You’re probably wondering why I’ve got a photo of wine label with this blog. Tait’s hitting the sauce to help him through the coronavirus lockdown, right? No. It provided inspiration for one of the greatest characters golf has ever seen.
Frenchman Beau Jolly tried to qualify for the 1990 Open Championship. He didn’t last long. He was three over par after two holes at Ormskirk when an R&A official ushered him off the course. Beau Jolly wasn’t his real name. Nor was Gene Pacecki, Gerald Hoppy, Arnold Palmtree or Count Manfred von Hoffmanstel.
These were the aliases of the intrepid Maurice Flitcroft, who would have been 90 today. The one-time crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness died on 24 March 2007. Flitcroft never played in an Open Championship, but it took a long time for that dream to die.
Flitcroft first appeared on the golf scene in 1976. He played 18 holes of Open qualifying trying to make it to Royal Birkdale, where Johnny Miller won and Seve Ballesteros announced himself on the world stage. Then 46 years old, Flitcroft shot 121 at Formby in his first ever 18-hole round. He didn’t play the second round. He withdrew after those, er, sterling 18 holes.
“I have no chance of qualifying,” Flitcroft said. "I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months and I’m sorry I did not do any better.”
Flitcroft and Ballesteros might have been miles apart in terms of talent, but they had one thing in common: they both learned to play on a beach. Seve famously learned to hit shots with a 3-iron at Pedrena in Northern Spain. Flitcroft practised on the beach near his home in Cumbria. He wasn’t a member of any golf club.
A newspaper got in touch with Flitcroft’s mother to get her opinion of her son’s attempt to play in the Open.
“Well, he’s got to start somewhere, hasn’t he?” she said.
Flitcroft sent an his entry form for the 1977 championship and used his proper name, but the R&A rejected it for obvious reasons.
Undeterred, Flitcroft filed a bogus entry form for the 1978 championship under the name of Gene Pacecki, reportedly an American professional. He played a few holes at South Herts before the R&A twigged to his real identity.
A Swiss player supposedly by the name of Gerald Hoppy managed to play nine holes at Pleasington in 1983. After 63 shots, the R&A realised the man with the false moustache was Flitcroft.
Flitcroft isn’t the only one to try to qualify for the Open Championship despite lacking in talent. American Walter Danecki played all 36 holes in 1965. The Milwaukee resident shot scores of 108 and 115 at Southport & Ainsdale. His 81-over-par 221 just wasn't good enough to play in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Another American called Bo Brit once tried to play in an Open in the early 1990s. He turned up wearing cowboy boots and claimed he worked at a Canadian driving range. He too was stopped early in his opening round.
Danecki and Brit clearly didn’t have the same insatiable lust for playing in the Open as Flitcroft. Who did?
The dreamer received reams of press for his exploits, much to the R&A's chagrin. The governing body wasn't happy at Flitcroft making headlines when the story should have been about the championship proper. Of course, some poor sod missed out on a chance of actually qualifying for the championship because the happy hacker had taken his spot. And think of his playing companions when Flitcroft was lucky enough to tee it up.
I spoke to Flitcroft via telephone when I worked for Golf Monthly in the mid 1990s. I heard he was thinking of writing a book and managed to track him down for a short article in the magazine. I asked him if he still harboured dreams of playing in the Open. He told me ‘yes,’ that he still hit balls on the beach at Barrow-in-Furnace, hoping one day to become good enough to play in The Open.
The book never appeared back in the 1990s, but Flitcroft eventually got around to telling his life story. I went on a family holiday to Turkey a few years ago. There was a small collection of books in the villa. One of them was Flitcroft's tale, The Phantom of The Open: Maurice Flitcroft, the World's Worst Golfer written by Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby in 2010.
The book matched up with Flitcroft tales former distinguished PA golf correspondent Mark Garrod told me over the years. Garrod was at Ormskirk in 1990 when Flitcroft made his last attempt to qualify for the game's greatest championship..
I might just raise a glass of Beaujolais tonight to Maurice Flitcroft, golf's worst imposter.