Craig Roberts’ real life golf comedy drama The Phantom of the Open got its theatrical release in June and is now available on streaming services and on DVD. But who was the real-life Phantom of the Open?
The heartwarming true story stars Academy Award winner Mark Rylance, Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins, and BAFTA Award nominee Rhys Ifans, with a screenplay adapted by Simon Farnaby from his own book of the same name, co-authored by Scott Murray. The film received rave reviews at its world premiere at the 65th BFI London Film Festival last year.
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The Phantom of the Open tells the real-life story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a dreamer and unrelenting optimist, who managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship Qualifying in 1976, and subsequently shot the worst round in Open history, becoming a folk hero in the process.
According to his unpublished memoirs, Flitcroft took up the game after watching the 1974 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship. Flitcroft had golfing ambitions well above his ability and came to notoriety in 1976 when, posing as a professional golfer, he managed to obtain a place to play in the qualifying round of The Open Championship, despite his previous experience amounting only to some hacking around on playing fields near his home. Flitcroft recalled, “I was looking to find fame and fortune but only achieved one of the two”. He was inspired to enter the tournament by Walter Danecki, a postal worker from Milwaukee who, after being barred from becoming a professional by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, entered the 1965 Open Championship after telling the R&A that he was a pro and set a two-round score of 221 during qualifying.
After his initiation into celebrity golf, Flitcroft briefly became a C-list celebrity and had various golf trophies (usually those celebrating poor play or egregious mishaps) named after him; he also had the distinction of having the “Maurice Gerald Flitcroft Member-Guest Tournament” named after him by the 1988 Blythefield Country Club in Grand Rapids. Buddy Whitten, Blythefield’s head pro stated that, “It started as a lark, but most people can’t break 90 so they relate more to Maurice than they would to a touring pro.”