Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

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Voices

On forgiving, but not forgetting, Grayson Murray and his controversial past

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Michael Reaves

January 16, 2024

A discussion on extending grace is complicated when the subject has displayed a conspicuous absence of it.

For almost his entire professional existence, Grayson Murray is a man who has existed as a knucklehead, whose massive talent was always outweighed by trouble. He picked fights with his fellow players, exhibited uncouth behavior on the course, had a caddie part midway through a round, spewed hate and conspiracy theories on Twitter and was caught making an inappropriate comment towards an underage woman. There were certainly times where Murray seemed sympathetic, such as when he was involved in a serious scooter crash, the reveal that two family members had been murdered and his very public cry for help regarding substance abuse and his mental health. Yet whatever empathy was there tended to be muted due to the aforementioned foibles and a lack of penitence. His story was also never fully unpacked, because ultimately golf is a sport where one is judged by the score next to your name, and for the past five years the numbers next to Murray usually translated to the letters “MC.” Because Murray lived on the fringes of the sport, his plight could often be ignored.

That is no longer the case, as Murray’s win at the Sony Open cements his status on the PGA Tour for years to come. The victory itself, however, is not really the headline. For one, it was not a surprise; Murray won twice last year on the Korn Ferry circuit and had back-to-back top 10s at the PGA Tour level in July. But more importantly is the idea that the Murray of now is not the Murray of old.

“It took me a long time to get to this point,” Murray said on Sunday evening. “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.”

Murray said he’s been sober for eight months. His alcohol abuse stemmed from anxiety and depression. “I struggle with comparing myself to others, self-esteem,” Murray said. “There's a lot of issues that—I call them issues. I think they're common issues that we all endure. I got tired of trying to fight it alone, and I asked for help one day, and that's when my life changed.” He found a woman that helped him see the light, and they are now engaged. Murray also asserted he’s been more in touch with his faith.

In a vacuum, it has the makings of a redemption narrative. Addiction issues are a beast so many battle in the shadows, and to do it on a public stage—and to come out the other side—is not only admirable but inspirational. Quick as sports fans are to judge, they are also happy to forgive, especially those who are contrite. Couple these serious affairs with the notion that golf loves its players who are able to return from a stay in the wilderness, Murray has all the makings of a tale worth rooting for.

In that same breath, it’s fair to wonder if Murray truly is a changed man. Did he find religion, did he find stability … or is he simply off social media, his abrasive, divisive and conspiratorial thoughts no longer amplified? It’s also easy to seem at peace after victory; will he still be the same guy we saw in Hawaii if he begins to miss cuts?

These are questions for Murray, but really they’re for us, those who watch this sport from close and afar. For all of its beauties, golf does not do well when things are not black-and-white, and you better believe Murray is painted in gray. And the short answer is, there is no universal answer, and that’s alright. We can admire the strength it takes to rebuild one’s life the way Murray has and hope that he can be a force of good while still being skeptical of how his life is lived. Or Murray can truly be clean yet still have a habit of making things a mess. These are not conflicting ideologies or mutually exclusive, for us or him. It’s OK to forgive, and it’s OK not to forget.

This is especially true in golf, where the smoke of one mistake lingers well after the cattle prod has cooled. The good thing for Murray is in this game the most important shot is the shot that’s next. For a man that’s come this far this may not be the response Murray feels he has earned. But that’s the thing about grace, and why it’s in short supply, because it is a gift that is given, not earned.