Golf

Raleigh golfer Grayson Murray hopes to change path at Rex Open

Grayson Murray tees off on the eighth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Friday, June 14, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa.
Grayson Murray tees off on the eighth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Friday, June 14, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. AP File Photo

As a fledgling pro golfer, Raleigh’s Grayson Murray faces as uncertain future.

Murray has conditional status on the Web.com Tour and has a sponsor’s exemption into the Rex Hospital Open, set May 12-15 at TPC Wakefield Plantation. Other than that, the 22-year-old is in the unsettling position of trying to find places to play, often in Monday qualifying for tournaments on the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour, which is a tough way to go.

Then again, there’s Smylie Kaufman.

Kaufman had limited status on the Web.com Tour in 2015 and missed the cut in the Rex Hospital Open last year. On Sunday, he was in the final twosome of the Masters with Jordan Spieth. A PGA Tour winner, Kaufman was a contender in a major championship.

“One little thing, one good week, can change your whole path,” Murray said Wednesday at TPC Wakefield.

Kaufman, 24, took full advantage of a break. A former college golfer at LSU, he was given a sponsor’s exemption into the 2015 Chitimacha Louisiana Open and tied for fourth. That earned him a spot in the next Web.com Tour event, where he again tied for fourth.

Riding that wave, Kaufman won the United Leasing Championship in Newburgh Ind. By year’s end, he had secured his PGA Tour card, then won the tour’s second tournament of 2016-17, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, with a final-round 61 to earn his Masters invite.

Murray isn’t promising he will duplicate Kaufman’s rapid ascent. All he wants is a chance.

“There’s a fine line and you have to be ready for your opportunity,” Murray said.

In 2010, Murray was 16 when he played his way into the Rex Hospital Open by winning a junior invitational tournament at Wakefield. After a second-round 66 in the Rex, he became the second-youngest player to make a cut in a Web.com Tour event and had Wakefield buzzing.

“This place has a special place in my heart,” Murray said. “At 16, I was kind of a newbie to all this, whether it was cameras in my face or crowds. Looking back, yes, it was a turning point in that I had the confidence that I could play with the guys who do this for a living.”

No one is given a clear path in this game. You have to work for it, and the guys who are tough and keep working at it are the ones who ultimately get out there.

Golfer Grayson Murray

Murray was upstaged a bit that week. At the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas, another 16-year-old also survived the 36-hole cut – Spieth.

After helping Leesville Road High win a state golf championship, Murray headed to Wake Forest. But that was the beginning of a college golf odyssey that took him from Wake to East Carolina to UNC Greensboro and finally Arizona State.

“I had a few bumps in the road with just life situations that I had to overcome,” he said.

Murray, who qualified for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, seemed settled at ASU, only to decide he’d make the move to pro golf. Playing last year on the eGolf Tour in the Carolinas, he won the Imperial Headwear Southern Open in Kannapolis, his first pro title.

Murray advanced through the first and second stages of the 2015 Web.com Tour qualifying before tying for 74th in the final stage of Q-School. He did it with a familiar face on his bag: caddie Mike Hicks.

If you remember the late Payne Stewart winning the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, you remember Stewart leaping into the arms of his caddie. That was Hicks, who worked on the PGA Tour for many years and knew the Murray family.

Murray said Hicks could be at the Rex Hospital Open to again be his caddie, offering the support and comfort level he had during the tour qualifying stages.

TPC Wakefield is one of 12 golf properties owned by John McConnell of Raleigh. Murray was a recipient of a McConnell Junior Golf Scholarship in 2008, and now has the sponsor’s exemption into the Rex Hospital Open at Wakefield. The rest is up to him.

“Nothing is given to you,” Murray said. “No one is given a clear path in this game. You have to work for it, and the guys who are tough and keep working at it are the ones who ultimately get out there.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

Rex Hospital Open

What: Web.com Tour event.

When: May 12-15.

Where: TPC Wakefield Plantation, Raleigh.

Information: rexhospitalopen.com

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