Sony Pictures Classics new movie The Phantom of the Open hits theaters in June and tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a licensed crane operator who, at the age of 46, made his way to the British Open in 1976 without having played a round of golf from his life. He would shoot the Open’s worst record score of 121.
Actor, comedian and author Simon Farnaby wrote the screenplay The Phantom of the Open and co-wrote the book in 2010 with sports journalist and author Scott Murray. Farnaby joined the WBGO Studios podcast Sports Jam with Doug Doyle to talk about the film, his career and his love for the game of golf and the legendary history of Flitcroft.
Farnaby grew up around golf and remembers first hearing about Flitcroft when he was around 11 years old.
“My father was greenskeeper at Ganton Golf Club (Scarborough, UK) in the North East of England, which is a fairly prestigious golf club, but I don’t know how it is in the United States, but the greenskeepers are kind of seen as the lowest rungs. You know, golf clubs are like little kinds of parliaments. They’re like a little governance. You have your president and it goes all the way down to the lowest rung which is the greenskeeper. I kind of fell in love with golf. dad taught me and I was really good but I couldn’t understand why the members looked down on me, really the juniors. At that time the juniors and women were in sort of second-class citizens. about five minutes every other Tuesday (laughing). It’s a bit different now. So when I first heard of Maurice (pronounced Morris) he was like the one of us. We didn’t know much about him m But all the senior members hated him and they hated us too or it was like he was one of us. He was like a folk hero to us juniors because he kicked the senior members in the ass and we liked that.”
Maurice Flitcroft, who died in 2007, from the English port town of Barrow-in-Furness, decided he would give a shot at the British Open after watching the sport on TV. After he and his wife Jean decided to list him as a “professional” on the tournament app, through an administrative error, his dream came true and he played in one of the biggest golf championships in the world. . Farnaby says Flitcroft’s journey is amazing considering where he comes from.
“One of the things we noticed when Scott and I were researching the book, you got the Barrow and there’s still not a lot of jobs there, a very poor area. In the years 70 there was a big shipyard there and that was the only job I guess you would call him a docker in the States but that was the only option They would call him forage This movie is a bit about class, it’s kind of a birth lottery movie, it goes where were you born and society goes Come on, you’re from there, so that’s your lot in life you work in a shipyard. Maurice just didn’t want to do it. He actually tried a lot of different things before he found golf. He was a comedy diver, he was a stunt diver and he couldn’t He didn’t know anything about golf. He had no one to tell him you’re really not very well because golf is a game you can play alone, he had seen it on TV and fell in love with it, got clubs on catalog, had practiced on the ch beach and he thought it looked like what I saw on TV, so I think I’m ready for the Open.”
After being banned from professional tournaments, Flitcroft repeatedly attempted to compete in major events using a variety of disguises. It worked. He entered a tournament as General Hoppy of France, sporting a drooping mustache. He and his wife Jean came up with the idea.
Oscar and Tony Award-winning actor Sir Mark Rylance plays Flitcroft in The Phantom of the Open. Farnaby says he and director Craig Roberts found the perfect actor for the role.
“I think Steven Spielberg said Mark Rylance was the best actor in the world. When we got him Craig, the director, texted me and said we had the best actor in the world. Mark said I’ve never been offered a comedy before so we thought ‘Oh my God’ but of course he’s brilliant He’s a great kind of clown He gave Maurice that dignity and that failure he needed. Another performer might have played more for laughs, mocking Maurice, but Mark played him like a god of failure.”
Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins plays Jean, Maurice’s wife. Farnaby knew what to expect from Hawkins.
“I worked with her in the Paddington movies and before that we go back. We used to do live stage stuff together many moons ago. And Craig knows her from a movie which he wrote and directed titled ‘Eternal Beauty’ so luckily Sally liked the script.”
Farnaby is a member of the British troupe Horrible Histories in which he starred in the television series horror stories, Netherlands and Ghosts. He wrote and acted in films such as Mindhorn and Paddington 2and in the BBC sitcom The detectors.
In 2017, Farnaby co-wrote Paddington 2 with Paul King. Farnaby also had a small role in both the first film and its sequel, before later appearing alongside Paddington Bear and Queen Elizabeth in a short film released as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. in June 2022.
In 2020, he writes The magician in my shed.
Now he’s working with Paul King on co-writing Wonkaa prequel based on the novel by Charlie and the chocolate factory by Roald Dahl.
“I loved the book, Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the chocolate factory When I was small. It was one of my favorite books. I love the character (Willy Wonka), I love the kind of magic, chocolate, I mean just awesome. I’m not doing the Tim Burton movie any favors, but I love the Gene Wilder movie, the 1973 version (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) even all the sets were plastic.”
Farnaby admits he would have liked to be the main man when he started out, but he realized people thought he was funny and so he chose to step into the comedic side of the entertainment world. He kind of sees himself in Maurice Flitcroft. The same goes for many others who have dreamed of pursuing a career in something that they simply don’t have the skills or means to achieve the goals.
“I tried to figure out what we really like about him. I think it’s because for most of us, humiliation is our worst nightmare. I often dream of having been an actor on stage and not knowing my lines and that’s the equivalent of what Maurice was doing. He was in a place he didn’t belong. He wasn’t good at it. I mean he didn’t know he was wasn’t those things, but even when he found out he was like “Well you I know I tried my best, I tried” I like that about him too, but just pure fearlessness, I guess. We don’t try things because of this fear of humiliation, but we only have one life to know.”
Book by Farnaby and Scott Murray from 2010 The ghost of the open: Maurice Flitcroft, the worst golfer in the world is from Yellow Jersey Press.
You can SEE the whole SportsJam interview with Simon Farnaby here.