Tommy’s Hon­our

New movie ex­am­ines Old and Young Tom Mor­ris, on and off the course

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life - BY JOHN HUG­GAN

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

Mus­sel­burgh.

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