Monday, February 25, 2013

Golf is a game that many play, but few play well.
Give a man a bag of bent sticks, a dozen dimpled balls, and wide open spaces, and he'll chase those little white balls around for hours.
Jim Murray was no exception, never mind that he had the golf swing of a farmhand clearing weeds and the vision of a one-eyed pirate mixed with an Ivy League knowledge of how the game is played.
As he would put it: "I can tell you how to hit a plugged shot out of a bunker, hit a left-to-right fade around a large oak, or read an undulating green. But I'll be damned I can do it myself."
With this in mind, we bring you a classic column from 1974, after he got to fulfil one of his sporting dreams and set the course record at Mountain Gate Country Club in Los Angeles.

August 25, 1974, SPORTS


Blasting a Golf Trail
    Some guys want to climb the Matterhorn. Others dream of singing opera. Still others wish they could quarterback the Rams. But my life's ambition has always been to hold the course record somewhere. You know, like Sam Snead holds the course record, 59, at Greenbrier, and Mike Souchak had a 60 at Breckenridge Park in San Antonio. And so on.
    I always wanted to have people point me out as I tee it up somewhere and have them whisper, "That's Jim Murray. You know, he holds the course record at L.A. North. Shot a 56. In the rain."
    I KNOW, of course, I could never hold the course record at Riviera. The best I ever done there is 103. Still, it's nice to dream.
    My friend, John Marin, didn't know any of this when he called me the other weekend. "How'd you like to be the FIRST ever to play a new course up on Mulholland Drive?" he asked.
    My first inclination was to say "No." I'm between swings, at the moment, changing over from a Gay Brewer loop to a Doug Ford duck hook. Then, a light went on.
    "Wait a minute," I said. "You mean NOBODY's played it — EVER?"
    "That's right," he said. "Never had a cleat mark on it. Won't open for a couple of months. Mountain Gate, 6,900 yards of sylvan beauty. Might have to chase the deer off if they're in our line."
    My mind reeled. If I played it, I would have the course record!
    "I'll get a foursome," John pledged.
    "No, no, don't do that." I implored him. There'll just be the two of us. PLEASE! Uh, how're you playing?"
    "Haven't had a club in my hand in six months," John said cheerfully. "I got this little loop in my backswing."
    "Get your clubs!" I screamed. "I'll meet you at the first tee!"
    Now, do you have any idea what a thrill it is to stand on a tee and KNOW you're going to set a competitive course record? To know that EVERY shot is history?
    Egad! I know what the captain of the Titanic felt like when he sailed out of Liverpool, what Napoleon must have thought crossing into Russia.
    I wondered if Snead took a mulligan when he shot his 59. Never mind. I did.
    Johnny Marin beat me on the first hole. The little double-crosser threw a 6 at me. I got very cross with him. "Well," I said, "If you're going to go around bogeying all day, we might as well wind this up right now. You told me you were off your game."
    "Look at it this way," John said. "You had the first 8 ever recorded at Mountain Gate."
    A minute later, I had the first lost ball. Then, I had the first-ball-to-bounce-off-a-tree and the first-man-ever-hit-in-the-face-by-his-own-golf-ball.
    A hole or two later I became the first golfer ever at Mountain Gate to take 7 shots to the edge of a green and say out loud, "Let's see, I lie 3 to here." The first, but not the last.
    I set a whole bunch of firsts. First ever to hit a ball onto the San Diego Freeway, first ever to go off in the knee-high brush, first ever to dribble a new ball out of my pocket while pretending to bend down and then say, "Here it is! Hey, I got an open shot!"
    I was the first guy ever to mark a ball and then move the marker 3 feet when my opponent turned his back. I became the first ever to get a 56-foot "gimme" and the first to pocket my ball 14 feet from the hole and say, when my partner arrived on the green, "It was in the leather."
    John became the first guy ever to whiff there but he got kind of huffy when I noted the honor. "It wasn't a whiff," he insisted. "The ball fell backwards off the tee one inch. It's the first BACKWARD shot, is what it is."
    "No, it isn't," I reminded him. "That tree I hit on No. 2, the ball bounced BACKWARD 80 yards. Yours is the SHORTEST backward shot but not the first."
    I was the first guy to leave a ball in a sand trap, the first guy ever to hit a provisional and then sneak ahead and pretend to have found my first shot. "Here it is! It's 'in,' after all!" I shouted, thus becoming the first liar.
    I hold the 9-hole record, the 18-hole record. I hold the record score for holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Marin, the louse, halved or won the rest. I'm the first guy to kick an opponent's ball INTO the rough while teeing up my own ball there. I'm the first one ever to say, "I think it breaks left about 10 inches" of a putt of his which I knew perfectly well was straight in or, if anything, broke right.
    I threw a 45 at the front nine with a dazzling display of footwork (the feet are the most important pat of the game as any golfer can tell you and as I have proven over and over again by kicking balls out of sand traps or into preferred lies).
    I threw a little 48 at the back nine. That'll give the boys something to shoot at. A 93 gross. It'll be months before anyone breaks that. They'll have to put my picture in the clubhouse as soon as they build one. Bobby Jones may have the record at the "Auld Course," Nicklaus may have the record at Scioto or some place, but I have the record at the New Course.
    Don't think it was a walk in the park. Johnny threw a 111 score at me. I couldn't let up.
    Come to think of it, I'm the club champion! All these years I've been envying those guys who get their names in silver on the club trophy and a little write-up in the club magazine and now, here I am, club champion, gross and net, and holder of the course record. I think I'll bring out an instructional book. "The Course Record And How to Win it," or, "The Importance of Timing in Winning the Club Championship."
    And, some day, when they hold the U.S. Open there, I can go around and people will point at me and say, "Did you know old Jim used to hold the course record around here? Shot the lights out of it back in '74, they tell me."
    Move over, Sammy, Jack, Arnold, Bobby and Ben. Make way for the Master of Mountain Gate! One of the all-time immorals of the game! The Golden Bore!
    I wonder if this gets me in the Masters?

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