Even though he had never swung a golf club, actor Shia LaBeouf really wanted the role of Francis Ouimet in the movie "The Greatest Game Ever Played." This California surfer convinced director Bill Paxton he could play Ouimet, who won the 1913 U.S. Open as a 20-year-old amateur. The movie, based on the book by Mark Frost, opens Friday.

Why did you want to be in this movie?

This wasn't a movie made by a bunch of people who love golf. The movie really should be called, 'Why Wasn't This Movie Made Before We Made It?' It really is one of the most amazing sports tales ever told. People didn't walk out of 'Seabiscuit' and go, 'What a great horse film.' It's 'What a great film.'

How did you learn to swing a club?

I started doing six months of training, seven hours a day, seven days a week. We would have an hour of virtual reality training. We would have Adam Scott's swing, Tiger Woods's swing on a constant replay tape that was projected in front of me. There was another camera that silhouetted me. I would try to match their swings.

I heard you followed the UCLA golf team. What did you learn?

I would be watching their mannerisms, the way they'd pick up the grass to see where the wind is, the way that they would take the sweat off their hands, the way they would grip their hands when the shot was bad. You would never see it on their face, but you'd see little things.

What do you like about golf?

It's a mind game. It's a complete mind game. It's an intellectual sport, and for an actor, that's great.

Do you play now?

Occasionally, I'm not much for athletics in the first place. I'm a surfer. I'm very laid-back. The competition intrigued me. It's not something I could fall into very easily. It's a therapeutic sport. It also teaches you discipline, respect, honesty and pride. It's also the only sport where you actually have to clean up after yourself for the next man to play.

Any connection between surfing and golf?

No. The only correlation I could find would be the therapeutic type, problem-loss aspect of it. When you get out on the water, you're not thinking about anything but the next wave. You get out on the golf course, you're not thinking anything but the next shot.

Did you play a lot of golf when you were shooting the movie?

Every time you got a break, you'd go out and play a couple holes. We never played handicap vs. score. It was always skins. Mark Frost made sure we never got handicaps because we would become crackheads. Once you hear your handicap, then you're a crackhead. You're a golf crackhead. You can't get away from it.

-- Kathy Orton