99 Reminders of Maurice Flitcroft

We’ve all dreamed of playing in the Open. For most of us those dreams remain safely in our imaginations. A lucky few live the dream. Others drive themselves demented trying.

And the regional qualifying for the Open is a step on the road to those dreams. An obstacle to be overcome as you strive to get that one shot at glory. Some manage it. Some come agonisingly close. And some fail spectacularly.

And as spectacular failures go they don’t come much bigger than John Spreadborough’s disaster at Monktonhall near Edinburgh yesterday. It’s true that by taking part in the regional qualifier he got closer to Birkdale than most of us. But, by carding a 99, he missed out by a country mile. And he did it with people watching.

One, unnamed, Monktonhall official spoke of a nightmare swing that marked Spreadborough out as an impostor from the start. He carded a 13 at the seventh and an 11 at the 12th. That 13 included three lost balls off the tee – despite the presence of ball spotters. An extended stay in a bunker caused the problems at the 12th.

Now I’ve not played Monktonhall for some time and I’m sure it would have been set up to prove a real challenge for the qualifiers. But I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone carding a 99 there, let alone a professional.

And a professional is what Spreadborough claimed to be. His playing partners didn’t complain and he wasn’t too slow so there was no question of officials stepping in and declaring his attempt at the big time a knock out. That at least allowed him to enjoy his purple patch: three closing birdies to guide him home in less than 100.

Of course it could have been an off day. The R&A are in no way suggesting that Spreadborough shouldn’t have been there. But stories like this do put everyone, and crucially the press, in mind of Maurice Flitcroft, the Open impostor par excellence.

Along with the emergence of Seve Ballesteros, Flitcroft was the big story at the 1976 Open. A crane driver and chain smoker Flitcroft had been hacking around some fields with a few clubs when he decided to enter some competitions. With no handicap he couldn’t play as an amateur so he declared himself professional. After that he tried to qualify for the Open: he scored a mighty 121, 49 over par.

Angered professionals demanded their entry fees back, they got their money, but they weren’t asked to explain how they failed to notice that his equipment amounted to a fake leather bag and half a set of clubs. Flitcroft tried again to qualify under a variety of assumed names including Gene Paceky and Gerald Hoppy. He was never successful.

Flitcroft himself said:

“I was looking to find fame and fortune, but only achieved one of the two. I was in show business. I toured with a revue, and I used to jump into a tank on the stage, I was a stuntcomedy high diver. The revue used to tour all the country and I would dive into this tank. It wasn’t all glass, just the front so the spectators could see what was going on under the water.”

His golf, it would seem, was another way of finding fame through public humiliation. But Flitcroft’s name lived on. The Blythfield County Golf Club in Grand Rapids called a tournament (featuring greens with extra large cups and some with two flags to make things easier) after him. They even flew him out to play in it. It’s not clear what the Americans made of the Barrow-in-Furness wide boy but Flitcroft told them it was the first time he and his wife had left the house together since their gas oven blew up.

Maurice Flitcroft left people fascinated by his audacity. But, unfortunately for hapless pro’s like John Spreadborugh, he also left a prism through which the very worst golfing failures are viewed.

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