‘There was so much mass in the shaft, the head felt al­most weight­less.’

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Life -

Most golfers know some­thing about Old Tom Mor­ris – at least enough to be drawn in by a brogue-speak­ing stereo­type pitch­ing an on­line tee-time book­ing ser­vice. But how many re­ally know Mor­ris’ story? He and his son, Young Tom, were there at the dawn of mod­ern golf. And now a new movie, “Tommy’s Hon­our,” brings their re­la­tion­ship to life on the big screen.

The film is a highly au­then­tic pre­sen­ta­tion of how golf looked in the late 1800s. To recre­ate play­ing con­di­tions of that era, the crew es­chewed shoot­ing on a course and in­stead built two holes on a sea­side cow pas­ture in Scot­land. Short, square metal flag­sticks and balls painted red for snow are fun sur­prises (or to buffs, re­minders). The film­mak­ers con­structed a replica of the Royal & An­cient club­house to match its orig­i­nal façade, with stones of vir­gin tan in­stead of to­day’s weath­ered gray. They hired the St An­drews Golf Com­pany to cre­ate all the equip­ment.

“On set we had three trac­tor trail­ers full of cos­tumes,” says Amer­i­can pro­ducer Keith Bank, founder of a Chicago in­vest­ment firm. “Be­cause so much time passes in the story, we wanted ev­ery de­tail to be ex­actly right along the way.”

Jim Farmer, honorary pro­fes­sional of the R&A, closely su­per­vised the lead­ing men’s train­ing. (Young Tom is played by Jack Low­den, Old Tom by Peter Mul­lan.) “It ac­tu­ally made it eas­ier that nei­ther were golfers be­cause there were no habits to break,” Farmer says. “The proper swing­ing ac­tion with hick­ory is en­tirely dif­fer­ent from a mod­ern swing. You gripped the thick leather han­dle with 10 fin­gers, and there was so much mass in the shaft, the head felt al­most weight­less. It re­quired a mas­sive body shift and a dis­jointed break of the el­bows to give the player even a chance at tim­ing it right.

“Each hick­ory shaft had a dis­tinc­tive kick pat­tern and would be whit­tled and cus­tomised to the build and swing of the man. The balls had about as much give as a bil­liard ball. And they hadn’t re­alised yet that con­vex faces made hit­ting straight more dif­fi­cult, and so you had to strike right in the per­fect mid­dle or the ball did noth­ing.”

Farmer brought in a cou­ple of lowhand­i­cap friends to serve as “swing dou­bles” when set­ting up light­ing, but they were never called in to “save a shot” for an ac­tor hav­ing a break­down.

Farmer sin­gles out Low­den for spe­cial praise. “Jack was a nat­u­ral. Af­ter four or five hours, he was up and run­ning,” the in­struc­tor says.

The movie is an adap­ta­tion of Kevin Cook’s book, which won the 2007 USGA Book Award. Ja­son Con­nery di­rects. He was cho­sen in part be­cause of his affin­ity for the Scot­tish her­itage and his love of golf, forged through count­less child­hood rounds with his le­gendary fa­ther, Sean.

Yet in Ja­son’s mind, “Tommy’s Hon­our” was never re­ally a golf movie. “The big mis­take is to make a film about the game, when it’s so much more in­ter­est­ing to make it about the peo­ple who play the game,” he says. “We worked hard to make sure the out­come of the golf is never the main drama.”

In­deed, much of the ten­sion is do­mes­tic and so­ci­etal. His­tory tends to com­bine Old and Young Tom as win­ners of eight of the first 12 Open Cham­pi­onships, but their at­ti­tudes were very split. Old Tom was the club­maker and green­keeper stead­fastly def­er­en­tial to his gen­tle­manly su­pe­ri­ors. Young Tom was Tiger Woods – long-hit­ting, wildly pop­u­lar, un­afraid to dis­rupt the es­tab­lished or­der while com­mand­ing se­ri­ous com­pen­sa­tion to dis­play his skill.

“What you have is the be­gin­ning of pro­fes­sional golf, yet the char­ac­ters in­volved have no sense of their own legacy,” Con­nery says. “Ev­ery town had its best play­ers, and they would go out there like pugilists. Thou­sands of peo­ple com­ing af­ter work to watch them and bet, fights break­ing out ... While films about pe­ri­ods tend to present a tableau, like you’re stand­ing out­side look­ing in, we pre­tended we weren’t aware of the pe­riod and fo­cused on shoot­ing the scenes in a phys­i­cal way.”

Which in­cludes in­ter­pre­ta­tions of sev­eral of the game’s sem­i­nal mo­ments. Among them is the in­ven­tion of the golf bag. Young Tom, car­ry­ing his clubs loosely un­der one arm, is play­ing a cir­cus-like ex­hi­bi­tion against an archer when he no­tices the sim­ple logic of the man’s quiver. The film also shows the first use of a gallery rope – an on­the-fly fix dur­ing an es­pe­cially rowdy match against the Park brothers in North Ber­wick.

Gae watch, lad­die. – max adler

Quiet on the set, please! Replica hick­o­ries cost £250 each (over R4 000) to make by hand; Peter Mul­lan (Old Tom) dis­cusses a shot with di­rec­tor Ja­son Con­nery; the set of the R&A club­house front steps.

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