Maurice Flitcroft’s antics are portrayed in The Phantom of the Open, a comedy film starring Sir Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, and Rhys Ifans – read his incredible story here
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On the prestigious course, a silence fell over the crowd as an outrageous golfer named Maurice Flitcroft stepped confidently to the tee.
Many were fascinated by his unconventional clothing – beige pants, tattered plastic golf shoes and a slack blue fisherman’s hat – and how he crawled through the grass on all fours to find the optimal spot to tee off.
Was the mysterious athlete about to make his first attempt to win the 1976 British Open, a professional returned from a long time in Europe? Or an as yet unknown American who is competing in the largest golf tournament for the first time?
But it wasn’t long before their expectations were shattered.
After a dramatic swing, he sent the ball just 40 yards from the first tee at Formby Golf Club on Merseyside. He threw his second shot into the rough and his third into a fairway bunker.
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Shocked competitor Jim Howard recalls: “The bat came straight up and straight down. It was as if he wanted to murder someone. “
In fact, Maurice Flitcroft, a 46-year-old chain-smoking shipyard worker from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, had never played a full round of golf in his life.
Nor had he seen the game before stumbling across the channels on his new color TV.
How the “worst golfer in the world” made his way into the Open even though he never played a round The Phantom of the Open Review: Mark Rylance’s golf comedy “will make you laugh and cry”
Convinced he could win the Open, he sent himself a cheap set of golf clubs from mail order, got textbooks from his library, and practiced on his local beach – before getting a place in a two-day Open qualifying tournament by letting the organizers know he was professional.
Maurice made history – posting the worst score in the tournament’s history, shooting 121 for the 18 holes – 49 over par 72 for the course.
The following week he attended the 1976 championship as a spectator and took a picture with a 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros who would win the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988.
Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
But Maurice was not deterred by his terrible round – or the children who pelted him with stones while practicing on the beach – and repeatedly entered the open and other golf.
Open organizers tried to ban the no-hopper from every seat in the UK. But Maurice, who became known as the worst golfer in the world, simply used disguises and pseudonyms like Gerald Hoppy, James Beau Jolly, Arnold Palmtree, Graf Manfred von Hofmannstal and Gen Paecki. Games often ended with him being recognized by officials and chased off the pitch.
Daily mail / REX / Shutterstock)
Maurice, who died in 2007, later wrote in his unpublished memoirs of his first tournament: “I would never have dreamed that such a simple act of starting a game would have a profound impact on my life.
“I would become famous, headlines celebrated as a hero on the one hand, and ridiculed on the other.”
He is now the subject of The Phantom of the Open, a comedy starring Sir Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins and Rhys Ifans that premiered at the London Film Festival this week. However, according to his son James, his father was never laughed at and took his pursuit of golf fame “extremely seriously”.
Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
He says, “He went, ate and slept golf. He absolutely believed that he was good enough and would one day win the Open. He wasn’t particularly happy with the nickname they gave him. He said to us: ‘I’m not the worst golfer in the world’.
“He was determined and trained every morning and afternoon, rain or shine, with his dog Beau by his side. He often came back drenched after playing golf in a storm. “
Maurice worked at Vickers Shipyard as well as a shoe polish seller, ice cream seller and even a comedy stunt diver. But it was watching the 1974 Piccadilly World Match Play Championships on television that changed his life.
James says, “When we could afford it, we got a color TV and he loved it. I think golf was one of the first things he saw there and that was it. “
He ordered Wilson Avengers clubs because he liked the name and Ben Sayer’s golf balls because he had heard of them. Since Maurice could not afford the membership fees of his local golf courses, he trained every day on Sandy Gap Beach, a long, if stormy, sandy beach.
He recalls, “I remember my first shot traveled a long way, but that could have something to do with the stormy wind that kicked up a sandstorm around me.” Friend Trevor Kirkwood says: “He made a strange figure, like Maurice. He wore a waterproof top and rubber boots and stood there for hours in the rain and snow and god knows what else, hitting golf balls. I think a lot of people thought he was crazy. “
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Maurice did not have a low enough handicap – or no handicap at all – to compete in the Open as an amateur, so he wrote in his application that he was a professional. It wasn’t a lie, he later wrote. “After a long search for my soul, I honestly had to admit that I was a professional – because it’s the money I’m looking for.”
Confident his hours of practice would pay off, and after paying a teenage caddy £ 2 to lug around his two golf clubs, he was just as shocked as anyone by his disastrous first day in Open Qualifiers.
His performance was so hilarious that viewers even rumored Maurice was the weird Marty Feldman playing a prank.
But in 1988 a Grand Rapids, Michigan golf club named a tournament after him. Says organizer Buddy Whitten, “It started out as a lark, but most people can’t break the 90 so they relate to Maurice more than a touring pro.”
Maurice and Mrs. Jean were flown over as guests. He said they had been out together “since their gas stove exploded”.
For years, Maurice received mail from all over the world addressed to: Maurice Flitcroft, Golfer, England. And he was sure that he would become one of the greats in golf.
- The Phantom Of The Open hits theaters on November 5th.
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