Get Into the Game: Kids Rule Golf Course in "The Short Game"


By Kristy Barry

Alexa Pano and Allan Kournikova (brother of tennis star Anna) are two golf prodigies and stars of the documentary The Short Game, now available on Netflix. Image courtesy of Playmaker magazine.

In the award-winning and laugh-filled documentary, The Short Game, 7-year-olds vie for the world golf championships at Pinehurst in North Carolina. The film follows eight kid athletes to their hometowns across four countries–from China to South Africa, France, the Philippines and the United States.

At times, the film seems like the golf-competition edition of Kids Say The Darndest Things and Bill Cosby will jump out from behind a bush. The producers ask a boy named Zama Nxasana from South Africa if he’s going to get married someday. He says, “Yes but I haven’t found a girl yet.”

Jed Dy is autistic and has earned over 105 golf trophies, claiming that success at golf requires “50 percent luck, 70 percent skill.” His father corrects his math, even as he proves himself as a prolific athelete at just seven years old, who still goofs up his numbers, shows off his favorite book called, “Farts”, and pushes a button on the book to make a long farting noise.

Director Josh Greenbaum has experience in comedy and told Variety, “If you spend enough time with kids, you know they’re funny,” Greenbaum said. “They say really funny stuff. But then what’s really interesting is, one line’s hilarious, you’re laughing, and the next line is incredibly poignant and wise.”

The film, backed by Executive Producers Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, chronicles eight kids out of 1,500 competing in the tournament from 60 different countries. These miniature golf pros vary in race, economic backgrounds, and physical dispositions–whether it’s an autistic boy or a super-thin girl who struggles to do bicep curls with a three-pound dumbbell.

The producers exhibit kids as little champions who flub grammar, hiccup at inopportune moments in interviews, eat too fast, play with stuffed animals, and stand on step stools to brush their teeth at night.

Allan Kournikova, brother to tennis star Anna Kournikova, is a little spunky jock who talks about his extensive trophy collection, with the revere of a seasoned athlete. He also holds up a coin, then drops it, picks it up and says that his sister won this “ancient coin” in the Olympics and drops it again. Credit to the film crew for including the scene and many others like this–to show he’s a proud brother, on track to be even as successful as his sister, all while still being a butterfingered 8-year-old.

He showboats about his awards and dominating his age group, to a point where you’d almost think he’s a spoiled, cocky little boy with his own personal trainer until you hear how warmly and lovingly he talks about his mom. “Can we talk about my mom?” he says. “I love my mom, she’s very nice to me, she does a lot of things for me and I appreciate that. I love her very much. ”

“And when I’m on the golf course and about to win, I look back at my mom and I just thank so hard at her and want to win this for her,” he says. Allan hugs his mom often on the course and is seen conducting part of the interview, asking her, “Tell me how you like to see your son play golf around the world?”

His mom says if she has one word for him, it’s “hilarious.”

He speculates that when he gets his money from the PGA tour, “I’m gonna buy a golf club, I’m going to have a big hotel, I’m going to have a really good restaurant with tons of Italian food…it’s going to be a huge huge huge facility, it’ll be marble.”

Allan explains his training regiment of meeting his personal trainer at 5:30am, dragging tires behind himself and running with the dog. They show him at school wearing goofy-looking safety goggles and dissolving chalk into a chemistry beaker. He’s poised when he speaks, even when he says words like “mistaked.” Though he’s fluent in the game of golf, dogged about practicing, and reigns at Pinehurst–which makes sense considering when he first hit the course, he wasn’t as tall as the golf cart steering wheel.

“This year, I’ll probably come in first place because I’m gonna try my best ever and that never stops me,” Allan says. “In my mind, I don’t even think about getting runner-ups.”

Similar to Allan is Alexa Pano, who has won over 132 golf events, at the age of 7. She has a beastly swing and claims, “I want to be the first girl to play at Augusta.” She practices during rain, coldness, and shows resilience. She doesn’t take days off, sometimes hitting balls twice a day. She and Allan are close friends–they play basketball together, wrestle, play games at an arcade but when Alexa’s friends tease her about being Mrs. Kournikova, she says, “I’m going to stab you with my putter!”

Many kid golfers have “daddy caddies,” including Alexa’s dad and Sky Sudberry, who’s father has had to work on his temper on the course to not startle her. There’s a scene where he’s trying to stop his temper from flaring, but you can see how much he loves his daughter and wants her to succeed. She was the reigning champ of Pinehurst, despite her under-100 pound frame.

Kuang Yang from China, comes to his dad’s office after school and putts balls on a green he built and hits taped balls of paper. He says he thinks he’ll do well at Pinehurst because he’s “full of confidence” that, “even if you practice a lot, if you lack confidence, all that practice is pointless.” Likewise, Augustin Valery has transformed the floor of his Parisian bedroom into green turf to work on putting. “My strength is my mind,” he says in French.

Simplistic words, but inspiring to hear kids reiterate these words to themselves–that they believe in themselves, fear isn’t a factor, and with enough practice they can be as good as Tiger Woods.

Amari Avery refers to herself as “Tigress” because she relates to Tiger Woods in being a half-black golfer, sharing the same birthday, being born in same county, and winning junior world championships. Her parents hope that Amari can use golf as a way to go to college and build a future for herself.

Check out the 99-minute documentary (by executive producers David Frankel and John Battsek), which streams on Netflix, to catch the excitement of the tournament.

For more, check out Kristy in conversation on BTR Sports, every Sunday on BreakThru Radio.