THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE
Getting The Swing
Making par was one thing. Being up to par was an entirely different matter. At the center of the movie is the golf match that pits one-time amateur champion Rannulph Junuh against two of the greatest golfers of all time. With that in mind, it was imperative that Matt Damon be able to swing a golf club with the best of them. Prior to being cast as Junuh, however, Damon had never swung a golf club at all. PGA master professional Tim Moss came on board as the film's technical advisor, and was given the mission to
turn the novice Damon into someone who would be a believable challenge to Jones and Hagen.
"I had to learn from ground zero," Damon affirms, "but in some ways it was actually better than if I'd played some before. I showed up as this lump of clay that Tim Moss could make into a golfer rather than him having to break my bad habits first. I didn't have any bad habits—I didn't have any
habits—so it worked out well."
Moss offers, "In order to present Matt as a legitimate player, I had two choices: I could make him a cosmetic player, or I could teach him to really hit the golf ball. Since there were so many golf shots to be played, I decided the best thing to do would be to teach him exactly as I would anyone else, to
turn him into a fundamentally sound player. I believed that with the fundamentals under his belt the cosmetics would naturally follow, and that's exactly what happened. I have never seen anyone take to the game
as quickly as he did. Matt is a good athlete. His
hand-eye coordination is just phenomenal and he worked very hard."
Maybe a little too hard. Damon had blisters on his hands from spending hours on the driving range, and during one practice session over the Thanksgiving holiday, he swung the club so hard, he separated his ribs. Despite that, the actor states, "I'm completely addicted to the game now.
Will Smith came to "The Legend of Bagger Vance" already a self-avowed "golf junkie," and though his role did not require him to do much golfing onscreen, he took the opportunity to work with Moss to improve his own game. "What's great about golf is that it allows the average person to taste perfection, Smith remarks. "That one shot, that one hole.. .you can be the best in the world at that moment and then you spend the rest of your golf career chasing that. Golf is so simple and so difficult at the same time—the wonderful oxymoron of life."
Moss also worked with Joel Gretsch and Bruce McGill to help the actors adopt the styles of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Moss explains, "We had model swings for Joel and Bruce based on the footage we have of Jones and Hagen. Hagen was kind of a chopper; he started with a slide and ended with a sway and his foot pointed out. There were a lot of technical things we'd consider wrong now. Jones was more balletic, very balanced and poised. One of the things he really tried to do was make the same consistent swing over and over.
"Hagen's swing was unique," McGill says. "The first few days I did it I was hurting myself because it's a very wide stance and he really cranked it."
Gretsch adds that learning to swing a club like Jones was only half the battle. He also had to adjust to swinging a hickory club like those used back in 1931. "Nowadays we have graphite shafts and steel and titanium heads. With hickory clubs, you really have to slow your swing down; if you swing like you normally do, the club head would be a foot behind you because they're so whippy.
McGill, on the other hand, had little problem adjusting to the old-fashioned clubs. Not only an avid golfer, he is a collector of golf memorabilia, and actually owns a set of hickory clubs with which he was able to practice.
"Golf was a different kind of game in the
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