I had grand visions of generating a lot of content this past week at the Memorial Tournament, but just could not justify sitting inside the media center with the sun beaming down on Muirfield Village for (almost) seven straight days. Growing up in Dublin, Memorial week was always the biggest highlight of the year, and this tournament is responsible for turning me into the golf nut that I am today. I’ve been coming to this tournament for about 25 years now, and somehow I appreciate it more and more every year. For years, it served as a family reunion, as relatives would drive in from all over the south and the midwest to meet up and go watch some golf. In college, Big Randy and Tron would come through, stay at the house, play some golf, and we’d go out strollin’ the grounds with beers in tow and try to con our way into hospitality houses.
Muirfield Village is a very special place. As a kid growing up in the area, everyone knew it as the crown jewel of central Ohio. What I didn’t know was how well regarded this place was among the players, and listening to them talk about it now, I appreciate it even more. The conditioning is second to none, the holes are the proper mix of challenge and fun, and the vantage points are fantastic. The course was designed specifically for this tournament, and you can’t get a much better experience as a fan at a tournament than at Jack’s place.
The winner is inconsequential to the experience, and to be able to watch world class golf up close and personal practically on demand is a luxury that’s never lost on me. I can’t get enough of it. This is not going to be much of a recap of the actual tournament itself. You can get that in a lot of other places. I don’t get to go to a lot of tournaments in person, so I’d rather write about the in tournament experience than break the whole thing down shot by shot. A lot has happened over the past week. Some of it is shareable, and some of it isn’t, but here’s my recap.
I got the incredible opportunity to sit down with Jason Dufner for about 50 minutes at his hotel on Tuesday evening for my first ever in person podcast with a player. I hate doing interviews via Skype, and loved the chance to actually speak face-to-face with a major champion about anything and everything related to golf. If you haven’t gotten a chance to listen, I highly suggest you do. I can’t recall getting feedback this strong on a podcast, as I really do think people got to see a side of Duf that they didn’t know existed. It was great to see him ball out this week, and to throw that big fist pump when the putt dropped on the 72nd hole. It was pretty fascinating to hear him talk about how Muirfield as a bit big for him, and took away his accuracy advantage a bit.
A big shoutout to Duf and his team for taking the time to sit down, open up, and give people an insight into the real person. This is definitely something that he does not typically do, and I’m thrilled that he picked us to open up to. Any other players up for a pre-US Open podcast? Just throwing that out there. The bump is real.
As was well documented on Twitter and Instagram, I got the opportunity to tote the bag for Justin Thomas for the Pro-Am on Wednesday. Predictably, it was a blast and shoutout to JT for buying into the idea and embracing it. His regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, walked with us and did all of the hard stuff. I just carried the bag, and honestly I’m not sure I could have handled much more than that. Jimmy stepped off the yardages, raked the bunkers (my biggest fear on the planet), charted the actual tournament pin positions, helped choose the clubs, identified the wind, and basically anything else that required any skill at all. I still managed to put the clubs in the wrong slots, feel uncomfortable no matter where I was standing, and fumbled to get the headcover off the putter in time for a smooth transition as he tapped down the divot following a smooth 8-iron onto the surface.
Mis clubbed him. #PrayForSoly pic.twitter.com/QOjehXiRE5
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 31, 2017
The atmosphere was extremely light hearted. JT was missing greens on purpose to get some practice with chipping. The main focus was around the greens, both chipping and putting from tough spots, while the ams cleaned up their double bogies. I noticed throughout the week with JT and with other pros how soft their hands were through impact on chips. It seemed like a minor swing thought, but I took it to the course on Saturday morning, missed 15 greens, and somehow managed to get it up and down 13 times. I completely transformed my chipping just watching these guys hit shots. (That ball striking though…. NOT good.)
Another big takeaway I had was how little JT and Jimmy seemed to care about the wind. He always wanted to know what direction it was going, but for guys at that level, the wind just doesn’t seem to have the same effect on the ball that it may have on one of your shots or one of mine. Figure out what it’s doing, make a decision, commit to it, and execute the shot. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson there considering we don’t hit it nearly like they do, but it’s something I’ll think about next time I start thinking too hard about the wind.
Not good. pic.twitter.com/te99CimMqu
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 31, 2017
He abused me every opportunity he got, and finally called me in to read a 15 foot birdie putt on 13. I called it a cup and a half outside right. He said it’s a cup. He went with his line, made it, turned to me, and told me to just let him do his job, and to go pick up the bag.
