It is 13 years since I first read about Mark Murphy’s golfing exploits in a newspaper. Interestingly, it was not an Irish publication; the improbable source of an extensive piece on him was the San Francisco Chronicle.
The truth is that self-promotion comes easily to this engaging former disc jockey, who gloried in the showbiz name of DJ Muppet. So, we shouldn’t be surprised at the publicity generated by his win in Golf Channel’s “Big Break,” in which the rewards include a place for Murphy in the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in June. Indeed, it has been suggested that more is known about the gregarious Kerryman in the US than in his native land, due to the fact that Golf Channel viewing in the Emerald Isle is limited to tournament relays.
Murphy’s San Francisco episode had to do with the City Amateur, to which he was invited by local attorney Andrew Zacks, who met the then 19-year-old when he was working as a caddie at his native Waterville.
The Chronicle reported: “Zacks had mentioned that he knew Mike (Fluff) Cowan and Tiger Woods. Murphy thought it was just another empty boast by an American on holiday, until signed photos of the two arrived by mail a few weeks later. When Cowan and Woods visited Ireland prior to the British Open, Murphy caddied for both.” That was Woods’ first Irish visit, in July 1998, in the company of Mark O’Meara, among others.
The report went on to quote Zacks as saying that since arriving in San Francisco in January 1999, “young Mark took some money off the boys at McLaren Park,” and had other golf outings at Spyglass Hill, Pasatiempo and the Fort Ord Bayonet Course. And his failure to extend a good run in the month-long city event placed him in the celebrated company of Tom Watson and Johnny Miller.
As things turned out, he was beaten by 48-year-old Gary Vanier, a six-time winner of the event, who said of the Waterville youth: “He was a breath of fresh air. You would have thought he was 35-years-old by his demeanour. No club banging or anything like that. It’s nice to see kids like
that come out.”
Murphy made the Irish newspapers a year later, though victory again eluded him. He was beaten by Eamonn Brady in the final of the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point, and went on to lose a play-off to Noel Fox in the East of Ireland Championship at Baltray later in the Millennium Year.
But he lost none of his youthful exuberance and, after turning professional, struck up an enduring friendship with Rocco Mediate during return trips to the US. In fact, you were likely to run into them in the most unlikely places. Like, for instance, the 2006 Masters at Augusta National.
On his way to an opening 68, the talkative Mediate could be heard addressing some odd observations towards the fairway ropes. “Hey, Murph! Louis is doin’ well today,” he would call out, apparently to no one in particular. All was revealed later when I found his caddie, Brandon Antus, standing by the clubhouse with the bold Murphy, who showed me the four-inch woolen leprechaun he had given his friend as a good-luck charm.
Along came Mediate. “That’s Louis the Leprechaun and I put him there,” he said, pointing to the front pocket of the golf bag. “And we’ve been talking about him all day, man. He’s green and this is green-jacket week, so he’s staying there. Would fit nicely in the top pocket on Sunday evening, don’t you think?” Indeed.
Against this background, it’s not difficult to imagine the challenge it was for Murphy to keep his mouth shut about “Big Break Ireland,” which he won last May at The K Club, six months before its formal announcement. “It was a close-run thing,” he admitted. “Paul McGinley almost spilled the beans when he met me during the Irish Open at Killarney in July.
“I felt like I’d never achieved anything in golf but now I have achieved something,” added Murphy, who beat Canadian Julian Trudeau for an overdue play-off victory at the scene of the 2006 Ryder Cup. “As Two-Gloves Tommy (Gainey) has demonstrated, this show changes lives. I was tempted to pack in tournament golf but I believe this may have changed my life forever. I’m a Big Break Champion.”
His rewards include a cash prize of $50,000 along with European Tour invitations to this season’s Irish Open and the Hassan II Golf Trophy. In addition, Murphy receives an Adams Golf endorsement contract, which includes $10,000 in cash, a $10,000 shopping spree to Dick’s Sporting Goods, $10,000 airline credit with United Airlines and a “wonderful West of Ireland” trip for two.
Gainey, a winner of the “Big Break VII: Reunion,” stepped into the limelight last year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, in which he was tied eighth. One could imagine the irrepressible Muppet settling for nothing less than a win.