Murray carves unique path to PGA TOUR
October 05, 2016
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Grayson Murray had eight top-10s in 17 starts this season on the Web.com Tour. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Grayson Murray has always done things his way, including wearing a T-shirt during the PGA TOUR card ceremony in Portland, the 23-year-old’s future secured. This, while everyone else was wearing golf shirts, polo shirts, or a piece of formalwear.
Even when Murray flashed a big grin, his TOUR card in one hand and the other shaking Web.com Tour President Bill Calfee’s, you could tell he was his own kind of man.
One of his front teeth was missing.
“I bit into a chicken leg, the week before the (Rex Hospital Open) and I pulled it out on the way to Greenville. It was kind of hanging there and I pulled it out,” says Murray nonchalantly. “I didn’t have a tooth for a few weeks, then had a flipper made for me (a retainer-like piece with one fake tooth). But I talked with a lisp and I didn’t like it. So I’m rocking the no-tooth.”
A good-luck charm, perhaps.
The toothless Murray cruised through the Web.com Tour’s Regular Season (he notched eight top-10 finishes and lost in a playoff at the Digital Ally Open, where he also won a car after recording a hole-in-one. He took the cash though, explaining: “It was a $20,000 swing”) to finish 18th on the money list.
He withdrew from the DAP Championship, the first event of the Web.com Tour Finals, but then finished third at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco, before winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
Prior to the Web.com Tour Championship being canceled, Murray was within striking distance of Wesley Bryan for the overall money list title, combining money earned in both the Web.com Tour Finals and Regular Season. It was not to be, but Murray did win the Web.com Tour Finals money list, meaning he is fully exempt for next season, and earned a spot in THE PLAYERS Championship.
“To take conditional status and turn it into full PGA TOUR status is a good accomplishment,” he explains. “I reached my goals this year, and now we can re-evaluate and make new goals. I believed in myself from day one, and I knew I had it in me. It’s just getting the opportunities to showcase it.”
Although the last six months for Murray have been relatively smooth sailing, it hasn’t always been that way for the native of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Call it the curious case of Grayson Murray.
At 16, Murray won a junior event at TPC Wakefield Plantation, where the Rex Hospital Open takes place annually. Thanks to that victory, he earned a place in that Web.com Tour event later in the summer, where he shot a sizzling 66 in his second round to make the cut. He was the second-youngest golfer to make a Web.com Tour cut at the time.
“I had a good crowd watching me because I was so young. It was neat because it was exactly what I wanted to do since I was little,” said Grayson, who ended up playing with Darron Stiles, a golfer he sees on the Web.com Tour now, and who jokes with him about how little he was as a teenager. “I don’t think that event changed it all for me, but it was good exposure. That wasn’t the one event when I thought, ‘Wow, I can be a pro now.’ I was still really young. I needed another five years to let my game mature.”
In those five years, though, Murray was put on a pedestal. His game never suffered – he won innumerable junior events and was named the Arnold Palmer Scholarship winner, primed to attend Palmer’s alma mater, Wake Forest University.
He ended up staying at Wake Forest for just one semester before leaving.
He also attended East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Arizona State University.
School, he says, was just not for him.
“I’m not the best student in the world. I just don’t like putting a lot of effort into it,” he admits. “I liked doing my own schedule and trying to get better on my own. It seemed like every second of the day you were being told where to be, what to do.”“I’m not the best student in the world. I just don’t like putting a lot of effort into it."
“College isn’t for everyone,” he continues. “I’m glad it worked out the way it did. If I had gone all four years straight, I’d be in Q-School right now. I wouldn’t have been in the same place where I am right now. There’s no way. Maybe I would have got some sponsor exemptions like some of these other guys, but I for sure would have had to go another route.”
Instead of having that one college coach who changed his life like a handful of Murray’s contemporaries on the Web.com Tour, he instead had a ‘Board of Directors’ who always looked out for him, according to Josh Points, the Director of Golf at TPC Wakefield Plantation, someone who has literally watched Murray grow up.
“We ask a lot of young, talented athletes,” says Points. “This causes maybe, some angst, but to Grayson’s testament, he came out on the other side as a tremendously impressive person that has perspective beyond his years.”
Points explains the Rex Hospital Open, hyperbole aside, was also an incredibly important event in the life-and-times of Grayson Murray.
Grayson Murray's maiden victory at Nationwide Children's
“Without the Rex Hospital Open, Grayson may not be who he is today,” states Points. “It gave him the complete and utter belief he could compete at the highest level when he was 16 years old. And when he was 22, it gave him the opportunity to prove it, and he did (the Rex Hospital Open was Murray’s first Web.com Tour start this season).
Points knows the phrase, “it takes a village,” is, although a cliché, entirely accurate when it comes to talking about Murray.
“He decided to go to Wake Forest as the Arnold Palmer Scholar, which was a big deal. And he decided Wake Forest wasn’t for him. It was hard for a kid that age to go through all he was going through,” says Points. “They’re hard (decisions) that sometimes involves grown men maybe adding some pressures that don’t necessarily need to be there, whether they be college coaches or people in the community.”
Part of Murray’s squad – to borrow a phrase from pop-culture vernacular – is caddie Mike Hicks.
Hicks has been on the bag for a number of golf’s top professionals in his 30-plus years as a caddie, including Payne Stewart during his 1999 U.S. Open triumph. Hicks was also on the bag for Murray during his victory in Columbus, and says he has all the tools to have a lengthy PGA TOUR career.
“He’s got the perfect game for the PGA TOUR. Hits it long, hits it straight, has a great wedge game and is a great putter. He’s got it all,” explains Hicks. “He’s very confident in his game, and that’s what you have to have to be successful out there. His future is very bright. He wants to be No. 1 in the world, and that’s a hard achievement, but very doable.”
Murray also found encouragement from Ted Kiegiel, the instructor at Carolina Country Club. Kiegiel and Murray have worked together since he was nine years old, and Kiegiel is also Webb Simpson’s instructor. Murray says having a major champion like Simpson (who also was an Arnold Palmer Scholar) to reach out to is a tremendous resource.
“I wasn’t living in Webb’s shadow, but he (Kiegiel) was always kind of comparing me to Webb growing up. It was nice having Webb around, though,” says Murray. “When he was in college, he still lived in Raleigh. We played a lot together. We keep in contact but we don’t play that much anymore. Next year on TOUR, hopefully we do.”
Although Murray says “next year” in reference to the PGA TOUR, he really means, well, next week, as the TOUR gets its season started at the Safeway Open on October 13.
So what about Murray’s tooth? Will he have a fresh one when he tees it up on TOUR?
“I do have an appointment coming up, the week after I get back from Napa (California). I look at myself in interviews, and I look like a hillbilly,” Murray says with a laugh. “I rock it well, and I’m not concerned about it. People are more concerned about it than me.”
And that’s the way it’s always been for Murray. People – whether it be college coaches or otherwise – are more concerned about him than he is of himself. He goes about his business, he gets the job done, and he’s self-aware about what he needs to do to be successful.
Not hard, really. The proof, as made evident by the blistering start to his professional career, is in the results.
It just took him a little time to get here.
“This last year has been a walk in the park as compared to what I went through in college. I learned a lot, and I hope to continue to learn and I feel really good about where I’m at mentally and physically,” he says. “I’m ready to go.”
Grayson Murray embodies the spirit of giving at Nationwide Children's