Against all the odds ‘Tommy’s Honour’ brings the Morris family’s story to the big screen Martin Kaufmann MKaufmann@Golfweek.com Keith Bank is a Chicago-based venture capitalist, so it goes without saying that he’s pretty sharp with numbers. He knows that golf movies have, almost without exception, been dismal box-office flops. So the question is: Why is Bank producing “Tommy’s Honour,” a period piece about the first family of golf, the Morris clan of St. Andrews, that arrives in theaters April 14. “If I had a dollar for every person who said, ‘Why are you doing this? Golf movies are terrible. They don’t make any money,’ I could have financed the whole movie just from the money I got from the naysayers,” Bank said. The movie is based on the 2007 book of the same title by Kevin Cook. On his first visit to St. Andrews in 1986, Cook recalls playing golf with some locals, one of whom said of Cook, “He swings hard like Tommy Morris.” Cook assumed they meant Old Tom Morris, but in fact, they were referring to Young Tom. Cook knew little about the Morris family or Young Tom, who won four Open Championships by the time he was 21 years old, but that soon changed. He immersed himself in the family’s history. Cook’s novel told the story of an often-tense relationship between a cautious, subservient father and a gifted, high-spirited son; a family torn apart by the son’s marriage to Meg Drinnen, who had given birth to a “bastard child”; the son’s contempt for the wealthy club members who looked down on him; and the tragic deaths, in quick succession, of Meg and Tommy, who was only 24 when he died on Christmas Day 1875. Given those dimensions, Cook, who wrote the screenplay with his wife Pamela Marin – he describes her as the lead writer – never saw the story as simply a “golf movie.” “When we sat down to write it, we thought, ‘Is “Hoosiers” a basketball movie? Is “Breaking Away” a cycling movie?” Cook said. “Sort of, but not mainly, because you wouldn’t care about the sport in those films if you didn’t care about the people.” Jack Lowden (Young Tom), left, and Peter Mullan (Old Tom) Despite all of the storylines, Bank “knew there would be a bias from financiers and distributors” (who would pigeonhole the picture as a golf movie). “But sometimes it’s good to take on a challenge and show people maybe they’re not right,” he reasoned. Bank has several sports-related investments, including Club Champion, the club-fitting retailer that has 20 U.S. locations, and MVPindex, a business launched by Shawn Spieth, Jordan’s dad, to measure the biggest influencers on social media in sports and entertainment. The Spieths, outfitted in circa 1870s costumes and golf clubs and balls from that era, appeared in a half-hour promotional video for the film. That video will air on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET March 25, right before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Bank said the film budget was in the single-digit millions – he won’t get into specifics – but it feels bigger than that. There are 57 characters, more than 1,000 costumes, and more than 20 locations around Scotland. The cast’s biggest name is Sam Neill, though the lead roles went to Peter Mullan (Old Tom) and the dynamic Jack Lowden (Young Tom). “Tommy’s Honour” will open in about 32 cities and 140 theaters. Before then, there will be premieres at the World Golf Hall of Fame, and in New York and Chicago, all benefiting The First Tee. Bank said that he’s encouraged at how well the movie has tested with women and non-golfers, but knows that passionate golfers will be the most likely to buy tickets to watch the movie. “We hope when they take their spouses or other people kicking and screaming,” he said, “people will walk out of the theater thinking, ‘Wow, that was really a good movie.’ ”
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