Bizarre British Open Story

Bizarre British Open Story

The summer was 1976 was wicked hot that July as I made my way to Royal Birkdale, for my first ever taste of the British Open. I was in awe of Jack, Arnie and eventual winner Johnny Miller but after the first days blistering scores, in unheard of perfect weather, the name splashed on the sports pages was still that of one Maurice G. Flitcroft,

Filtcroft, was a chain-smoking crane-operator from near by Barrow-in-Furness who having bought a half-set of mail order clubs had set his sights on finding “fame and fortune” by applying to play in the British Open “with Jack Nicklaus and all that lot”. He prepared by hacking balls on a local football field armed only with a Peter Allis instruction book from the library and some articles by Al Geiberger.

Shortly thereafter he acquired an entry form from the unsuspecting Royal and Ancient, (who run the event) When he discovered, to his shock, that any amateur entering R & A competitions needed an official handicap something, he lacked – he simply chose the other option on the entry form and declared himself to be a professional.

Invited to play in the qualifier at Formby, he put in a performance which one witness described as a “blizzard of triple and quadruple bogeys ruined by a solitary par”, achieving a total of 121 – 49 over par, the worst score recorded in the tournament’s 141-year history. Since his marker latter admitted to having lost count on several holes the actual score is regarded as only a rough estimate.

Playing partner, Jim Howard, recalled his suspicions being aroused almost immediately: “After gripping the club like he was intent on murdering someone, Flitcroft hoisted it straight up, came down vertically. The ball travelled precisely four feet,” he said. “I put that one down to nerves, but after he shanked a second one we called the R&A officials.” Under the rules of the tournament, however, nothing could be done. “It wasn’t funny at the time,” Howard recalled.

Flitcroft’s performance dominated the next day’s sports pages, while stars such as Jack Nicklaus found themselves relegated to the small print. Flitcroft was interviewed endlessly. The score, he maintained, “weren’t a fair reflection” of his play. He had been suffering from “lumbago and fibrositis, but I don’t want to make excuses”, and he blamed the fact that he had left his four-wood in the car: “I was an expert with the four-wood, deadly accurate.”

Furious that their game had been held up to ridicule, R&A secretary, Keith Mackenzie, tightened the entry rules and turned Flitcroft down when he applied to play the following year, due to “no proof of an improvement.”  The letter sparked a prolonged correspondence, during which Flitcroft challenged Mackenzie to a match at the Old Course to settle the debate about talent. Not amused, Mackenzie subsequently Flitcroft was banned from all R&A tournaments for life.

Refusing to be beaten, in 1978 he posed as an American professional named Gene Pacecki (“as in pay cheque”, he explained helpfully) and blagged his way into the qualifier at South Herts, where he was detected after a few holes and bundled unceremoniously off the course.  In 1983, he tried again, this time disguised, dyeing his hair, donning a false moustache and masquerading as Gerald Hoppy, a professional golfer from Switzerland. He fared rather better this time, playing nine holes and 63 strokes before officials realized that they had “another Maurice Flitcroft” on their hands. “Imagine their surprise when they discovered they had the actual Maurice Flitcroft,” he said.

In 1990 he entered this time as James Beau Jolley (as in Beaujolais), an American golf professional. After a double bogey at the first hole and a bogey at the second; he claimed to be “looking at a par” at the third before he was rudely interrupted by an R&A golf cart which screeched to a halt in front of him and escorted him off the course.

Flitcroft never understood why the R&A was so upset. “I never set out to belittle them. Golf’s just a game and I tried my best. What did they need to get so uptight about?”

Flitcroft’s antics made him a cult figure in some golfing circles and he became a “C” list celebrity receiving mail from around the world addressed simply to Maurice Flitcroft, Golfer, England.  A club in New York named a trophy after him, while another, Blythfield Country Club in Michigan, named a member-guest tournament in his honor, the event featuring a green with two holes to give the truly hopeless a sporting chance. In 1988, when Flitcroft was flown in as an honorary competitor at the event, he explained that it was the first time he and his wife had been out of the house together “since our gas oven exploded”. His game seemed to have improved somewhat and he completed the course with a score in the low 90s. “I hit a lot of good shots,” he claimed proudly.

During one of his last interviews Flitcroft recalled, “I was looking to find fame and fortune, but only achieved one of the two!”

BOS

 

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