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Sep 21

The Short Game – Golf at a Theater Near You

Little Swingers Short Game

short game 1There was a major cinematic release yesterday in a handful of theaters across the country. Few of us really got to see it. No, it wasn’t Iron Man VII or Rocky XXIV. It was called “The Short Game.”

Every golfer understands the term – the short game, chipping, putting, short irons – that kind of thing. But here, the meaning was expanded to include a player’s height, and age.
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Pinehurst, North Carolina, one of the meccas of golf, is hosting the Junior World Championships for tiny people who play golf – seven and eight year-olds, to be specific. In fact, around 1,500 of the little darlings (or demons, as we can see at times) are gathering from fifty-four countries. Before their ninth birthdays, they all play better golf than most of the population ever will, and this is done on tough courses, not backyard makeshifts.

Don’t think for a moment that this is golf camp. This is the same gut-wrenching “thrill of victory/agony of defeat” that we see at Augusta once each year.  Most of them have a house full of trophies, and are looking for the big one in North Carolina. Some look so tiny off the tee that you’re not sure who will win, the player or the club. Then they all but hole out from 180 away.  A girl with arms like pipe-cleaners blasts from a trap, and the torque of hitting the sand lifts her off her feet, but it still ends up as a short tap-in.

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short game 2The film is directed by Josh Greenbaum, who built it on a similar model to “Spelling Bee” in the early 2000s, and contrary to our suspicions, it is not intended as an revelatory indictment of pushy parents or traumatized children. Of course, there are kids who should not be thrown into massive international competition of any kind, and there are those who absolutely thrive on it – not just in terms of ego. It builds them. Likewise, there are parents who know which kind of kid they’ve got, and those who don’t, but that’s another story, one far more tragic.

We get the whole panorama of life as the little swingers attack the course and each other. We get the discipline of year-round training, we get ferocious concentration. They have worked the temper tantrum into an art form that makes even Tiger a rank amateur, and the humor is unstoppable, whether it’s appropriate to an adult or not.

In fact, judging by the reviews and the trailer, this delightful documentary seems to bear out what Art Linkletter always knew back in the 50s – that “kids say the darndest things.”
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Also of interest is the film’s staff, including two executive producers, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. Timberlake is an avid golfer himself. I don’t know about Jessica, but you don’t have to be a golfer to get swept away by this examination of childhood and golf.

It must take some serious expense to prepare like that, then travel to the other side of the world for the competition. But, as irony would have it, I ran across another documentary, made in India, that follows the progress of Anil Mane and his dream of becoming a professional.

It lacks a little of the upper crust atmosphere found in The Short Game, though. Mane learned to play golf with steel rods and plastic balls caroming around the streets of Mumbai – the film is eight minutes in length.

short game 3I was all prepared to take the “poor disenfranchised” route and say “Look at this poor kid. Why can’t he go to Pinehurst?” I’m sure that there are still many injustices to address in the world, some of which can still be found in golf, but when you think about what the various tours, foundations and personal efforts on the part of players have done to bring diverse people into the game, I give the whole thing pretty high marks.

I’ll look forward to seeing the whole film as soon as I can find it, but from what I can see now, the effort didn’t fall short.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.