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'I should have died': How Grayson Murray reclaimed his life to win again

6 Min Read



Four-day anxiety attack left him shaken, ready to make a change

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    Before he birdied the par-5 18th hole twice Sunday – once to shoot 67 and join a playoff with Byeong Hun An and Keegan Bradley, once from 38 1/2 feet to win the Sony Open in Hawaii – Grayson Murray was sharing some of the most intimate and harrowing details of his adult life.

    This was at The RSM Classic at Sea Island in November, Murray standing on the practice green moments before Chris Kirk would be surprised with the PGA TOUR Courage Award in the nearby media room. The temptation was to make them into the same person. Two bearded redheads. Two guys walking the same path.

    “I know Kirk,” Murray said. “I’ve talked to him about it. In the past, we’ve just gone to the bar and drank, and that kind of covered our time, but obviously, we don’t do that anymore.”

    The "it" and the "that" are the same: alcohol use. Murray, whose first PGA TOUR victory since 2017 brings him full circle after a stint on the Korn Ferry Tour, says he hasn’t had a drink since a terrifying incident at the Mexico Open at Vidanta late last April. Kirk, who won The Sentry to kick off the new season, has been sober since 2019.

    And while their stories are similar in broad strokes, every path to recovery differs.

    It can be easy to forget that Murray, 30, was once one of the best players in the world for his age, winning IMG Junior World titles in 2006, ’07 and ’08. At 16, he became the second youngest to make the cut on the Korn Ferry Tour, and at 19, he played in the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.

    But the truth is, even Murray forgot who he was for a time.

    The first time he probably should have gotten sober, he said, was when he spent a month as an inpatient at Hazelden Betty Ford in Minnesota two years ago.

    “After treatment, I got out and did pretty well for a while,” he said. “Like everyone, you think you can get back to having a couple. It just was a slippery slope, and I got back in it.”

    The second time he might have straightened up was when he plowed his rented scooter into oncoming traffic at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in the fall of 2022. He took 50 stitches, half of them to his face.

    “I should have died,” he said. “If I didn’t have my helmet on, I probably would have died. It should have been my rock bottom, but I had to keep going. I felt like I was still invincible.”

    That aura of invincibility was shattered in Mexico last April.

    Playing on his past champion's status as the winner of the 2017 Barbasol Championship, Murray posted a first-round 68 in Vallarta, Mexico. With an early second-round tee time, the sensible play would have been to eat up, rest well and prepare for Round 2. But that’s not what happened.

    “I went out to the pool,” he said, “played pool volleyball, and I had too many and woke up the next day before my round and started to chug some alcohol before the round just to get rid of the jitters. And I got out there and shot like 80. (He shot 79.) I got home and had an anxiety attack that lasted four days; it was the worst feeling ever.

    “I did not want to go through that ever again,” he continued, “and that was the last time I had a drink. I would have rather been dead, those four days. I just kind of locked myself in my room and didn’t tell my parents or anything. It was bad. It was really, really bad.”

    Using some of the methods from Betty Ford, Murray, tired of the guilt and relieved to be alive, resolved to sober up for good. He began to play better almost immediately and, after missing the cut at THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson, captured the AdventHealth Championship back on the Korn Ferry Tour.

    “Yes, I would drink during tournament weeks,” he said Sunday. “It was my outlet. I thought I was invincible coming out here as a 22-year-old, winning as a rookie, played three days hungover when I won. Best thing and worst thing that ever happened to me was winning my rookie year – but also feeling like I was invincible.

    “It took me a long time to get to this point,” he continued. “… I'm a different man now. I would not be in this position right now today if I didn't put that drink down eight months ago.”

    Grayson Murray news conference after winning Sony Open

    In a sense, though, that was just the start. Because once he started to peel back the layers, Murray began to confront debilitating anxiety. Ted Kiegiel, his coach in Raleigh, North Carolina, urged him to fly to San Diego to see Tony Blauer, a fear-management expert specializing in self-defense.

    Murray did, and Kiegiel came with him.

    “And we did two days of nothing but talking,” Murray said. “It was like being back in school, and it wore me out.”

    Again, the results came quickly, with Murray capturing his second win of 2023 at the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation in September. He was headed back to the TOUR.

    At the Sony Open, Murray, who shared the 54-hole lead with Bradley, deployed a few of Blauer’s favorite acronyms: "S-O-P" (Succeed on Purpose) and "W-I-N" (What’s Important Now). He was cheered on by his fiancé, Christiana Ritchie, whom he met three years ago at The American Express in Palm Springs, California. They’ve been on and off since.

    “Mainly off when I was going through my stuff,” Murray said. “She wanted to give me space to get better.”

    The couple will return to The American Express this week, staying with her family in Palm Springs. They were in Raleigh for Christmas with Murray’s parents.

    “They feel like they got their son back,” he said.

    Murray expects more hard days when he’ll need every ounce of help from his family and especially his faith. He accepts that some of his mistakes could linger and may even require atonement.

    “People who don’t know me,” he said, “I’ll have to show it through my actions, and they’ll get back on Grayson’s side. My demeanor is so much better. It’s really a lot of fun now. I really don’t live and die by a golf shot anymore. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s going to be all glory and roses, but it's going to be a lot better.”

    If he played hockey and did what he did, he says he’d have been out of the league. He says he felt like a failure and a waste of talent, but his parents and closest friends kept fighting for him even when he stopped fighting for himself. Those second and third chances have now yielded redemption, a gold trophy, $1.5 million and entry into all remaining Signature Events in 2024.

    Grayson Murray is back on top, same as before, right before he began to forget who he was.

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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