WE'VE always loved an improbable, sporting underdog haven’t we? When, for instance, Eddie the Eagle made a ski jump of about 12 feet at the 1988 Winter Olympics, a nation was engulfed in jubilant raptures.

And what about Eric the Eel? The swimmer from Equatorial Guinea thrashed and gasped through the 100 metres in such an unprecedentedly slow time at the 2000 summer Games, he finished almost a full calendar month behind his fellow competitors. His hapless, tireless efforts, though, were almost worth their weight in Olympic gold.

Long before the Eddies and Erics of this world were captivating the public with their spirited, defiant feats of athletic absurdity, the bold Maurice Flitcroft was generating all manner of stooshies and surreal sporting spectacles.

Flitcroft’s glorious tale, of course, is well-documented in golfing circles. He was the intrepid, eccentric Barrow crane driver whose wonderfully beguiling, hopelessly misguided dream of competing alongside “Jack Nicklaus and all that lot” in the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale became the stuff of legend.

Having entered the final qualifier at Formby as a professional – he wasn’t – Flitcroft cobbled together an anarchic 49-over 121 during a chaotic round which one observer described as a "blizzard of triple and quadruple bogeys ruined by a solitary par.”

The book, ‘The Phantom of The Open’ by Simon Farnaby and Scott Murray, which documented Flitcroft’s adventures, has been made into a film of the same name and was premiered at the London Film Festival last week. It will go on general release early next month.

Enterprising and energetic in the futile pursuit of his outlandish ambition, Flitcroft remained unbowed despite his sobering initial experience. He would bluff his way into future Open qualifiers, using false names on the entry form such as James Beau Jolly, Arnold Palmtree and Count Manfred Von Hoffmenstal, while donning fake moustaches and disguises. It was all ludicrously enchanting.

The Open organisers, the Royal & Ancient, were not amused, of course. The then secretary Keith Mackenzie, a man Murray once described as being made of “10% flesh, 10% blood and 80% rulebook”, was incandescent and the joyless big wigs would just about have to chase Flitcroft off various premises in scenes of comical pandemonium broadly reminiscent of the accelerated pursuits at the end of The Benny Hill Show.

Flitcroft may have been deluded but he was dedicated. “He cut a strange figure, did Maurice,” recalled his friend, Trevor Kirkwood, in Farnaby and Murray’s cheery chronicle of the indefatigable Flitcroft who kept reaching for the stars despite ending up on his you know what. “He would wear a waterproof top and wellies and stand there for hours in the rain and snow and God knows what else whacking golf balls. I think a lot of people thought he was a madman.”

Flitcroft whacked plenty of balls. The problem was he’d not whacked many of them on an actual golf course before. Undaunted, Flitcroft headed to Formby to begin his farcical fantasy. “I set off to walk the course like a big-game hunter on safari, with my cream shirt, fawn slacks and red jungle hat, notebook and pencil at the ready, to weigh the links up and plan my strategy,” Flitcroft would write of his preparation. “But I began to get fed up with this lark and decided to just rely on my judgement.”

His opening tee-shot set the tone for a calamitous episode. “He put both hands down the bottom of the grip,” reflected one of his playing partners, Jim Howard. “The club came up vertical and came down vertical. It was as though he was trying to murder someone.”

His scorecard, meanwhile, would end up looking as grisly as a murder scene. Having calculated that he’d need to complete his second round in 23 shots to have a chance of qualifying, Flitcroft opted for an honourable withdrawal as furious tournament chiefs, seething that their cherished championship had fallen victim to his subterfuge, assembled with pitchforks.

There was still time, though, to deliver a deadpan assessment of his round to an intrigued gathering of press. “I thought I putted pretty well,” he said. “Apart from the five putts on the 11th.”

Over the next 14 years, Flitcroft kept the Open high heid yins on their toes with his dogged, audacious escapades. Good old Maurice, who passed away in 2007, may not have reached the big time in golf but at least he has now made the big screen.