That's was a lot of fun, thanks for the walk today @JustinThomas34. Full story on Instagram https://t.co/IAjXEiK5nM pic.twitter.com/UcaiT8f0tX
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 31, 2017
I had a blast chatting with Jimmy, a guy who has been in professional golf for 40 years (including 17 years playing the Sunshine Tour in South Africa). That guy has seen a lot of things over the years on the bag with Nick Price, Steve Stricker, and others, and I did all I could to get the stories out over those 4.5 hours. Justin’s dad is his is swing coach, and he also walked all 18 holes with us, and also had a lot of fun roasting me every chance he got. At one point, he hid Justin’s putter from me, and asked if I left it on the previous green. I’m the most gullible person on the planet, but somehow managed not to fall for it.
At least it wasn't a full club throw pic.twitter.com/IBC2Q0zgCk
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 31, 2017
I planned to play some golf on Wednesday evening, but when that fell through, I went out for a few holes with ZB as the sunset. On a day that I got to carry the bag for a top ten player in the world, this may have been the best part. Long shadows, a deserted golf course, and perfect sunshine made for the perfect evening. Zac’s passion for the game is well documented, and it was fascinating to walk five holes with him, to pick his brain about golf course architecture, his practice routines. It was well over 12 hours since we had set out that morning for the Pro-Am, but I couldn’t get enough. All 30,000+ steps were worth it.
The highlight story, as mentioned on twitter, was his Jack Nicklaus story. All 5’6″ of ZB is chillin’ in the hot tub in the locker room, and Jack Nicklaus strolls through. Nicklaus does a bit of a double take, pokes his head in, and asks ZB:
“What’s goin on in here? Your parents around?”
He 100% thought ZB was a player’s kid, and that he was left unattended in the player’s locker room. I was crying. Pinehurst chimed in with a phenomenal response to the story, then ZB shared an even better one:
Pinehurst… where a guy working at the US Open thought I was a "big time fan" walking around with "clubs and everything" ?
— Zac Blair (@z_blair) June 1, 2017
I went out to follow Jon Rahm on Thursday, and I gotta admit, I was a little disappointed. What I saw at TPC Sawgrass was thrilling and captivating from a ball striking and bravado perspective, despite a less than spectacular finish. I noted on twitter (which might suck by the way) that I was less impressed this time around, as he got visibly frustrated at the crowd over very minor incidents. He told someone on 15 (under his breath, but audible enough to several patrons) to “Shut the f*ck up, you f*cking lard.” This was after a chip that was not to his liking, and a huge full frustration swing, clipping a bunch of grass blades that landed onto the putting surface. After a poor tee shot on 16, he slammed his iron on top of a grate, with the sound of the contact reverberating through the crowd. On 17, he hit it to 5 feet, and after striking his birdie putt, someone yelled “YES SIR!” before it reached the cup. The putt lipped it out, he turned and just stared the guy down for what felt like an eternity. I’ve never even met the guy, and he’s bitching at me (towards me? it was weird, still not sure who he’s talking to) between 17 and 18 that the guy who yelled that jinxed his putt. Jinxed! Dude, you missed a five foot putt. The guy didn’t yell before you hit it, it was after.
He’s young, and I’m not overly worried. It was just an observation that stuck out to me that was way outside of the realm of what was to be expected from a tour pro. It’s OK to get mad, but the anger towards the crowd felt incredibly misplaced. It did not help that he was paired with Rickie, who attracts the worst of the worst when it comes to annoying golf fans. But Rahm’s going to be in featured group pairings for the rest of his career, and he’s going to have to handle it better than he did on Thursday.
The tour certainly has enough robots, and no one is asking Rahm to be that, but he’s going to need to pull back on the reins a bit.
Grayson Murray Rules Incident
This one’s a doozy.
(NOTE: This story has been updated since the original post after further discussion with the source of the information. See further explanation at the end.)
On Friday afternoon, Grayson Murray hit his second shot into a bunker on 18 (his 9th of the day). His first attempt to get out of the trap did not succeed, and with his ball still in the bunker, he slammed the sand in disgust, clearly grounding his club in the hazard. (UPDATE: I initially had this detail wrong, and the error is mine alone. In hearing what happened, I thought Murray slammed the club in the sand. After reaching out again to an eyewitness of the event, its clear I misunderstood the severity and what was at issue was that Murray did touch the sand, though apparently not in anger according to those present. With his club, he showed his caddie the lack of sand by dragging the sand with his club.)
After the round, his playing partner called him on the violation, and Murray tried his best to explain it away (the details of this explanation were initially not clear to me, but see update below). At least one of his playing partners notified an official, and at that point, removed himself from the conversation. It’s also unclear what happened between the rules official and Murray, but at the end of the day, Murray did not accept a clear penalty called on him by his playing partner.
