A non-conquering hero! Flitcroft: The Phantom of the Open

A non-conquering hero! Flitcroft: The Phantom of the Open

Last Sunday, 27-year-old Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick fulfilled a dream of winning his first major at the US Open, clinching the title in a thrilling finish.

The joy on his face was a sight to behold as he explained "it is something I have dreamed of since I was a little kid."

Fitzpatrick's achievement, however, could not disguise the deep rift that has emerged in elite golf at the moment between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.

In fact, it's more serious than a rift and the buckets of money involved featuring mind-boggling sums are making the whole situation very messy. At present, no one can be fully sure how it will all pan out.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, a strong defender of the PGA Tour, has called it a "sad" situation, referring to it as "the cloud that's hanging over golf."

With the British Open at St Andrews only three weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to relate a refreshing golfing story from the past that is not about already rich golfers getting richer and definitely not one about winning titles.

It is essentially about dreams of an ordinary person and a free spirit.

It is the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a chain-smoking Englishman who in the 1970s worked in Barrow as a crane operator in the local shipyard.

His extraordinary tale has now become a movie The Phantom of the Open, starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance and has earned positive reviews.

Bored with his shipyard work, Flitcroft decided to enter the qualifying round of the 1976 British Open.

This was a bold move considering he had never really played golf, apart from hacking around in the local fields and on the beach.

He admitted afterwards: "I was looking to find fame and fortune but only achieved one of the two."

After being rejected entry as an amateur because he didn't even have a handicap, Flitcroft wasn't going to let a minor thing like that stop him and declared himself a professional. Somehow his entry was accepted.

The qualifying round took place at Formby golf club, a challenging links course near Liverpool, but his eventual goal was Royal Birkdale 1976.

Flitcroft's opening drive from the first tee was a strange shot that took off vertically but only landed 40 yards away.

That turned out to be one of his better efforts. After suffering a triple bogey on the opening hole things went downhill fast and he finished the round with a 49-over-par 121 -- the tournament's worst-ever score.

The hole that ended Flitcroft's hopes for glory was the par-5 seventh where he shot 12 after getting stuck in the sand dunes.

Not surprisingly, the media seized on this score and Flitcroft quickly became dubbed "The World's Worst Golfer."

Professionals in the same qualifying round were angry that he had been allowed to play and were refunded their entry fees by an embarrassed R&A (Royal and Ancient) who banned Flitcroft from all further competitions. He became known as "The Royal & Ancient Rabbit".

Flitcroft attempted to get round the ban by using absurd pseudonyms like Arnold Palmtree, James Beau Jolley and Gene Paycheki and even used false moustaches to disguise himself, but this rarely worked.

The Open fiasco did not put an end to Flitcroft's golfing career, however.

Word got around about his eccentric performance and he became a minor celebrity. A number of golf trophies were named after him, mostly awarded for poor play.

There was even an annual "Maurice Gerald Flitcroft Member-Guest Tournament" held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was staged at the Blythefield Country Club and proved to be extremely popular.

The head pro explained "Most people can't break 90 so they relate more to Maurice than a touring pro."

Some might compare Flitcroft's story with that of ski-jump legend Eddie the Eagle, although Eddie was more accomplished in his chosen sport and also became much better known.

Flitcroft died in 2007 at the age of 67, but his moment of glory on the links of Formby should never be forgotten.

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