When the entries were submitted for the 1976 Open, hundreds of golfers were eager to make their mark on the world’s most prestigious tournament.
Two would be remembered for very different reasons.
One was Spanish teenage sensation Severiano Ballesteros, who would become one of the sport’s all-time greats – the other wasn’t.
Maurice Flitcroft was 46 and a chain-smoking crane operator from the Barrow shipyards… who had never played a full round of golf.
He gained notoriety by setting the worst score in the tournament’s history and becoming a thorn in the side of the sport’s establishment.
Now his exploits are the subject of a comedy film, The Phantom Of The Open, which had its premiere last night at the London Film Festival.
Now Maurice Flitcroft’s exploits are the subject of a comedy film, The Phantom Of The Open, (pictured) which had its premiere last night at the London Film Festival
Flitcroft is played by Sir Mark Rylance, best known for his – very serious – roles as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall and Rudolf Abel in Bridge Of Spies.
The Oscar-winner says he is ‘thrilled’ to be asked to do a comedy. Sally Hawkins plays Flitcroft’s wife Jean, while Rhys Ifans is among the co-stars.
Unrelenting optimist Flitcroft, who lived in a tiny council house with his wife and their twin sons, decided to enter the Open after watching golf on his new colour television set.
Golfer Seve Ballesteros (centre) and Maurice Flitcroft (right) pictured together in July 1976 at the 1976 Open
He sent off by mail order for a cheap set of clubs and an instruction manual by Peter Alliss. Unable to afford membership of a club, he would practise for two hours a day on the local beach.
He did not have a low enough handicap – or indeed any handicap – to enter as an amateur, so tricked organisers by pretending to be a professional to obtain a place in a two-day Open qualifying tournament, held at Formby Golf Club, near Liverpool.
With one of his sons acting as his caddy, Flitcroft shot 121 for the 18 holes, 49 strokes worse than the par of 72.
Working out he would need 13 holes-in-one the next day to stand a chance of reaching the main event the following week at Royal Birkdale, Southport, he decided it was time to go home.
‘I’ll see you next year, fellas,’ he told bemused photographers.
He attended the championship as a spectator, managing to get close enough to Ballesteros to be photographed with him during the final round – although the film imagines the pair meeting and chatting in the clubhouse.
Unrelenting optimist Flitcroft, who lived in a tiny council house with his wife and their twin sons, decided to enter the Open after watching golf on his new colour television set
Seve, then 19, led for three rounds but finished tied for second place. He would go on to win the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988.
The tournament organisers, the R&A, were furious at being made to look fools by Flitcroft and tried to ban him from every golf course in the UK – to prevent him entering again by making it impossible for him to get a handicap, should his game improve.
But, undeterred by children pelting him with stones and jeering as he practised, the determined hoaxer simply used pseudonyms and disguises.
Flitcroft attended the championship as a spectator, managing to get close enough to Ballesteros to be photographed with him during the final round – although the film (pictured) imagines the pair meeting and chatting in the clubhouse
In 1978, he grew a handlebar moustache and used the name Gene Pacecki – a pun on pay check – but was asked to leave after four holes as his ‘poor form’ was affecting other competitors.
He tried again in 1980 and 1981. In 1983 he was threatened with legal action after entering under the name Gerald Hoppy.
Flitcroft’s exploits led to him and his wife being invited to a US golf tournament as guests of honour. Its organisers said ordinary club golfers would relate to him more than they would to the sport’s stars.
Flitcroft died in 2007. The Phantom Of The Open is written by Horrible Histories star Simon Farnaby, who co-wrote a book about him in 2010.
The film, due for full release in April, was premiered simultaneously last night in London and at venues across the UK.
The film, due for full release in April, was premiered simultaneously last night in London and at venues across the UK
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