We’ve seen all kinds of sports movies and documentaries. There are very few untapped resources when it comes to sports, especially in the era of ESPN Films producing tons of 30 for 30 documentaries over the past few years.
And yet, director Josh Greenbaum found a great subject: the best seven- and eight-year-old golfers in the world. His SXSW documentary The Short Game follows several players, boys and girls, American and foreign, as they play in the World Championships of Junior Golf at legendary Pinehurst Resort (host of three US Opens and the site of the 2014 tourament) in North Carolina.
Allan Kournikova (yep, Anna’s little brother) and Alexa Pano are the two best players in their age group and are best friends as they both hail from Florida. Jed Dy is Phillipino and has autism, but is dominant for his age. Sky Sudberry is from Spring, Texas (so she’s our favorite) and is great despite her size disadvantage. Amari Avery is a middle-class girl nicknamed “Tigress” for her dominance, but it’s tough for her to overcome her emotions when she plays poorly. Augustin Valery is French and the grandson of a famous poet. He practices so much that he has a putting green in his bedroom. Yang Kuan only picked up golf because of an instructional DVD that he wanted to buy when he was younger. Finally, Zamokuhle “Zama” Nxasana is a black South African kid trying to make the people of his country proud.
Every golfer that is featured was selected for a reason. They’re not just great at playing (in some cases, the best in the world), but they’re incredibly mature for their age.
Playing the game of golf goes against just about everything it means to be a kid. It requires a ton of discipline and concentration, far more mental than physical. In a lot of ways, these kids are more mature than many adults that play the game. But what’s great is that they’re still kids. They don’t really have a filter and can go through big emotional swings in the course of their training and, of course, in big tournaments.
Greenbaum not only picked great kids to feature, but the documentary is paced and shot incredibly well. There’s no fat to trim. And the game is treated on such a grandiose schedule that you’d think that this documentary was about pros playing in The Masters. There are sweeping helicopter shots when the kids practice, high frame shots when the kids are hitting out of the bunker, and the action of the tournament is narrated by a guy who sounds just like Dick Enberg.
(It’s not him, but the director chose him because of the similarity of their voices.)
There are lot os kids with interesting and distinct personalities and background. Giving equal time to all of them forces Greenbaum to keep up the pace. And he does a great job of building up the drama for the tournament as each kid is playing for something different.
Ultimately, watching the movie will put a smile on your face, whether you’re a golf fan or not as the kids are so much fun to watch and Greenbaum did a great job of capturing just how amazing they are as golfers and as characters.