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It never crossed the mind of Terry Moore, a Golf Association of Michigan governor and golf writer, that one day he would be contacted by a screenplay writer for permission to include his name in a story and then called by an actor doing research on playing Terry Moore in a resulting movie.
“Never saw that coming,” said the former editor of Michigan Golfer magazine, Grand Rapids resident, and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member.
“So many things had to happen for this to happen. I think of two words – surreal and serendipity.”
It’s here, a movie called Phantom of the Open, based on a book by the same name, debuted at the London Film Festival recently. It is not slated to hit theatres until the spring of 2022, as in golf season.
The Phantom of the Open is the surreal story of Maurice Gerald Flitcroft, who became famous or notorious, your pick, after entering a 1976 British Open qualifier and shooting a 121, the highest score recorded in any round associated with the Open and earning him the media tags of the world’s worst golfer and the Walter Mitty of golf.
He entered by checking the box professional golfer despite never having played an entire round of golf and practicing for only a few months on a beach. He slipped through the cracks of the entry process of the time because professionals did not have to provide a handicap index.
His famous round led to the Open changing the entry and qualifier process, but the eccentric and undeterred Flitcroft, a 46-year-old shipyard crane operator in Barrow-in-Furness by trade, kept working on his golf game and dreaming of winning the Open. He essentially became a hoaxer and regularly attempted to enter the Open and other golf tournaments. He went as far as wearing disguises and using pseudonyms.
Two years after the initial 121, Tim Moore, Terry’s brother, enters the picture. Tim, who has also volunteered for the GAM as a governor, at that time was the chairman of an annual member-guest tournament at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids. He came across Flitcroft’s 121 score while thumbing through a Guinness Book of World Records and immediately decided it would be fun to name the tournament in Flitcroft’s honor.
Nine years later, in 1987, Terry plays in the Flitcroft as a guest of another member with GAM connections, Brent Rector, and makes a hole-in-one as their team wins the event.
Terry, gifted with a sense of humor and a penchant for ideas like his brother, had turned telling people about the ace into a running gag.
“I made a hole-in-one at an event with an open bar,” he said. “How good is that?”
He planned to return to the tournament in 1988 and remembers wondering what happened to Maurice Flitcroft, and if it might be possible for added fun to get Flitcroft invited to this tournament in Grand Rapids named in his honor.
As a golf writer with national connections and annual trips to major championships, including the Masters Tournament, Moore through members of the British media not only tracked down Flitcroft and sent him a letter of invitation, but he persuaded British Airways and local companies involved in helping to cover costs as a public relations effort. Flitcroft played in the tournament with Moore, Rector and myself.
Flitcroft – at the time very unassuming and fascinated that people in Grand Rapids might even know what he did and on top of it provide him and his wife, Jean, with an all-expenses-paid trip to a tournament named for him – charms his playing group and the crowd at the post-tournament festivities.
“It really turned out great and fun in so many ways,” Moore recalled. “To us he was this harmless eccentric who hit some good golf shots and [did] some very funny things. We laughed about it often. He was a dock worker who got seasick when we arranged for him to go out on Lake Michigan in a boat with his wife. Just so much about it was this fun, hard-to-believe story.”
While the British Open hierarchy found nothing funny in the 121, Flitcroft continued to tell media types that the Open championship should truly be open to all golfers. The tale inspired many stories in many publications. It even drew attention for comedian and writer Simon Farnaby and Scott Murray to turn it into a biography. The former turned the story into a screenplay last year.
Flitcroft died in 2007 at the age of 77, but the story has lived on and the 121 still resides as the worst score ever recorded in the Open.
In December of 2020 Moore received a Facetime call from New York-based actor Michael Capozzola, who told him he was playing Terry Moore in the upcoming film.
“From what Michael tells me the movie pivots when Maurice is down on his luck as a crane operator receives this letter from me inviting him to a tournament in his honor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with all-expenses paid. He and his wife come and I welcome him. I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know exactly what happens. I’ve seen the trailer. I think it will be funny and entertaining. It has to be.”
Moore said his talks with Capozzola make it clear the English love these off-beat underdog stories like Eddie The Eagle, the British ski jumper who competed in the Olympic Games.
“I was so surprised when I was contacted,” Moore said. “I guess I didn’t realize at the time what that trip meant to him and his wife, though we have told the story and laughed about his funny lines at the dinner. The one about not being sure what made him more nervous, teeing off in a tournament named after him or driving on the right side of 28th Street was a classic. And then when he quoted his sister-in-law who upon hearing he and Jean were going on the trip said, ‘It’s the first time I remember Maurice and Jean being out of the house together since their gas oven exploded!’ It brought the house down.”
Moore said he hopes the movie captures the humor and the light side of the story behind the reason Flitcroft, the Moore brothers, Blythefield and Grand Rapids, Michigan, ever were connected.
“Think about all that had to happen,” Moore said. “Maurice taking up golf then making his tournament debut in an Open qualifier, shooting 121, Tim reading it and Blythefield naming the tournament after Maurice…“It’s surreal. No other word fits.”