New movie examines Old and Young Tom Morris, on and off the course
Considering the inherent natural drama, the wonder is that the extraordinary lives and times of the Tom Morrises of St Andrews have never been portrayed on screen. The tale of “Young” and “Old” is filled with just about every ingredient required of a cinematic classic. Triumph. Tragedy. Scandal. Romance. Controversy. Class warfare. Throw in some groundbreaking and superior golf – the pair each won four Open Championships from 1861 to 1872 – and the potential is obvious.
Jason Connery (son of Sean) thinks so, too. Director of “Tommy’s Honour,” based on the book by Kevin Cook, the younger Connery has spent the past couple of months filming in a variety of locations across his father’s homeland. Peebles, a town in the Scottish Borders, provided the “St Andrews” street scenes.The Castle Course at St Andrews became the Old Course. Musselburgh kept its identity. And the Winterfield course at Dunbar in East Lothian doubled for nearby North Berwick. The movie, scheduled for release in 2016 – “hopefully just before the Open,” Connery says – stars leading Scottish actors Peter Mullan as Old Tom and Jack Lowden in the role of Young Tom, golf ’s first superstar.
“We have some very authentic Scottish voices in the main roles – there will be no giggling in the audience when they hear the accents,” Connery says 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,” Connery says. “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 multilayered tale.”
Connery’s desire for authenticity went beyond Caledonian brogues.To ensure the realism of the on-course action, both leads received instruction from Jim Farmer, honorary professional to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
“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,” Farmer says. “Everything was exaggerated, a bit like John Daly or Phil Mickelson swing today in terms of length. That produced a massive bend in the hickory shafts they used to propel a ball that basically didn’t want to fly. A well-struck shot would carry only 160 to 170 yards. All of that required incredible timing and handeye 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.
“Young Tom also had a distinct putting method,” Farmer adds. “He addressed the ball off his right toe and almost brushed his toe as he moved the putter back and through. Putters then had generally flat lies – which didn’t suit him – so he had to invent his own way.”
Still, only about one-fifth of the movie’s running time will be spent on the golf course.As Connery is quick to emphasise, just to tell the story of Opens won and lost is hardly going to attract an audience outside of the very small niche market of golf fanatics.
“It has always been tough for me to watch golf movies where the characters are portrayed as morally incorruptible, superhuman and able to see the course in a way different from everyone else,” Connery says. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was make a movie steeped in majestic Brigadoon like nonsense.
“These were working-class men who had a passion for the game. They slotted in between people who were lower class
and those who were upper class 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.”
Ah, but Young Tom wanted more than that. Knowing he was the star of the show, the son persuaded the father to hold out for a bigger share of purses, and, no doubt, the considerable wagering going on behind the scenes. He was thus the first golfer to receive appearance money.
“Tommy was the young guy who wanted to reinvent his world,” says Lowden, who has played another Scottish sporting icon, Olympic gold-medallist Eric Liddell in “Chariots of Fire” on the London stage. “Tom was the older head trying to hold him back. But it was almost as if Tom knew Tommy was right. Tommy was never going to be one for doffing his cap to the club captain. But he knew his duty.And that’s the way we have played it.The contrast between the two has been fascinating to portray.
“They were both workingclass,” Lowden says. “Old Tom was never allowed in the clubhouse.And we play with that. So even though, on paper, he was against too much change, I think secretly he was cheering his son on.”
There will, of course, be 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 – her second – child. Drinnen had a son (who lived only a short time) out of wedlock 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 late-19th-century Scotland, something of a scandal.
“The relationship Tommy had with Meg was not based in economics,” Connery says. “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 meeting Young Tom was alive for only four weeks,” Connery says. “So this was a woman who had been through some stuff. 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.’ ”
But it turned out they needed each other. “Tommy’s death was a combination of things: his depression after his wife’s death and his drinking,” Connery says. “He died of an aneurysm in his lung, which filled with blood. He choked to death. But it wasn’t helped by his drinking.”
The last word, fittingly, goes to Lowden.
“The drama in this film is off the golf course,” he says. “Our duty was not to make a good or a bad golf film. Our duty was to make a good film that has golf in it.”
Let’s hope they have. It certainly sounds good.
THIS IS NOT JUST A GOLF MOVIE. . . . 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 MULTILAYERED TALE.’ – JASON CONNERY,
DIRECTOR OF “TOMMY’S HONOUR”
ON LOCATION Producers Keith Bank (left) and Jim Kreutzer at