Review: ‘Short Game’ tees off with tiny golfers

In the vein of 2002’s spelling-bee doc, “Spellbound,” Josh Greenbaum’s “The Short Game” follows a group of 7- and 8-year-olds as they journey to the U.S. Kids World Championship golf tournament held each year in Pinehurst, N.C. Stylishly shot by a filmmaker who clearly enjoys children, the documentary offers a warts-and-all portrait of these pint-sized athletes and their parents as they tee off on the global stage.

Starting with a six-month countdown to the big day, Greenbaum visits each of his players at home in Florida, Texas and California, as well as Paris, Manila, Johannesburg and Shenzhen, China — getting to know their strengths and weaknesses as well as their likes and dislikes outside of golf. Jed Dy, a high-functioning autistic whom competitors call “Jedi Master,” reveals that his favorite book, for example, is “Farts: A Spotter’s Guide.”

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Then it’s on to the tournament itself, where the emotional (and sometimes financial) stress that the players and their parents — especially their parents — are under rears up, and the themes of the film play out: competition and friendship, obstacles (both physical and psychological) and perseverance.

Greenbaum shoots the game play especially well, employing dynamic camera work and kinetic editing to convey the drama of what non-fans might consider a static sport. Meanwhile, Edd Hall’s shtick delivering voiceover narration like a sports announcer feels a little gimmicky, but it works to both explain what’s happening on the green and build suspense.


“The Short Game”

MPAA rating: PG for some language

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Broadway Cinemas 4, Santa Monica; AMC Block 30, Orange