Maurice Flitcroft was the fearless rookie who tricked the R&A in 1976 and became a cult hero for decades to come. This is the remarkable story of ‘The Phantom of The Open’
The World’s Worst Golfer
Welcome to an intriguing tale of audacity, ingenuity, and the sport of golf.
This is the story of how a man, often dubbed as ‘the world’s worst golfer,’ managed to bluff his way into one of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments, The Open.
Dive deep into this fascinating chronicle that blends sport, strategy, and sheer audacity, revealing an unconventional path to fame.
Maurice Flitcroft | His Story
Maurice Flitcroft had some range. From postal worker to ice cream man to stunt driver, the chain-smoking crane operator from Barrow dabbled with just about every career at one point or another.
But at the age of 45, Flitcroft’s next venture would see him rub shoulders with a future legend, hoax his way into The Open Championship, and become the subject of his own film.
That venture was, of course golf, despite Flitcroft having never swung a club before.
The year was 1974, and Flitcroft found himself obsessed with the sport after catching a glimpse on his newly purchased colour TV.
Enthralled by what he saw, this eccentric character soon embarked on a quest to win golf’s oldest major. Just like Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus, Flitcroft had his eyes set on the Claret Jug.
Yet to play a full round of 18 holes, Flitcroft did the unthinkable and applied to enter the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale.
“I read up about The Open and thought it would be a great tournament to play in.” he said. “I thought it would be nice to achieve that standard, so that was my plan.”
But there was one problem. Flitcroft did not have a handicap, nor was he a professional golfer. At least not officially.
Presented with the entrance sheet, it was here where Flitcroft’s fraudulent journey began, declaring himself professional and somehow securing a spot at Open Qualifying.
Having borrowed the entry fee from his wife, Jean, read up on tuition manuals at his local library, and practised bunker shots at a nearby beach, Flitcroft arrived at Formby full of confidence.
Dressed the part with a bucket hat to match, Flitcroft soon raised suspicion when his opening shot travelled four feet. Playing partner Jim Howard was flabbergasted, describing Flitcroft as “gripping the club like he was intent on murdering someone” as the rookie chopped his way around in 121 shots.
At 49-over-par, it remains the worst score ever in Open history. “I should have used the 4-wood,” Flitcroft explained. “But I’d left that in the car.”
Word of Flitcroft’s antics soon reached a furious R&A, who banned him from competing on day two as the fraudster was forced to flee the scene of the crime.
Despite the feat, Flitcroft’s dream was still alive and kicking – at least in his own mind. He attempted to enter five more Opens, each time adopting a new disguise and hilarious identity.
From Arnold Palmtree to Count Manfred von Hoffmenstal to James Beau Jolley, Flitcroft failed to earn a second bite at the Claret Jug until his Swiss alter ego, Gerald Hoppy, made it past R&A authorities in 1988.
On this occasion he was able to shoot 63 – albeit over nine holes – as the folk hero was again banished before he could complete his quest.
“Imagine their surprise when they discovered they had the actual Maurice Flitcroft on their hands,” he said afterwards.
The antics were enough to earn Flitcroft a new nickname, ‘The Phantom of The Open’ – which just so happens to be the name of the 2021 film about the cult hero’s short golf career.
Our journey through the improbable yet incredible tale of the ‘world’s worst golfer’ brings us to question the systems that govern our competitions and the lengths to which one can go to exploit them.
This tale reminds us of the captivating allure of sports, not only in its standard manifestation but also in the stories that reside in its unexpected corners.
It’s a testament to the fact that sometimes, the most memorable moments are born not only from excellence but also from unexpected sources.
Maurice Flitcroft: Open FAQ
1. Who is Maurice Flitcroft?
Maurice Flitcroft was a shipyard crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness, England, who gained notoriety as an audacious hoaxer in golf. Despite having negligible experience in the sport, Flitcroft managed to deceive his way into the 1976 British Open.
2. How did Maurice Flitcroft manage to enter ‘The Open’?
Maurice Flitcroft registered for The Open’s qualifying round under a false pretence, presenting himself as a professional player. With clever manipulation and some luck, he managed to secure a spot in the tournament.
3. What was Maurice Flitcroft’s performance in ‘The Open’?
Flitcroft shot a score of 121, the worst in the tournament’s history, drawing attention to his lack of professional skills and leading to his disqualification.
4. How did the golf community react to Maurice Flitcroft’s participation?
The golf community reacted with mixed feelings. While some criticized his audacity and the lapse in the event’s security, others were amused by his antics and his brazen attempts to fit into the professional scene.
5. Did Maurice Flitcroft try to enter ‘The Open’ after his initial attempt?
Yes, Maurice Flitcroft made several more attempts to enter The Open and other golf tournaments, often using pseudonyms. He became something of a cult figure in the golfing world for his unyielding persistence.
6. What were the consequences for Maurice Flitcroft following his hoax?
Following his performance in The Open, Flitcroft was disqualified and subsequently banned from entering the British Open. His actions led to a tightening of the entry qualifications and a reassessment of the registration process for the tournament.
7. How has Maurice Flitcroft’s story impacted the world of golf?
Flitcroft’s audacious stunt and its aftermath led to a significant overhaul in the golfing world’s qualification and entry systems, particularly in prestigious tournaments like The Open. His story is often told as a reminder of the need for vigilance and integrity in sports. His audacity and persistence, however, have also been celebrated by a certain section of the audience, making his story an enduring part of golf folklore.