Director Josh Greenbaum’s The Short Game culls together the stories of eight seven-year-old golfers as they prepare for, and eventually compete in, the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships. Like Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 documentary Spellbound, this window into the world of youthful competition almost entirely disposes of social awareness in favor of routine drama, but that trade-off might not be so aggravating were it not for the obvious differences in lifestyle and privilege that are evident between the families of its young participants, who travel from across the globe to compete in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Ultimately, the only reference made to the costs of putting a child through so expensive a sport comes from a father who struggles to make ends meet, and who hopes his daughter’s success will open the doors to higher education.
Greenbaum never deigns to investigate how these and other circumstances have affected his subjects and the opportunities before them. The doc seems clueless as to the potential insights that extend beyond its veneer of the immediately feel-good, but worse are the moments that lapse into cultural condescension, such as the gong sound that accompanies the introduction of a player from China. But at least the kids themselves are uniformly endearing and interesting, and by themselves, they almost make the proceedings tolerable. The severely introverted Jed, from the Philippines, has the most interesting story: His prodigious skills seem to exist independent of his distaste for the spotlight, and a scheduling confusion after a lightning storm tragically sees him penalized a staggering 10 strokes for arriving late to his hole. A personal favorite is Sky, who hails from Texas and who always makes sure to have one of her many stuffed rabbits along for fluffy moral support. A more worthwhile film would have sufficiently probed into their lives beyond the green, but The Short Game is merely content to fit them into the easiest template for mass consumption, with only fleeting regard for their individuality and aspirations.