Oscar winner Mark Rylance plays the worst golfer in British Open history in ‘The Phantom of the Open’

At one time, Mark Rylance hadn’t been aware of the real-life story of the worst golfer in the history of the British Open.

But when a screenplay about Maurice Flitcroft, a shipyard crane operator who managed to enter the Open in 1976 despite never playing a single round of golf, came his way, well, that was not something the Oscar-winning actor was going to pass up.

“The appeal was the appeal of Don Quixote, or a little bit of that character in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ that Jimmy Stewart plays,” Rylance says on a video call from London.

“He maintains his own opinion, his self-respect, despite all contrary evidence.”

And there was plenty of evidence to the contrary as “The Phantom of the Open,” which opens in theaters on Friday, June 3, makes clear.

After catching a golf match on the telly late one night, Flitcroft sent away for a cheap set of clubs and an instructional manual, apparently convinced that he, a chain-smoking crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness, had as good a shot as anyone at winning the prestigious British Open.

But when he realized that to enter the qualifying rounds as an amateur he’d have to have a golf handicap, which would have required him to actually have played golf before, he instead ticked the box for professional golfers. No one at the tournament thought to check if that was true.

On the first hole, Flitcroft took a big swing with his second-choice club – he’d forgotten his 4-iron in the car, he later explained – and sent the ball all of 40 yards.

Though Open officials begged him to stop, Flitcroft flailed his way to a score of 121; at 49 over par, that was the worst score in the history of the tournament first played in 1860.