by Tony Dayoub
Opening today in Atlanta (at AMC Phipps Plaza 14 and AMC Barrett Commons), The Short Game is a documentary about child golf champions. Of interest to more than sports fans, Josh Greenbaum's film presents us with close to ten kids from all around the world who in many cases seem better equipped to handle the pressure of competition than their parents or even, maybe, you. The first half is spent getting to know each golfer, their "daddy caddies" (the parent who helps them set up for the next shot), and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Most notable among the players: the surprisingly well adjusted Allan Kournikova, 7-year-old brother of, yes, that other famous Kournikova; 7-year-old Alexa Pano, reigning female world champion for her age who's even beat some 13-year-olds in competition; 8-year-old Amari Avery, a rising star with a bit of a temper when things don't go her way and nicknamed Tigress because her ethnic background is similar to that of Tiger Woods; 8-year-old Zama Nxasana, who's traveling all the way from South Africa for his next shot at bringing a trophy home; and 8-year-old Sky Sudberry, a diminutive Texan who never gets too caught up in the ups and downs of chasing down her dreams.
And boy, are there a lot of those. The first half of the film begins to feel a bit repetitive just as you start wondering whether the exclusivity of the sport may be promoting a sort of elitism in these impressionable young children. But the film's second half is revelatory, focusing on the annual World Championships of Junior Golf tournament at Pinehurst, North Carolina, and illustrating the kind of tribulations these kids will face as they vie for their respective top slots against 1500 young golfers from 54 different countries. One boy gets penalized 10 strokes for arriving late to a match, only to learn later that he was the lowest scorer of the tournament and would have won if it hadn't been for the penalty. And one girl's father lays into her quite hard for her negative attitude before he tearfully admits in an interview later how dependent her ability to afford college will be on her success on the golf course. It is a fast-moving, involving movie that will even explain the basic rudiments of golf to the uninitiated. Not that it really matters, because what will really hold your attention about The Short Game is just how unaffected and determined these kids seem to be.