In The Legend of Bagger Vance, former golf prodigy Rannulph Junuh makes an unlikely comeback after disappearing for a decade. To help his once-great love Adele save her family’s golf resort, he participates in an exhibition match with golf legends Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.
After a rocky start, Junuh finds his stride, loses it again, then comes back strong. On the final hole, he has a chance to pull ahead and win, but when he tries to clear an obstacle on the ground, his ball moves — an incident worthy of a penalty.
Suddenly, Junuh is faced with a decision: Does he report the event and lose his great return, or does he pretend nothing happened? Except his caddie and biggest fan, the young Hardy, no one has seen a thing.
Junuh pauses for a moment. “It moved. I have to call a stroke on myself.” Hardy begs him not to do it. His competitors don’t want the penalty noted. Even the referee isn’t keen on tilting this match. “Are you sure?” But Junuh insists, and so, even after he sinks the final, hard-to-make putt, the end result is a three-way tie between two legends and an amateur.
Throughout the movie, we learn a lot about Junuh. About his early brilliance, World War I traumas, and wasted potential. We learn about his struggles with alcohol, his fear of both success and failure, and his disappointment with himself about all these things.
It is only in that one moment, however, those two minutes of screen time in a two-hour movie, that we discover who Junuh truly is. Who he has become thanks to hard work, mental and spiritual growth, and a little help from his friends.
“Nobody will know,” Hardy says. “I will,” Junuh responds. “And so will you.” It’s the kind of integrity neither money nor fame can buy. That’s why Junuh demands his penalty — and why, to him, Hardy, and ultimately everyone else, the tie feels better than victory ever could.