"The Short Game" is one of those movies that leave you saying at the end, "Who knew?"
Elite junior golf -- especially the under-10 scene -- is a niche world. Not many people know about it, even fewer people are intimately involved with it. Nevertheless, it's a captivating, tight-knit community. That's precisely what "The Short Game" brings to life.
"The Short Game," a documentary film about the world of junior golf, hits theaters in select cities in 10 states on Sept. 20. (Click here for showtimes by city.) Justin Timberlake, who has been a PGA Tour event host in Las Vegas and otherwise a fine ambassador for the game of golf, and wife Jessica Biel are the executive producers of the film, which won an Audience Award at this year's SXSW Film Festival.
The movie follows the preparation of eight 7-year-old golfers as they prepare for the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. These kids are just a sliver of the 1,500 or so from 54 countries that convene on the small golf town for the event. (For the record, Callaway Golf is the title sponsor of a different tournament, the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego. Timberlake was named the company's creative director in Dec. 2011.)
The film offers a look into the subculture that surrounds these kids, from their hovering parents, to their preparation and competitive drive, to their isolation from their non-golf peers.
Of course, there are the parts that will have an audience wondering where Bill Cosby is. After all, these kids are somewhat sheltered and mired in competition. That world view prompts some hilarious commentary from the kids that might make them facepalm in a decade, depending on where the path they're on now goes.
The parents in the movie often toe a line between coming across as obsessive and devoted. They want their kids to do well at what they enjoy doing, but can take it too far -- in some cases quite literally with how many miles these families log all to pursue junior golf worldwide. Caddies, shrinks, friends, coaches and parents, just a few of the roles played by these moms and dads.
Critical reviews of the film trend positive, suggesting the movie does a good job of balancing the storytelling required to get to know and care about these kids, while making the sport of golf come across as dramatic and entertaining compared to the weekend golf so many people use as a sleeping aid on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Despite Timberlake's love for the sport, it's not a propaganda film for golf participation. It's an examination of unique characters in an even more unique world. To be frank, golf was not meant to be played this way, at least not by young children. But it is the relative few that do which often turn out to be the players we see raking in millions of dollars on television.
Perhaps in 15 years Timberlake would consider filming a sequel with this same cohort, just to see how it all worked out. Given the harsh vagaries of success in golf, that film may not be as uplifting and entertaining as this one.