Since there at least a dozen quotes from the Will Smith/Matt Damon movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, that deeply connect with me, it was just a matter of time before I got around to buying the book that inspired it. I was so taken with getting my hands on it, the author didn’t register. It wasn’t until I ripped open the packaging & slipped out the book that STEVEN PRESSFIELD leapt out at me.
Oh, and the book is a far cry from the film. Which is good news for both. Yes, Robert Redford adding gobs of stuff to the film version & left out even more, but it works, which filming the straight story would not. As Rolling Stone noted in its movie review, Robert Redford cut through what could have come across as “mumbo jumbo” to get to the soul of the story.
Love the movie, love the book even more.
Bagger is black, but that is a minor point. There’s no shufflin’, no deferential attitude or broad dialect. Read just the dialogue & the impression you’ll get is of a deeply spiritually grounded, exceptionally erudite person – only the descriptions give away his race. Which is moot anyway, because it quickly becomes clear to the reader that Bagger could appear as anyone, at any time – which sounds hokey & isn’t.
It’s clear that Steve Pressfield considers golf not simply a game from the highlands, but from God On High.
If Bagger is the Infinite Divine, it’s possible that Rannulph Junah, the hero of the story, is a bit like Jonah, even Job.
The book unfolds over a dusk to dawn night as a story told to a young medical student, a brilliant scholar-athlete caught in an emotional crisis, by Hardy, the 10-year old who helped Bagger caddy for Junah – now the elderly Dr. Hardison Greaves.
Until reading the book, I had no idea that the twinning of golf & mysticism reaches back many years. As much as I connected with the movie, the book drives far deeper. The imagery, Bagger’s lessons, the wild scenes… I can’t describe too much without giving away more than I want. It is richly written, wondrously told.
There are love stories, but none active at the time of the match. The golf course the match was held to save, the island on which it stood, have their own roles in the tale. The depiction of the games is even more detailed, which should be appreciated by golfers & sports enthusiasts.
Steve does a winning job showing Junah as floundering, rallying, getting cocky, falling apart & regaining his composure & ultimately his True Gravity.
Just as in the movie, the caddie stands by his longtime friend & traveling companion, helping Junah rediscover his Authentic Swing, albeit in more complex ways.
A tale of golf, searching, crisis & redemption. As much as The Legend of Bagger Vance resonates with me,, a golfer should love it even more.