TOMMY'S HON­OUR

The short ca­reer of young Tom Morris has been turned into a film.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS FEATURES - WORDS JOHN HUGGAN

Which is why, at long last, a film has been made. “Tommy's Hon­our,” based on the book by Kevin Cook, the former ed­i­tor of Amer­ica's Golf Mag­a­zine, opened the Edinburgh In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in June last year. Di­rected by Jason Con­nery – yes, son of Sean – and star­ring Peter Mul­lan (“Sun­shine on Leith”) as Old Tom and Jack Low­den (“War and Peace”) as Young Tom, the movie charts the of­ten tur­bu­lent re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two men, both four-time Open cham­pi­ons.

“We have some very au­then­tic Scot­tish voices in the main roles – there will be no gig­gling in the au­di­ence when they hear the ac­cents,” says Con­nery with a smile. “I hate those ter­ri­ble tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials in Amer­ica with ‘Old Tom' telling us to ‘go play.' I want peo­ple to look be­yond that ridicu­lous car­i­ca­ture and re­ally know the story of what Old Tom and Young Tom ac­com­plished.

“Be­sides, this is not just a golf movie. There is a de­cent amount of golf in the film but the game is just a back­drop to th­ese peo­ple's lives. They had a pas­sion for golf, of course. And it is ex­cit­ing be­cause it was the be­gin­ning of the sport we know to­day. But it is an in­cred­i­ble story over and above that, a multi-lay­ered tale.”

Im­por­tantly, au­then­tic­ity was all but guar­an­teed in the golf scenes. Jim Farmer, hon­orary pro­fes­sional to the Royal & An­cient Golf Club of St. An­drews, was en­listed to help both men make swings redo­lent of the late 19th cen­tury. No easy task.

“A char­ac­ter­is­tic of that pe­riod was a mas­sive pivot, a big lift of the left heel as the club moves to the top and a very long back­swing,” says Farmer, a former PGA Club Pro­fes­sional cham­pion. “Ev­ery­thing was ex­ag­ger­ated, a

bit like John Daly or Phil Mick­el­son swing to­day in terms of length. That pro­duced a mas­sive down cock in the hick­ory shafts they used to pro­pel a ball that ba­si­cally didn't want to fly. A well-struck shot would carry only 160170 yards.

“All of that re­quired in­cred­i­ble tim­ing and hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. Young Tom must have been an amaz­ingly gifted in­di­vid­ual. A shot hit off the nose or neck wouldn't go any­where; the sweet spot was only about half inch around.

“The grip too was very dif­fer­ent from to­day. But the guys hadn't played much golf and so hadn't de­vel­oped bad habits. They were pretty good pretty quickly. Ac­tors are good at adapt­ing to things.

“Young Tom also had a dis­tinct putting method. He ad­dressed the ball off his right toe and al­most brushed his toe as he moved the put­ter back and through. Put­ters then had flat lies – which didn't suit him – so he had to in­vent his own way.”

Low­den - who played an­other Scot­tish sport­ing icon, Olympic gold medal­list Eric Lid­dell, on the Lon­don stage - was cer­tainly grate­ful for Farmer's as­sis­tance. Although a na­tive of the Scot­tish Bor­ders, the 25-year old star was all but a begin­ner as far as golf was con­cerned.

“There are a lot of in­tan­gi­bles in­volved in look­ing like a real golfer,” he says. “But it was nice to in­ter­pret it in my own way. We had no footage of Young Tom. There are only pho­to­graphs. And that al­lowed me to in­ter­pret how he might have acted as he played.

“Plus, the pho­to­graphs look like they have been posed. So we had noth­ing of him in mid-swing. I didn't have to ap­proach each scene as a pe­riod piece. When you think like that, all life flut­ters out of it. I was able to just think of it as a game of golf.

“Young Tom was the first guy to get ap­pear­ance money. And he was the first guy to say, ‘I’m worth some­thing.’ He un­der­stood that peo­ple were com­ing to see him. I read a quote once that said, ‘ev­ery new idea starts as a blas­phemy.’ And that was Tommy all over.

“I spent a lot of time at my lo­cal driv­ing range. The hard­est part was not slid­ing my right hip out­wards in­stead of round and back on the back­swing. I can still re­mem­ber the les­son when that clicked. Also dif­fi­cult is that there are a lot of mov­ing parts, much more than they have to­day. But it was great fun. Young Tom had such a colour­ful swing.”

