How much had you achieved by the time you were seven years old?
Maybe you successfully learned some of the easier times-tables? Or managed to ride your bike without training wheels? Or maybe you once scored a goal from the half-way line and invoked the admiration of the playground?
Well, some of the golf-loving kids in this film have won over 100 competitions and are ranked as some of the best child golf players in the world.
Feel inadequate yet?
Starting about six months before the beginning of the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, The Short Game follows eight 7 year old kids from five countries around the world.
Their goal? To take their years of training and reach the culmination of their (lifelong?) journey to become crowned the best golfer in the world.
Rivaling only cricket as one of the world’s most boring sports, golf is not an activity that I would ever find myself playing or watching. And yet, director Josh Greenbaum (in his debut feature film) finds a new angle by showing us this world through the eyes of our children.
Interestingly, the film is far more diverse than you might expect as, of its eight colourful characters, it chooses to only follow one American male: Allan Kournikova, the half-brother of tennis champion Anna Kournikova.
Elsewhere from America we meet: Alexa Pano, from the sunny state of Florida; Sky Sudberry, the fluffy-rabbit owning girl from Texas; and Amari Avery, the Tiger Woods loving player that has earned the nickname “Tigeress.”
And from around the world we get to see the struggles of Yang Kuang (China), Zamokuhle Nxasana (South Africa), Jed Dy (Phillipines) and Augustin Valery (France).
Refreshingly, the film isn’t actually about pushy parents trying to force their children into the limelight. Instead most of the drive seems to arise from the children’s pure passion for the sport. What exactly they see in it, I have no idea. But the zeal they all possess is admirable.
If anything, there are moments where it completely escapes your mind that it is in fact children performing with such prodigious skills. But as soon as one of them giggles at a fart joke or cuddles up to a teddy bear, you’re reminded of their charming innocence.
While the documentary is fairly light in tone, there are moments where you wish it could have further explored the social and economic challenges these children’s families have to face. If anything, The Short Game is not necessarily a portrayal of how hard work can get you to the top; but also how lifestyle, wealth and privilege can drastically affect your chances. Because of this, the film does occasionally leave a bad taste in the mouth as we watch the golfers from poorer countries try to compete with rivals far more financially solvent than they are.
Even if you were to ignore such financial disparities, it’s also a disappointment the film chooses not to do a deep dive into the darker aspects that would surround such a stressful undertaking. While it does pay a minuscule amount of attention; such as when we hear a father state this tournament is his daughter’s only chance for college; or when a parent mentions the use of a sports psychologist; it’s still far too little for what should be an otherwise fascinating topic.
The Short Game is undoubtedly a lovely feel-good documentary concerning the trials and tribulations that some kids must undertake to be the best in the world.
While it’s not unreasonable for a documentary to take a side; it’s still regretful that the film’s 100 minutes barely scratches the surface of the child golfing industry by focusing exclusively on the warm-hearted moments. A stronger focus on the more strenuous aspects of these child endeavors would have easily elevated this film into award-winning territory.