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Sony Open

A golf bad boy turns the page and has shot to win Sony Open

January 13, 2024
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Grayson Murray hits a shot on the seventh tee during the third round of the Sony Open.

Tracy Wilcox

In a sport as mentally taxing as professional golf, most players would admit they’ve suffered through times of doubt and self-loathing. At the same time, most appear to be masters of pulling on a mask to hide those emotions.

Grayson Murray has never been that guy. The 30-year-old from North Carolina went through a period when it seemed his name was recognized more for trouble and controversy than anything he accomplished on the golf course. There were a couple of notable low points—Murray’s 2021 social media post in which he said he was dealing with alcohol abuse, while also railing about the PGA Tour not providing him help; and his October 2022 scooter crash in Bermuda in which he ran head-on into a car, suffering injuries to his face, hands and knee.

Murray got more off-the-course attention last year at the Canadian Open when he spoke out in a heated players meeting with commissioner Jay Monahan in the aftermath of the tour entering a framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Murray, ostensibly speaking for the rank-and-file players, had an exchange with Rory McIlroy in which the latter said, “Just play better, Grayson.” To which Murray responded, “F—k off.”

To Murray’s great satisfaction, “play better” is exactly what he did. While bouncing back and forth between the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour in 2023, Murray notched back-to-back top-10s in July on the big circuit, and then scored his second KFT victory of the season in September at the Simmons Bank Open.

That secured Murray good status for the PGA Tour this season, and in his first start of ’24, he heads into Sunday’s final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii tied for the lead at 14 under with six-time winner Keegan Bradley.

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Grayson Murray follows his shot on the sixth hole.

Kevin C. Cox

Murray, whose lone PGA Tour win came as a rookie in the 2017 Barbasol Championship, backed up a second-round 63 with a 64 on Saturday, and he’s made 11 birdies and an eagle over the last 36 holes. He’s done almost everything well at Waialua Country Club, ranking first in strokes gained/tee to green, third in driving accuracy (73.81 percent) and T4 in greens in regulation (79.63 percent).

It's clear that Murray is feeling more at ease, and he’s got good reasons for that.

“I'm over eight months sober now,” he said. “I have a beautiful fiancée that I love so much, and who is so supportive of me, and my parents are so supportive of me. My caddie, Jay [Green] is one of my biggest cheerleaders. Just makes everything so easy when I get out here inside the ropes.

“You know, they're right there with me when I do have those hard days, and I still have hard days, but I feel a lot more at peace inside the ropes now.”

The changes have come with focused effort. In an interview with Golf.com last fall, Murray said he did a “hard reset” last September. He didn’t pick up a club for nine days and traveled to San Diego to train with self-defense and “fear management” coach Tony Blauer, who works with Navy SEALS.

“It’s crazy how fear is one of those things that it happens to all of us; we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t experience fear,” Murray said in the interview. “Being out here on the golf course trying to win tournaments, there’s a lot of things going through your mind, and whether you want to call it fear or not—I think us men don’t like to use that word. But there’s a lot of times where, oh, there’s water left, you don’t want to hit it left — that’s a fear.”

Fittingly, Murray was asked on Saturday in Hawaii how he might draw on his most recent victories if he ends up contending down the stretch. His answer seemed like an ode to his training and improved outlook.

“I know how to win. I'm not afraid of the moment,” Murray said. “I'm not going to back down. I'm going to give it my best, and if I don't win tomorrow, it's not from a lack of giving it my all or being scared out there.”