HomeIt’s Not a Sword, It’s a Golf Fake: How Nobody Tried to Rub Their Shoulders with Sports Legend Ballesteros

It’s Not a Sword, It’s a Golf Fake: How Nobody Tried to Rub Their Shoulders with Sports Legend Ballesteros

When entries were submitted for the 1976 Open, hundreds of golfers were eager to make their mark on the world’s most famous tournament.

The two will be remembered for very different reasons.

One was the young Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros, who would go on to become one of the sport’s all-time greats – and the other wasn’t.

Maurice Flitcroft was 46 years old and he operated a chain smoking hoist at Barrow’s shipyard…and he’d never played a full round of golf.

He gained notoriety by scoring the worst result in the tournament’s history and becoming a thorn in the side of the sports establishment.

Now his exploits are the subject of a comedy, The Phantom Of The Open, which premiered last night at the London Film Festival.

Now the exploits of Maurice Flitcroft are the subject of a comedy, The Phantom Of The Open, (pictured) that premiered last night at the London Film Festival.

Flitcroft plays Sir Mark Rylance, known for his roles – very serious – as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall and Rudolph Abel in Bridge of Spies.

The Oscar winner says he’s “happy” to be asked to do a comedy. Sally Hawkins plays Flitcroft’s wife Jane, while Rhys Evans plays the title role.

A relentless optimist Flitcroft, who lived on a small board with his wife and their twin sons, decided to enter the Open after watching golf on his new color TV.

Golfers Seif Ballesteros (centre) and Maurice Flitcroft (right) are photographed together in July 1976 at the 1976 Open

Golfer Seif Ballesteros (center) and Maurice Flitcroft (right) are photographed together in July 1976 at the 1976 Open

Mail in for a cheap set of clubs and a how-to guide for Peter Alice. Unable to afford club membership, he trained for two hours a day at the local beach.

He didn’t have a low enough handicap – or indeed any handicap – to enter as an amateur, so he tricked organizers into pretending to be a pro for a place in a two-day open qualifying tournament, held at Formby Golf Club, near Liverpool. .

With one of his sons playing the case, Flitcroft fired 121 on the 18 holes, 49 hits worse than his 72 average.

Working out that he would need 13 holes the next day to have a shot at the following week’s main event at Royal Birkdale, Southport, he decided it was time to go home.

“I’ll see you guys next year,” he told the confused photographers.

He attended the tournament as a spectator, and managed to get close enough to Ballesteros to be photographed with him during the final round – although the film imagines the pair meeting and chatting at the club.

A relentless optimist Flitcroft, who lived on a small board with his wife and their twin sons, decided to enter the Open after watching golf on his new color TV.

A relentless optimist Flitcroft, who lived on a small board with his wife and their twin sons, decided to enter the Open after watching golf on his new color TV.

Seif, 19, led three rounds but finished in a tie in second. He went on to win the Open Championship in 1979, 1984 and 1988.

The tournament’s organisers, R&A, were outraged at making Flitcroft look an idiot and tried to ban him from every UK golf course – to keep him from re-entry by making it impossible for him to get handicapped, if his game improved.

But, not deterred by children who threw stones at him and taunted him as he practiced, the designer prankster simply used nicknames and masks.

Flitcroft attended the tournament as a spectator, and managed 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 at the club

Flitcroft attended the tournament as a spectator, and managed 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 at the club

In 1978, he raised a handlebar mustache and used the name Gene Pacecki – a pun on the paycheck – but was asked to leave after four holes because his ‘bad form’ was affecting other competitors.

He tried again in 1980 and 1981. In 1983 he was threatened with legal action after going under the name Gerald Hoppy.

Flitcroft’s exploits led to him and his wife being invited to the American Golf Championships as guests of honor. Its organizers said ordinary golfers would connect with him more than they would with sports stars.

Flitcroft died in 2007. The Phantom Of The Open was written by Horrible Histories star Simon Farnaby, who co-authored a book about it in 2010.

The film, set for a full release in April, was shown simultaneously last night in London and at venues across the UK.

The film, set for a full release in April, premiered simultaneously last night in London and at venues across the UK

The film, set for a full release in April, premiered simultaneously last night in London and at venues across the UK

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