Sometimes it’s good to be a stranger. It sure worked out Thursday for Raleigh’s Grayson Murray.
Murray had watched golf at Quail Hollow Club, but he’d never played there prior to practice rounds for this week’s PGA Championship. That meant he didn’t have to unlearn the course from before it was renovated last summer.
Advantage Murray: In his debut round at Quail Hollow, he shot a 68 Thursday morning to contend for the lead heading into Friday’s second round.
Quail Hollow Club changed four holes on the front nine of this course, along with re-sodding greens and adding Bermuda grass to the roughs. That changed how the layout plays, compared to previous Wells Fargo tournaments here.
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“This course is so much different (from) what it used to be. It’s probably a good thing I haven’t played here before,” said Murray, 23.
“It’s a totally different course. I kind of think no one has an advantage here besides (club member) Webb Simpson, who plays here every day. The guys who’ve played well here in the past, I don’t know if it (still) suits their game after all the changes.”
Murray was 1-over over par after the front nine, then went bogey free over the back nine.
Murray was a phenomenal junior golfer, winning Callaway world championships for age groups 11-12 and 13-14 (twice). He won state championships -- both team and individual – playing for Leesville Road High in Raleigh .
His college golf career was disjointed: He started at Wake Forest, transferred to East Carolina and ended up at Arizona State. Along the way, he played the 2013 U.S. Open as an amateur before turning pro in 2015.
Consistency has been elusive. Murray had been playing mostly on the Web.com Tour. He broke through for a victory last month at the Barbasol Championship, played at a Robert Trent Jones course in Opelika, Ala., the same week as the British Open.
Murray shot 21-under par for that victory, which helped push him into the top 100 in the world rankings. He’d been chasing enough results to earn a tour card. He is now fully exempt for this year.
“Getting that first win was huge, confidence-wise,” Murray said. “I can’t (describe) how hard it is to win out here. What Jason Day or Rory (McIlroy) or Jordan (Spieth) or Hideki (Matsuyama) do (is taken) for granted.
“It’s unbelievable. Hopefully, I can be in that category in the next year or two and be in their shoes.”
Murray is still adjusting to full status on the PGA Tour. That means a different approach to scheduling with more of an eye to longevity.
“My last two years, year-and-a-half, have gone by so fast,” Murray said. “I went from conditional status on Web.com to turning that into two top-10s.
“I probably played too much to start the year just because I wanted to. It’s always been my dream to be on the PGA Tour. How was I going to pass up some of those great courses on the West Coast?”
With his home less than four hours away, Murray had a strong following in the gallery Thursday morning.
“You hear, ‘Go, Grayson! Let’s go!’ It’s good motivation for me.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell