124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Editor's Letter: In Search of Bill Murray

October 01, 2015

Harry How/Getty Images

The job of the editor is to decide who's on the cover. This is my 368th cover. Two subjects have utterly eluded me over the past 30 years: Sean Connery, for decades listed as "007" on the members' board at Pine Valley, and Bill Murray, who doesn't have an agent but simply tells people to leave a message on his 800 number that he won't answer.

I've never met Murray but had one encounter with Connery. The phone rang in my Connecticut office, and my assistant, Jeanmarie Ferullo, not normally given to giddiness, burst in and exclaimed, "It's Sean Connery calling from the Bahamas." A mutual golf buddy of ours had died. I'd written a tribute to him that had found its way to Connery, and he was calling to reminisce about our old friend for a few minutes. A remarkable call—you might say he was stirred, not shaken.

Before he hung up, I made my pitch. "I've been chasing you for years," I said. "Is there any chance you would do an interview for Golf Digest?" Politely he declined.

Bill Murray is today's ultimate celebrity golfer, numero uno, at the historical level of only Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I like to ask my young caddies if the ageless Bill Murray is still relevant today. I remember one reciting the "Caddyshack" dialogue of Carl Spackler, who looped for the Dalai Lama:

"Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know? And he says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

For our first-ever Comedy Issue this month, on the 35th anniversary of "Caddyshack," I pulled out all the stops to get Murray to pose. I asked a neighbor who is invited to his annual Christmas party: "He's impossible," he said. One of our editors asked one of Bill's brothers, who are partners with him in the "Caddyshack" restaurant business: "We'll try," he said, failing. I asked the tournament director of the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach: "Bill said no."

I even went to a guy I know who shares the same swami as Murray. My friend got as close as lying next to him on matching massage tables in New York City. The vision I have is that Cialis ad with the two bathtubs side by side looking out into total consciousness. But the answer was still no.

I was playing with Tim Finchem at St. Andrews this summer and explained our plight. "He's a little different," Tim understated, then told me the story of when he became commissioner, one of his first jobs was to convince Murray to return to playing in the AT&T pro-am. Finchem's predecessor, Deane Beman, had threatened to ban Murray for dragging an elderly woman into a bunker and dancing with her, whereupon she fell in the sand. She didn't get hurt, but Murray was judged to have crossed the line.

Finchem says after weeks of trying, he somehow got ahold of Bill on the phone and cajoled him to return to the Pebble Beach event. Tim's version is that Murray asked what the conditions were. Tim said, "You just can't cross the line."

"Well, who determines where the line is?" Murray said.

"I do," said Finchem.

"I was thinking I did," said Murray.

There was a pause in the conversation, then Murray added: "Well, how about this: If you and I don't agree, we have a putt-off?"

I guess they haven't disagreed yet, because we haven't seen a putt-off.

Rather than get a replacement for Murray, we spun our searchlight toward the future and found Colin Jost, the latest breakout star of "Saturday Night Live" (see "Snap-Stick Comedy: SNL's Colin Jost"). The kid from Staten Island was the president of the Harvard Lampoon and now co-hosts Weekend Update, setting up a natural progression: Harvard to SNL to Golf Digest.

But I just want Bill to know: We'll always make room for you next year. You got that goin' for you, which is nice.

Modern Era

1) Jack Nicholson / Dec. '07)
He said it was a rarity; he doesn't do the small screen.

2 ) Justin Timberlake / Nov. '08 The most naturally gifted person to grace our cover since Bobby Jones.

3) Jimmy Fallon / June '14
Rates in comedic value with early-day covers of Hope & Crosby and Jackie Gleason.

4) Kate Upton (with Arnold Palmer) Dec. '13
Striking the American Gothic pose, Arnie loved every minute of it.

5 (tie) Presidents George H.W. Bush & Bill Clinton / Sept. '90 / Dec. '12
One best known for his speed, the other for his mulligans.