Entertaining the gallery all the way to the end, Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray) teamed with D.A. Points to win the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and got an assist for helping the journeyman pick up his first PGA Tour title
This is an article from the Feb. 21, 2011 issue
On a glorious, sun-drenched Saturday afternoon at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Bill Murray ambled behind the 2nd green and snagged a glazed doughnut from a spectator. No big deal—this kind of thing happens all the time when Murray is competing at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a movable feast that for him is half golf tournament, half Second City improv. Murray showily munched on the doughnut, at one point cruising over to the rope line to ask a comely fan if she would like to lick his fingers clean. When she demurred Murray leaned in and gave her a smooch on the lips, much to the surprise of the woman's male companion. While Murray was working the crowd, his professional partner, D.A. Points, was busy trying to the win the golf tournament. Points arrived in Pebble Beach as a 34-year-old journeyman with the rep as an extravagantly talented underachiever. He had never 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.
In their first round together, last Thursday, Points put up a 63 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, tying the course record. (Two days later Jeff Maggert bettered it with a 62.) Points is an Illinois native, like Murray, and he had campaigned to be matched with the man he calls his alltime favorite actor. 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.
A solid 70 at Spyglass Hill in the second round left Points in a tie for second, but the real test would come in the third round. Saturday at Pebble Beach is one of the game's great stages, a made-for-TV spectacle mixing sport and celebrity, with Murray always trodding the boards as the featured attraction. On Pebble's easy par-5 2nd hole Points ran his eagle attempt five feet past the hole. Making the comebacker was a crucial early-round gut-check. Murray 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's shtick has not always endeared him to the golf establishment. Tom Watson, the archetype of the uptight traditionalist, publicly blasted Murray, and former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman once described the comedian's on-course comportment as "inappropriate." But the jaunty star of Caddyshack and other lesser classics has always been beloved around Pebble, largely because of the ease with which he mingles with the gallery. Six holes after the doughnut escapade Murray shanghaied a spectator's cooler and passed out all the beers to onlookers. On the 13th hole a young fan presented a football to be autographed by the other amateur in Murray's group, former 49ers offensive tackle Harris Barton. Murray snatched the pigskin and punted it from the tee box. (Then he made sure the kid got his ball back.)
Along the way Murray played some stellar golf. He has a lovely swing tempo, and with his soft hands Murray has an imaginative short game and a rather pure putting stroke. Last week Pebble played firm and fiery, conditions that recalled the 2010 U.S. Open there. On Saturday, Murray toured the front nine in an unofficial 35 strokes, one under par. Pretty sporty for a guy playing off a 13 handicap. Through three rounds he and Points had ham-and-egged it to a team score of 28 under, just one off the pro-am lead. Points was in fourth place on the pro leader board. Murray has been playing the event since 1992 and made the cut only four times, and neither his team nor his pro had ever really come close to winning. He didn't try to hide how much he was coveting the crystal. "I don't want much," Murray said, "but I've always wanted to win this. It's one of the greatest things you can do in this world." For a change he wasn't being sarcastic.
Murray radiates insouciance, but it's his 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 misanthropic Hall of Famer Vijay Singh. "I had really lost my swing, and it was ugly," says Murray. "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 week. 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.
"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."
On the airwaves, around Pebble and in America's taverns, the sound track to Sunday's final round was snippets of Caddyshack dialogue, which has long been quoted like holy scripture. Damned if it didn't turn into a Cinderella story, this unknown comes outta nowhere to lead the pack. Points was in a dogfight with Steve Marino and Hunter Mahan as he 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-of-bounds ... 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. 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."
There was one more memorable moment to come. On the 16th hole both Points and Murray were fighting to save par, with the pro facing what he called a five-foot "knee-knocker." Adds Points, "My caddie asked me how I was feeling, and I said, 'Not very good.'" Murray was to putt first, from 30 feet, and as he stood over his ball, his partner hit his mark: "Bill, I think the crowd would really appreciate it if you would knock this in." The fans hooted. Murray narrowly missed but no matter. "Just getting into that mode for a second to root him on and to kind of play around with him took me out of the moment just enough," says Points. "And then I was able to sneak the putt in the left side, and then my composure got a little better, and I played solid the last two holes."
Points's victory was worth $1.134 million, a nice bookend to a week that began with the first birthday of his daughter, Laila. During the trophy ceremony she was in the arms of her mother, Lori, teething on one of Dad's golf balls. "We've always known he was good enough to win out here," said Lori. "The big difference this week was how much fun he had on the golf course. That really allowed him to play his best."
Meanwhile, Murray was overcome with emotion. He tried to be glib when addressing the crowd, but he couldn't fool his brother. "He's pretty choked up," Ed said. "I can hear his voice wavering." After the trophy ceremony Bill handed out dozens of ice cream bars to the masses, just because. But the class clown had suddenly become the star jock too, an unlikely turn of events that Murray described as "existential bliss" (". . . on your deathbed you will receive total consciousness"). He added, "Walking up the 18th fairway, I didn't know what to do. It was like, Holy cow, now what? I guess I have to die now."
Actually, Murray has too much to live for. The victory earned Points a spot in his first Masters, two months hence. On Sunday night Murray offered his services as a caddie for the par-3 tournament. Augusta National, you've been forewarned.
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