Review

The Legend of Bagger Vance

by Steve Pressfield

Let
me start off by saying I haven't seen the movie. I don't know if
the movie is good or bad. I do think Robert Redford usually knows
what he's doing behind the camera, but sometimes he meanders a bit
too much. I also think that Matt Damon is a pretty fair actor and
so is Will Smith, but, like I said, I haven't seen it. All I've
done is read the book THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, written five
years ago by Steve Pressfield. After reading it, I could see why
Robert Redford was taken by the story's spirituality, its calmness
and serenity, its quiet nobility, and its subtle beauty.
The
year is 1931. The Depression is in full swing (no golf pun
intended). On the golf links of Krewe Island off Savannah's
windswept shore, a golf match will be played. Two legends of the
game, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, will duel for an amazing
36-holes of golf. The town of Savannah is a buzz with the fact that
they will be able to host the legends.
Then
Savannah's city fathers have a thought: "The rafters shuddered with
cheers; the little basketball backboards, only six feet high,
nearly came off with the stomping of feet and clapping of backs.
Savannah would nominate its own champion golfer! A third
contestant, a local hero, to duel the great Jones and
Hagen!"
That
hero? Rannulph Junah --- a beleaguered war hero, once a champion,
now a poor man who is "up all the night, just a-steaming and
a-stewing." He refuses. The city fathers are taken aback. Refuse?
They all know that he's the best golfer around and to go up against
Jones and Hagen would be a great honor. But Junah still
refuses.
That
is until his comrade, a mysterious black man with the name Bagger
Vance, says that he would be more than happy to be Junah's caddy.
Junah accepts. The golf tournament of the ages is to begin --- a
tournament that the spectators will tell their kids and their kids
will tell their kids and their kids will tell their kids about. It
will be legendary.
Bagger Vance is sage and charismatic, knowing not only about
golf but about life. "Tell me who you are, Junah. Who, in your
deepest parts, when all that is inauthentic has been stripped away.
Are you your name, Rannulph Junah? Will that hit this shot for you?
Are you your illustrious forebears? Will they hit it? Are you your
roles, Junah? Scion, soldier, Southerner? Husband, father, lover?
Slayer of the foe in battle, comforter of the friends at home? Are
you your virtues, Junah, or your sins? Your deeds, your feats? Are
you your dreams or your nightmares? Tell me, Junah. Can you hit the
ball with any of these?"
The
tournament itself is the bulk of the narrative. All the while,
Bagger Vance tutors Junah in the ways of what it means to be alive,
to be within a reality that is more real than the reality we
know.
Pressman, obviously a golf fan in that he describes the game
with such love and devotion, has written an engaging fairy tale. At
times, the philosophies he tries to impart on Junah (and
subsequently, the reader) through Bagger Vance seem a bit forced.
His love of the game also tends to swallow a bit too much of the
story in that entire series of paragraphs are written about the
green of a certain hole.
Taken as a whole, however, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, is a
nice story, a tale you'd tell your children on a Saturday afternoon
when it's too cold outside to play (or perhaps a tale you'd want to
see at the theater as a matinee). It reveals the true nature of the
game. Why play golf? Why would someone want to stand in the middle
of a fairway and swat a small dimpled ball 300 yards and actually
try to get it into a small cup no bigger than a chocolate chip
cookie? THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE answers that question again and
again.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 22, 2011

The Legend of Bagger Vance
by Steve Pressfield

  • Publication Date: October 3, 2000
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Mass Market Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0380817446
  • ISBN-13: 9780380817443