CHARLOTTE — Appearing in his first major championship as a professional barely fazed Grayson Murray. Then again, very little fazes Grayson Murray, at least on a golf course.
Exceedingly talented but with a tempestuous streak, Murray continued to make news solely with his game by opening the 99th PGA Championship Thursday with a three-under-par 68 at Quail Hollow Club. Playing in the morning wave, the PGA Tour rookie from nearby Raleigh, N.C., had a share of the clubhouse lead until Thorbjorn Olesen snuck in with a 67.
Murray, 23, covered his inward nine holes in a tidy 32 strokes in front of family and friends who made the two hour, 40 minute trek from Raleigh. The performance was largely mistake-free as he hit 15 greens in regulation and needed just 25 putts on the slick Quail Hollow greens.
“I’m very pleased,” Murray said. “There’s no letup out there. Every hole is a tough hole. You have soft fairways and hard greens, so it’s set up about as tough as it can be. I played about as good as I could play.”
Of late, his good play has been exceptional, highlighted by his come-from-behind win in the Barbasol Championship last month in Alabama. Because the Barbasol Championship is played opposite the British Open, Murray’s victory hasn’t garnered a lot of attention, which is fine for a player who had been making news earlier this year for some off-course missteps.
That win, in just his 23rd PGA Tour start, earned him entry to the final major of the season, and although he had never played Quail Hollow despite his North Carolina roots, Murray made himself right at home.
“Honestly, that win took a lot of nerves off. I'm freewheeling it now,” Murray said. “I'm not going to put any pressure on myself now. I know I have the game to win. It's just a matter of putting together four rounds because that's what it takes when you play in the majors. You can't just have one round or you will drop way down.
“All the world-class players are here, so I'll have to play my A-plus game probably right now to win, where some guys may be able to play their B plus and win. Hopefully I'll be at that stage of my career soon.”
When it comes to golf, Murray always has been a quick learner. He won the Callaway Junior World Championships three straight years starting in 2006, and in 2009, at age 15, he qualified for the U.S. Open. In 2010, after qualifying for the Rex Hospital Open on the Web.com Tour by winning the Rex Hospital Junior Invitational, he shot a second-round 66 to make the cut.
He turned professional in 2015 after bouncing around at three colleges, and won in just his third start on the eGolf Tour in Kannapolis, N.C. He began 2016 with just conditional status, but won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship during the Web.com Tour playoffs to finish as the leading money winner in the series.
His initial PGA Tour season was marked with frustration until he made a series of changes, some not necessarily by his own choice. In March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he added former SMU golf coach Josh Gregory to his team. Micah Fugitt, who caddied for Billy Horschel during his FedEx Cup title run in 2014, picked up Murray’s bag at the AT&T Byron Nelson in mid-May. That was after Mike Hicks put down Murray’s bag and walked off the course mid-round at the Wells Fargo Championship, which was moved from Quail Hollow to Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington this year to accommodate this week’s PGA.
Murray, who as a youngster attended the Wells Fargo as a spectator, missed eight of 11 cuts to start his season. He has missed just two since, wrapped around his Barbasol triumph.
“My team is definitely stronger,” Murray said. “I have to give them a lot of credit.”
“It’s all about structure for Grayson,” said Gregory, who hooked up with Murray via recommendations from former SMU players Colt Knost and Kelly Kraft. “He needed coaching as opposed to instruction. He needed a plan for everyday how to get better. He’s a bomber with a lot of talent, but attitude got in his way a little bit. You know, he runs hot and he runs cold. He’s been through some rough patches, but he’s turned the corner. He’s more of a complete player instead of just a bomber.”
Diagnosed with social anxiety, Murray certainly has faced his share of personal adversity. Earlier this year he was known more for his outspoken blasts on social media. But he’s never been afraid to express an opinion or carve his own path, which is how he buzzed through Wake Forest, East Carolina and Arizona State without ever finding a comfortable college home. That’s when he decided to turn pro.
“My last two years, year and a half, have gone by fast,” he said, shaking his head.
Indeed. A lot has changed. And some things haven’t.
“I’ve always had confidence,” he said bluntly. “But getting that win . . . I’m excited where my game is headed and to take these next couple years, looking forward to trying to be a world-class kind of player.”