The film opens with this verse from Isaiah 30:21, "Whether you walk to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it.'" The verse seems wholly appropriate since the film often doesn't seem to know which way to go. As the old saying goes, when it reaches a fork in the road, it takes it.
Well, actually, at the beginning of the film, we see a driver reaching a fork in the road and turning right, toward a town called Utopia. (Apparently, in the book, it is a left hand turn toward Utopia. I know this because I heard a portion of the book's sequel read aloud, and I noted that change was made. More about that reading later.)
The driver is a pro golfer who just suffered a meltdown in the last shot of a tournament. This is what set the golfer on the road, and a traffic accident is what strands Luke Chisholm (a mighty manly moniker) in the town of Utopia. And quicker than you can say "Doc Hollywood," tranquil rural life is making Luke into a new man.
Luke finds a mentor in Johnny Crawford, a former pro golfer himself. Robert Duvall plays Crawford and provides the same kind of sage yet curmudgeonly advice about golf that he provided for Tom Cruise about auto racing in Days of Thunder.
When Johnny drives Luke from the scene of the accident into town, they go by a church. "Evening service is letting out," Crawford says. "Don't worry, I went in the morning." You can only see part of the sign for the church, which says "United Church of". I thought it would be a United Church of Christ, but later we see that it is the "United Church of Utopia." Since it seems to be the only church in Utopia, I'm glad it is united.
Crawford has a rather unorthodox method of teaching Luke to golf. He teaches golf through fishing, painting, horseback riding and modified horseshoes, and then, occasionally, by golfing. He takes Luke golfing and tells him not to think when he golfs. He tells him before the shot to "See it, feel it and trust." He writes S.F.T. on the golf balls. For some reason, "thinking"and "thought" are bad things in Utopia and golf.
After some climatic lessons in New Age Thoughtless Golf, Luke goes to church with Johnny Crawford and Sarah, the cute girl in town who seems to like him but won't kiss him yet. (Also about Sarah, her father died two years ago and she's still getting over it before she can go on with her life dream of being a horse whisperer.) The church seems like a nice place, but we don't hear about Jesus or much else there. Luke's dad wouldn't take him to church (even on Easter) because Sunday was a day to golf, so that's a plus.
After two weeks, Luke Chisholm is ready to be back on the pro-circuit. (Crawford pulled some strings to get him invited to the Texas Open.) He's ready to golf now, because Luke has learned that life is not about putting a ball into a hole, but about faith, friends and family. And yet the movie climaxes with Luke competing in the big tournament against the world champion (named TKO). Luke shocks the world by coming from behind to lead the tournament and it all comes down to one final shot. But then the film ends.
Because it doesn't matter who wins or loses a golf game. Though the whole film centers on a man learning how to golf by faith. And you can find out if he made the shot by going to WWW.DidHeMaketheShot.com. Which kind of makes the film a commercial for screenwriter David Cook's sequel, Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days in Utopia.
(I know of one other film that doesn't really end, but refers to a website to find the ending: "The Devil Inside," a cheap Exorcist rip-off. So, yeah, a noble tradition.)
If you want to know if he makes the big shot and wins the big tournament, well, (Spoiler, Spoiler, Spoiler) YES, HE DOES.
We don't see much of the church, but from all I've seen of the fuzzy-headed thinking that passes for life lessons in Utopia, I'd rather not go to the United Church of Utopia, which earns 1 steeple.