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'Bagger Vance' has good lessons to impart to players of all skill levels

Film credit

Will Smith and Matt Damon played the movie's main characters.
Allied Film Makers

Golf movies are hard to pull off, but, in my mind, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is the best sports movie ever produced because it’s the most educational golf movie you can watch.

And that’s true despite the movie being a period piece with an improbable premise: a four-day, $10,000 match between golf legends Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Rannulph Junuh, one of the wealthy elite of Savannah, Ga., and an accomplished golfer. Junuh has returned from World War I psychologically damaged after losing his company on the battlefield, but he reluctantly agrees to play in the tournament where he encounters Bagger Vance, a mystical character who, as his caddie, leads him back to his authentic swing.

I’d have loved to see the late Payne Stewart play Bobby Jones, Lee Trevino as Walter Hagen and Fred Couples as Junuh, because it would have made the swings look more authentic. But I can understand why director Robert Redford picked Matt Damon (Junuh) and Will Smith (Bagger Vance) as the stars.

I also love the concept of the movie because it’s relevant to what we do as coaches. Students often tell me that they’ve “lost” their swing, even those who play golf for a living. Luckily, I have four lessons from the movie that I can draw on:

You never lose your swing. What you lose is your sensation to believe that you can do what you can do. That’s an important part of life too.

To clean that up, manage yourself better by freeing your game from emotional issues or fears. Don’t let anything prevent you from getting in a groove to play your best golf.

One of the great things in the movie is when Bagger Vance tells Junuh that he hadn’t lost his swing; he’d merely lost his identity. Those are one and the same for me.

In golf, the clubs are magic, the ball is magic and almost every player gets hooked by the magic of the swing that, once in a while, makes a good shot feel effortless. You don’t practice that, but you’re able to do it, which is how the great swings work.

Bagger tells Junuh that that’s an “authentic swing.” Find – and trust – that and you’ll be on your way to a better game.

There’s a scene in the movie where Junuh is struggling and Bagger explains to him what Bobby Jones is thinking. He’s making him realize, as Jones walks into his setup like everyone else, that he realizes bad can happen but instead focuses on the best possible outcome.

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