Mark Rylance stars as 'worst golfer in the world' Maurice Flitcroft in the delightful new film The Phantom of the Open, which follows the amateur hopeful's unlikely attempts to take part in the illustrious British Open Golf Championship – despite having never played a round of golf in his life.


The Phantom of the Open sees Flitcroft make a whole lot of enemies in the rather snobbish golfing community as he goes about achieving his goal, with the film sitting firmly in the long-established tradition of classic British underdog stories.

Some viewers might be wondering if the events depicted in the film are based on real life – and if you're one of those viewers, you can read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind The Phantom of the Open.

Is The Phantom of the Open a true story?

Yes, as unbelievable as the film might seem – and as larger than life as some of the characters are – The Phantom of the Open is indeed based on true events, right down to the fact that Flitcroft's sons were world championship-winning disco dancers.

The real Maurice Flitcroft first became interested in golf while watching the 1974 Piccadilly World Match Play Championship on his TV, and shortly afterward, his ambition of playing at the Open Championship was born.

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Apparently, his inspiration came partly in the form of Walter Danecki, an American amateur who pulled a similar stunt in 1965, posing as a professional in order to gain access to the tournament after he had been barred from becoming a professional by the Professional Golfers' Association of America.

Flitcroft's original plan had been to enter the Championship as an amateur, but when it became apparent that in order to be eligible he'd need to have a handicap, he decided on a different course instead – writing on his application form for the 1976 tournament that he was a pro.

After he had been accepted into qualifying, he practised extensively at a nearby beach (a membership to a club was prohibitively expensive) and also read up on the rules of the game, with a golf instruction manual by Peter Alliss and further articles by 1966 PGA Championship winner Al Geiberger proving to be especially valuable resources.

When the big day came, it quickly became clear to those attending the tournament that he was something of a fraud, and he managed to score 121 (49-over par) in qualifying, bagging him the unfortunate record of the worst score in Open history.

Phantom of the Open

While it might seem like an amusing story, several of those involved in the golfing world were not the slightest bit happy about his participation – he was swiftly barred from using The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, while several of the players demanded refunds of their entry fees.

Of course, as is shown in the film, Flitcroft was not the sort to give up at the first sign of hardship, and he continued to dream about achieving his goal, while also making the most of his newfound celebrity to appear on a number of TV shows – including a disastrous appearance on daytime TV when he failed to hole a single ball on a mock mini-golf course.

It's also true that Flitcroft did indeed create a variety of alter-egos in an attempt to hoodwink the golfing authorities, using names such as Gene Pacecki, Arnold Palmtree and Count Manfred von Hoffmenstal and making use of a range of physical disguises in order to gain entry in subsequent years.

Another interesting aspect of the film that – although slightly exaggerated – is based on real events, is Fltcroft's encounter with a young Seve Ballesteros, who shot to fame at the 1976 Open Championships when he finished second. Although there is no evidence of a locker room meeting between the two men, as in the film, Flitcroft reportedly did get close enough to the Spaniard to take a photo with him.

Speaking about his golfing career and his brief dalliance with celebrity after the fact, Flitcroft was once quoted as saying: "I was looking to find fame and fortune but only achieved one of the two."

Read more: Mark Rylance: 'The government has too much influence on the BBC'

The Phantom of the Open is released in UK cinemas on Friday 18th March 2022. Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight. For more film news, have a look at our Movies hub.


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