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When GRADY WATERS, a black man in his 30's, sneaks onto the local country club golf course to play an early-morning round, he discovers CECIL BURTON, 33, hitting away every ball in his bag. Wanting companionship, Grady gradually overcomes Cecil's reticence and convinces him to let him play the
Cecil demonstrates his professional
form as Grady looks and learns.
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round of golf with him. As they play, Cecil tells Grady the story of his relationship with his father, who taught Cecil the "ancient and honorable" game of golf. The scenes switch back and forth between the two times, past and present, as Grady slowly learns why Cecil is out this morning to play his final round of golf.

We meet YOUNG CECIL on the day in 1963 when his DADDY (FRANKLIN BURTON) is scheduled to teach him golf after years of promising. To Franklin, golf is a metaphor for living a good and moral life. When someone chides him with the remark "Golf isn't religion," Daddy replies: "It is, the way I play it." DALE MORGAN, a real-estate friend of Franklin's, storms on complaining how the Kennedy's have let a black man into Old Miss. Daddy, determined not to let integration destroy his community, cancels his round with Young Cecil to soothe Dale's ruffled feathers. It is not the first time, nor the last, that his father discounts Young Cecil at a time when he needs him.

Young Cecil's mother, CARRIE BURTON, tries to support his dream of becoming a professional golfer, while still accommodating herself to the demands of her authoritarian spouse. She is helpless, however, when Franklin, sensing that integration will make getting a decent education impossible in South Carolina, decides to send Young Cecil North to prep school.

Young Cecil dreads going north-for one thing, it will be too cold to play much golf-- but his adventures at Phelps Academy begin to build his confidence. He meets a freethinking Italian named MARIA and falls in love. He rooms with JULIUS JEFFERSON, an African American, but his attempt to emulate his father by bringing Julius home for the holidays only angers his father at Cecil's "foolishness." When Cecil and Julius are caught drinking, Cecil refuses to "rat" on Julius and both are expelled. Cecil uses this as an excuse to pursue a career as a professional golfer. His disgusted father can only exclaim: "What a waste!"


Grady and Cecil continue the play the last nine holes, as the action switches between past and present. Young Cecil becomes more and more obsessed with proving himself to his father, but a victory on the golf tour eludes him. His neglect of Maria causes his marriage to fail. His bold attempt to duplicate his father's favorite golf shot at the Masters in Augusta ends in disaster. Finally, desperate to win, he breaks one of golf's cardinal rules: play it as it lies. He surreptitiously moves his ball from behind a rock. Ashamed, he gets drunk at the Awards Banquet and stumbles out to the putting green, where he confronts his younger self. With the two actors, representing the two sides of Cecil, challenging each other in a putting contest, Cecil realizes who he wants to be and why.

He joyfully schedules a round of golf with his father to tell him that he has finally learned the lessons of this honorable game. But his father has a heart attack and dies before Cecil can say the words that would honor him.

Back in the present, on the eighteenth hole, Grady learns that Cecil has just buried his father, and he has come to the golf course that day to bury his golf game as well. But Grady's wise and unassuming counsel throughout the round of golf has had an effect. Cecil realizes he doesn't have to abandon the game he loves, because his father has truly passed on to him the courage we all need to face life's ups and downs: deal with life honestly as it is. Play it as it lies.