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The movie opens as we see Hardy Greaves (Jack Lemon) playing a round of golf by himself. He thinks he's having a heart attack and falls to the ground. While looking up to the sky, he starts telling his story...
As a young boy, Hardy was living in Savannah, Ga in the 1920's. His father had always told him about a young golfer from Savannah named Rannulph Junuh, (Matt Damon). He was the greatest golfer that Savannah had ever produced and went off to fight in WW1 and came back a shell of a man and never was heard of again. His golfing stories were however, legendary.
While he was in his golfing prime, Damon dated the daughter of the richest man in Savannah, (Charlize Theron). After the war, she never heard from him again.
Charlize's father spends every dime he has, building the South's greatest golf course.
The depression hits and Savannah is devastated. Hardy's dad has to close down his store and get a job sweeping the streets.
No one is hit harder though than Charlize's dad. He has no money left and is in such a depressed state that he kills himself. The creditors are all over Charlize and they want her to sell the golf course.
She decides that she will show the world what a great course it is by holding an exhibition tournament between the two greatest golfers in the world, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen with the winner receiving $10,000.
The town wants nothing to do with it unless they can have some local interest. They decide that it should be a 3-man tournament featuring a golfer from Savannah. Problem is, nobody has heard form Damon for nearly 10 years.
Hardy knows where he is and finds him at a drunken poker party. He tells Damon about the tournament but Damon wants nothing to do with it. Charlize goes to Damon's house and offers herself to him if he'll play. He comes close but still doesn't want to play. He's lost his stroke and has no passion for anything anymore after what he experienced in W.W.I.
After everyone leaves, he gets out his old clubs, heads to the backyard and starts hitting some balls, very poorly. Out of the mist enters Bagger Vance, (Will Smith).
Bagger has a lot of clever sayings and convinces Damon to play. Bagger will help him get his stroke back. Bagger will be his caddy and Hardy his assistant caddy.
It's a 4 round tournament and Damon is absolutely horrible in the first round. In fact, he's 12 strokes back. Hardy gives him a pep talk in the locker room telling Damon why he loves the game of golf so much. One of his reasons is that you penalize yourself in golf. (Gee, I wonder if that's going to come into play now...)
Damon is ready to quit after the first round but with Hardy's encouragement and Bagger still coming up with words of wisdom, Damon continues.
The 2nd round is a little better and Damon closes the gap to 8 strokes.
The third round though is all Damon. He begins with an eagle, a birdie and even a hole in one on the 8th hole. Now the buzz is starting to spread through the town about Damon making a charge and the whole town come to the course to cheer him on.
The 4th round begins later that day with Damon now down by just 1 stroke. He gets it to a 3 way tie later, but at the 15th hole he totally loses it. He gets too aggressive and ends up triple bogeying the hole.
Now down by 3 with just 3 holes left he tees off into the woods. While searching for his ball, he has a WWI flashback and panics. Bagger finally reaches him and settles him down. More wisdom and preaching and Damon is a new man. He hits a shot out of the woods and nearly holes it. He regains his 3 strokes by the 18th hole. It's a 3 way tie again with just one hole left. It's dark now but the men of the town get their cars and drive them up to the green, using their headlights for light.
They all have decent 1st shots but as Damon is brushing away debris near his ball, he accidently moves the ball. Nobody sees it except for Hardy and Bagger. Hardy pleads with him not to say anything but Damon won't listen and penalizes himself with a 1 stroke penalty. He gets on the green with his next stroke but is still a very long putt away.
Hardy is in tears and Bagger, decides his job is now done and leaves.
Jones and Hagan each take 3 more strokes to finish. Damon, now down by one stroke, sinks an incredibly long putt to finish the tournament in a 3-way tie. Had Damon not penalized himself, he would have won. The crowd goes nuts and Bagger, now well off in the distance hearing the crowd does a little dance of satisfaction.
Charlize announces that the people of Savannah have just witnessed the greatest golf exhibition ever.
We then cut back to the present as Jack Lemon stands up, looks way off in the distance and sees an image of Bagger waving him on. Lemon picks up his bag and continues with his game...
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