Open Final Qualifying with almost no experience whatsoever of even setting foot on a golf course.

There are, however, similarities because, just as Harold Abrahams faced prejudice and Eric Liddell endured difficulties with intransigent authority figures, so, too, did Maurice.

Farnaby and director Craig Roberts make a fine job of telling Maurice's story: the moment he fell for golf, the hurdles which lacked any kind of bubbly inducement, his chaotic record-high score of 121, the fractious battle with the R&A secretary that followed, and the cult status he enjoyed in later years.

Rylance as Flitcroft
Rylance as Flitcroft

Anyone who knows of Maurice (played with great affection by Sir Mark Rylance) will not be surprised that the film has plenty of laughs because his capacity to deliver deadpan one-liners was legendary.

Following that debut at Formby, for example, he told the press: "I'd like to take the opportunity to praise the Golf Club for the quality of their putting surfaces, as in texture and pace they resemble my living room carpet which I practise on every evening."

Surprisingly that great line, and a few others, don't make the script. It's likely that these were deemed a little beyond the ken of non-golfers and in that respect many other elements of the story have been tweaked and twisted.

It makes for the rather delicious prospect of Maurice's antics continuing to meddle with golf's more humourless minds because the pedants will be left gasping at some altered details; if those movie-goers have found themselves enraged by Hollywood's suggestion that Americans single-handedly won every battle in the Second World War, just wait till they see the nation gripped by television coverage of Open Qualifying.

The film is also surprisingly emotional, inducing sadness that a fellow who just wanted to play the game could be so resolutely shut out and later pondering the consequences of his rather naive take on life.

Ultimately, however, it is an exuberant celebration of the 1970s, enthusiasm, and sticking two fingers up at pomposity.

* The Phantom of the Open is released nationwide on Friday 18th March.

READ MORE: THE PLAYERS Championship: The seven times when a Monday finish was needed

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