In the long history of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, there’s never been a finish quite like what we saw in 2011. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have all ambled down Pebble Beach’s 18th fairway on their way to defining Pro-Am victories, but none of these champions could hope to match the panache of last year’s winner Bill Murray, who mugged for the cameras, blew kisses to the crowd and then handed out ice-cream bars behind the green. Murray’s hijinks have enlivened the tournament for the better part of the last two decades but he was always an understudy. Last year, he trod the boards in what was one of the most unlikely, most memorable and most popular victories in the history of the tournament. “More like the history of golf,” Murray said, with typical understatement.
In his many previous appearances, Murray had made the cut only four times and never come close to being on the winning pro-am team. Murray’s chances didn’t figure to improve in 2011 when he was paired with D.A. Points, a 34-year-old journeyman who had never before won a PGA Tour event, largely because, he said, “I want to win one so bad I try too hard and get in my own way.” Then again, he had never before been paired with Bill Murray. Earnest, thoughtful and sincere, Points turned out to be the perfect straight man for Murray, and their unlikely chemistry immediately helped the middling pro unlock his considerable potential. “To be honest, I think it really loosens me up and makes me, between shots, not grind so hard on what I’m doing,” Points said of Murray’s antics.
An illustrative example came on Pebble’s easy, par-5 second hole during last year’s third round. Beginning the day tied for second on the pro leaderboard, Points ran his eagle attempt 5 feet past the hole and making the comebacker was a crucial early-round gut-check. Murray, who had purloined a doughnut from a fan and was idling at the rope-line flirting with a comely brunette, broke the tension by waving the remnants of his doughnut in the air and shouting to his partner, “Make it and you get a bite!” The crowd tittered, and Points stepped away from his putt, chuckling. Then he rammed his ball into the back of the cup and raced over to Murray to collect on his snack.
Murray is happy to play the jester but he can also play a little golf, too. He has a lovely tempo to his swing and soft hands around the green. Last year, Pebble played firm and fiery, conditions that recalled the 2010 U.S. Open there, and during the third round, Murray toured the front nine in an unofficial 35 strokes, one under par. Pretty darn sporty for a guy playing off a 13 handicap. It’s Murray’s dedication to his craft that put him in position to win. After some scratchy ball striking during the first round, he was on the driving range until sunset being tutored by Hall of Famer Vijay Singh. “I had really lost my swing, and it was ugly,” Murray said.
“I thought I would go back and start hitting some balls, and there was Vijay Singh on the range. I would never go like, ‘Hey, you big Fijian, help me out here.’ But he saw me sort of struggling, and he came over and he said one thing, and I did it, and then about three minutes later he says another thing, and I did it, and then about four minutes later he said another thing, and I did it, and I never hit the ball that well in my entire life.”
That Murray would be digging secrets out of the dirt did not surprise his brother. “He has tremendous respect for the game,” says Ed Murray, who was in the gallery last year. The Murrays are a golfing clan. All six brothers worked as caddies at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, Ill., sometimes alongside one another. Their shared experiences led one of the boys, Brian Doyle-Murray, to write the screenplay that begat “Caddyshack,” the movie that cemented brother Bill’s silver-screen stardom. “In real life I won the caddie tournament; I got the Evans scholarship,” says Ed, whose two sons played golf professionally. “I was Danny Noonan, up to the point where he gets laid by the waitress, which, sadly, never happened.”
Heading into last year’s final round, Points was in fourth place and his and Murray’s team score was only one stroke off the pro-am lead. “I don’t want much,” Murray said at the time, “but I’ve always wanted to win this. It’s one of the greatest things you can do in this world.” The outcome was very much in doubt as Points faced his approach shot to Pebble’s dastardly 14th green. “It’s one of the hardest wedge shots we have to hit all year,” Points says. Naturally, he knocked it into the hole for an eagle and sole possession of the lead, what he called a “one-in-a-million” shot.
On the next hole, Points snap-hooked a drive out-ofbounds…until his ball trickled back into play by a foot or two. A decent recovery shot left him 35 feet for birdie, and Points promptly rolled in the putt to take a two-stroke lead for himself and give his pro-am team a pretty much insurmountable cushion. On the green Murray was giggling hysterically. “Once knucklehead here made that eagle and then the birdie…the birdie was more ridiculous in a way,” Murray said. “I just started laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing, because I realized that this is it now. It’s like when I see real art, I laugh. When I see a Rembrandt, I laugh, because it’s this beautiful thing, it’s alive, yet it’s not. And that moment of his making birdie is like, we have won this tournament, and yet we are not done yet. I knew it was that moment.”
Murray played the last two holes in a state of subdued bliss. He said, “Walking up 18 I didn’t know what to do. ‘Holy cow, now what?’ I guess I have to die now.” Actually, now he gets to defend his title. Expect plenty of trash talking and even more mirth this year. The unforgettable 2011 tournament taught Murray a lesson that the rest of us would do well to remember: “I’ve always believed you can have the most fun and still win,” he said. “It is possible. This week I did it.”
The 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am takes place February 6-12. For more information, go to http://www.attpbgolf.com.