In every generation, a torch passes from father to son. And that timeless dynamic is the beating heart of Tommy's Honour - an intimate, powerfully moving tale of the real-life founders of the modern game of golf.
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In St Andrews, Scotland in 1866, 15-year-old Tommy Morris is an avid golfer like his legendary and pioneering father, Tom Morris. "Old Tom" is greens-keeper for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, as well as the town's club- and ball-maker. He is the two-time winner of the first major golf tournament, The Open Championship, which he founded in 1860. He also established golf's standard of 18 holes per round. But young Tommy is beginning to chafe at his father's dictates, especially in the rapidly changing world they live in. Tommy soon outshines his father, winning The Open three times in a row while still in his teens. The "dashing young man of golf", he draws flocks of spectators to the sport and becomes its first touring professional..
"Tommy's Honour" tells a heart-felt and interesting little-known story, but isn't as impactful as it should have been.
The game of golf wasn't invented by Scotsmen "Old" Tom Morris or his son, "Young" Tom Morris, but the historical drama "Tommy's Honour" (PG, 1:57) makes it clear that they both did much to modernize the game and popularize it among the common folk. Experts differ regarding golf's historical origins, with theories including the Imperial Roman game of paganica, 8th century China's chuiwan, the Persian game of chaugán and different games played centuries ago in the Netherlands, France and England. Regardless, the actual game of golf came out of 15th-century Scotland. In the 19th-century, the elder and younger Morris, who both became champion golfers, are credited with turning golf into the game as we now know it. Old Tom Morris designed courses across the British Isles (incorporating new ideas that are standards today), he developed techniques of modern greenkeeping and he helped found the Open Championship (now called The British Open) in 1860, winning three of the first five tournaments. Then, Young Tom achieved competitive feats and brought about golf innovations which included well, giving away all that would count as spoilers for this movie, so I think I'll just get into my spoiler-free summary The relationship between Old Tom (or, just "Tom") Morris (Peter Mullan) and Young Tom ("Tommy") Morris (Jack Lowden) was a complicated one, as father-son relationships often are, but this one was unique. As Tom was winning tournaments at the newly-created Open Championship, his teenage son, Tommy, was learning the game, showing himself to be professional golf's first prodigy. Tommy was ready to win championships just as the solo championship streak of his father (who was 30 years older) was ending. It was a real changing of the guard and a very smooth transition, but it created some tension between father and son, especially as they began to play in various tournaments as a team. Tom supports his son and is very proud of Tommy, and Tommy loves his dad, but when Old Tommy's play starts to fall off with age, Young Tom is teaming up with dear old dad less and less. Besides that, Tom expects Tommy to follow him into the family business (be a caddy, give golf lessons, learn course design and greenkeeping, etc.) and take over his golf shop someday. Tom doesn't consider "only" playing golf to be a viable profession for "commoners", but Tommy has his own ideas – about lots of things.
Tommy is determined to do things his way. Besides insisting on breaking free of the role in life that his father expects him to play, he insists on better treatment for the golfers from their wealthy benefactors, a stance that brings him into direct conflict with Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill), the Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Tommy also gets into some physical fights on the golf course, which upsets some people (even though Happy Gilmore would've been proud.) As Tommy's stock rises, he fields a variety of offers from golf courses around England, and doesn't always make decisions that those around him can support. And wherever he plays, he also flaunts tradition (and takes big risks) in the challenges that he accepts and in his manner of play. Off the golf course, Tommy wants to marry a local girl named Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), who considers herself too old for Tommy (28 vs. 22) and whom the town and Tommy's parents consider inappropriate for him based on her personal history. Tommy's relationship with Meg leads to a series of events that bring challenges and tragedy.
"Tommy's Honour" tells a heart-felt and interesting little-known story, but isn't as impactful as it should have been. Working from a script by Kevin Cook (adapting his own award-winning 2007 book "Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son") and Pamela Marin (Cook's wife), director Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery) lets the story drift at times and the plot hits a few too many sand traps. The film needs a stronger narrative thread, direction that makes the dramatic moments more dramatic and a script which establishes a stronger context for the plot points and makes the importance of what we're seeing clearer (especially for non-golfers). Such significant failings cause the film to be listless and feel longer than its two-and-a-quarter hours. The film does have its strengths, however. It brings to light a story which deserves to reach a wide audience and it features strong performances from its cast and some very good cinematography. Through it all, the honor of Young Tom Morris shines through. It's just a shame that it couldn't have been in a stronger film. Instead, a movie that deserved to be subpar (which, in golf, is a good thing), ends up being a bogey. "B-"
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