There is more to this story than golf, how­ever. Only around 20 per­cent of the run­ning time is ac­tu­ally on-course footage.

“There's a deep fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship go­ing on,” says Con­nery. “There is a class-war as­pect too. And the tragedy of what even­tu­ally tran­spires. That's a lot to cover. The con­trast be­tween Jack and Peter is bril­liant. They are both won­der­ful in their own way, but so right for the char­ac­ters they play. There is a great en­ergy in the on­screen re­la­tion­ship.”

Con­nery was also care­ful not to cre­ate morally in­cor­rupt­ible or su­per­hu­man char­ac­ters. The last thing such a nu­anced story needed was even a whiff of Bri­gadoon­like non­sense.

“Th­ese were work­ing-class men who had a pas­sion for the game,” con­tin­ues Con­nery. “They slot­ted in-be­tween peo­ple who were lower

class and those who were up­per­class be­cause ev­ery­one wanted to watch them. Up­per-class folk could af­ford to take a few hours off to play a game. But the lower classes could not. So the crack golfers in the mid­dle had a chance to make enough money that they could still play.

“Young Tom was the first guy to get ap­pear­ance money. And he was the first guy to say, ‘I'm worth some­thing.' He un­der­stood that peo­ple were com­ing to see him. I read a quote once that said, ‘ev­ery new idea starts as a blas­phemy.' And that was Tommy all over.

“Tom was dif­fer­ent and didn't re­ally un­der­stand at first. But Tommy got it. He went out and played against an archer and fig­ured out that a quiver for clubs was a good idea. He was ahead of his time in so many ways.

“The film's per­spec­tive though is from Old Tom. He is telling the story. So we re­ally get a sense of him. By the end of the movie we get why he needs to tell this tale – be­cause of his un­for­tu­nate el­e­ment in it. He had much to do with how the tragedy un­folded.”

Ah yes. There is, of course, no happy end­ing to “Tommy's Hon­our.” Per­haps the most widely known as­pect of Young Tom's life is its

tragic end. He passed away on Christ­mas Day 1875, a short time af­ter his wife, Meg Drin­nen, died giv­ing birth to the cou­ple's first – but her sec­ond – child. Drin­nen had a bas­tard son (who lived only a few months) be­fore she moved to St. An­drews. That a so-called “fallen woman” should then marry some­one of Young Tom's celebrity was, by the pu­ri­tan­i­cal stan­dards of the time, some­thing of a scan­dal.

“The re­la­tion­ship Tommy had with Meg was not based in eco­nomics,” ex­plains Con­nery. “It was based in love. Meg was look­ing for some­one to take care of her. Back then, a woman who had a child out of wed­lock was named and shamed in church. That meant sit­ting on a stool in front of the con­gre­ga­tion while the min­is­ter told ev­ery­one you were a whore.

“The baby she had be­fore Young Tom was alive for only four weeks. So this was a woman who had been through some shit. When Young Tom comes along it's not like she looks on him as Prince Charm­ing. It was more like, ‘what do you want? I don't need you.'

“Tommy's death was a com­bi­na­tion of things: His de­pres­sion af­ter his wife's death and his drink­ing. There was a knock-on ef­fect. He died of an aneurism in his lung, which filled with blood. He choked to death. But it wasn't helped by his drink­ing.”

The last words though, be­long to Low­den.

“One rea­son I liked the script was that, on pa­per, Tommy was the young guy who wanted to rein­vent his world,” he says. “And Tom was the older head try­ing to hold him back. But it was al­most as if Tom knew Tommy was right and was se­cretly root­ing for him to push bound­aries. Tommy was never go­ing to be one for doff­ing his cap to the cap­tain. But he knew his duty. And that's the way we have tried to play it. The con­trast be­tween the two has been fas­ci­nat­ing to por­tray.

“They were both work­ing-class. Tom was never al­lowed in the club­house. And we play with that. So even though, on pa­per, Tom was against too much change. I think se­cretly he was cheer­ing his son on. So much of the drama in this film is off the golf course. Our duty was not make a good or a bad golf film. Our duty was to make a good film that has golf in it.”

They have done just that.

The sun rises be­hind the R&A Club­house on the par 4, 18th hole 'Tom Morris' on the Old Course at St An­drews, Scot­land.

(L-R) Old and Young Tom Morris.

A view of the grave­stones for Old and Young Tom Morris in the grounds of St An­drews Cathe­dral.

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