(UPDATE: Per discussion with the source of the information, Murray claimed that when his club made contact with the sand, he was preparing the bunker for whoever was going to rake it, thus “making an effort to take care of the golf course.”)
This is just another story in a long line of stories about this dude, but one of the most significant ones I’ve heard involving an on-course incident. The players take the rules very seriously, and I can promise you that this story is spreading quickly through the locker room. It was followed up another instance, where Murray got in a fan’s face, arms spread out wide, and yelled “Really!? REALLY!?” (UPDATE: Important to note here that there was a lake between Grayson and the fan, and he was not in a fan’s face as initially mentioned.)
The witness to the story said that the incident was “scary.” Not good.
UPDATE: Considering the sensitive nature around the rules of golf, I should have reached out to Grayson’s team for comment before posting . To clarify, everything updated above was based on information clarified with the source. Additionally, Grayson’s manager provided a statement, which you will see in its entirety below:
My name is Kevin Canning and I am manager of Grayson Murray.
I would like to comment on the “article” you ran this morning recapping the Memorial Tournament via No Laying Up.
First, in regards to your erroneous claim “he (Grayson) slammed the sand in disgust, clearly grounding his club in the hazard.” According to multiple eyewitnesses, which included the playing partner who brought up the possible infraction, caddies in the group and a spectator, Grayson never slammed his club in the sand in disgust. As part of his normal post-shot routine from a bunker, Grayson will repair the area in which he just played from, many players do this. In the rules of golf this is considered “caring for the course” and is not an infraction. Neither of Grayson’s playing partners told the Rules Official, who handled the matter after the round in the 9th Hole Scoring area, said Grayson “slammed the sand in disgust”. To repeat, repairing the area you just played from, even if your ball remains in the bunker, is NOT a violation of the rules, again it is deemed “caring for the course.” When Grayson was asked by the Rules Official if he did repair the area after hitting his shot, he stated he did not remember but since it is something he does after every bunker shot, he more than likely did repair the area. Both the playing partner that mentioned the issue and the Rules Official handling the situation did not feel Grayson’s actions warranted a penalty. Grayson actually thanked his playing partners for mentioning the possible infraction because he did not want to sign an incorrect scorecard if he was deemed to have committed a rules infraction. To be fair, one of his playing partners did not see the incident and did not offer his opinion during the post-round discussion.
Second, in response to “his playing partner called him on the violation, and Murray tried his best to explain it away”. Again, not factual. The playing partner mentioned it because he didn’t know the rule and wanted to make sure if it was or was not a violation. He did this not only to protect the field but to protect Grayson from signing an incorrect scorecard. This is a pretty standard response to any rules situation that occurs during a round. Grayson did not try his “best to explain it away”, in fact he told the Rules Official that he always does maintenance on the area he hits a bunker shot from as part of his normal post-shot routine. Again, cleaning up the area you hit a shot from is not a violation even if your ball remains in the bunker. It is considered “caring for the course.”
Third, it is not a fair statement to say “Murray did not accept a clear penalty called on him by his playing partner.” Grayson explained his side of the story, the player who mentioned was satisfied with the explanation and the Rules Official deemed that no penalty was going to be given.
In response to your story about a fan altercation. Again, this is not in line with the facts. The facts are this (also according to eyewitnesses I have spoken to) while Grayson was over a 5 foot birdie putt on the 14th green on Friday, a patron in the crowd on the side of the 14th green answered his cell phone. The cell phone was not on silent, it loudly rang and the patron engaged in a phone conversation without leaving the area he was watching from, which was about 30 feet away from where Grayson was attempting to putt. Grayson stepped away from his putt and said “Come on man, really?” He did not get “directly in a fan’s face” at this point or any other point during the round. Josh Gregory, Grayson’s instructor, was standing next to the patron who answered his phone and had a discussion with the patron about the situation. Mr. Gregory and told the patron that if you are going on have your phone on the course it needs to be on silent and you cannot have a conversation 30 feet away from a player who is putting. I don’t know whom described the incident as “scary” but there was clearly nothing that Grayson did that was out of line, confrontational or “scary”. Grayson did not ask the patron to be removed, which would’ve been an acceptable response to a violation of PGA TOUR protocol about cell phone usage on the course.
I hope in the future you will reach out to myself or Grayson prior to running a tournament recap in which you provide commentary on two incidents in which he was directly involved. Especially when the topics you covered, and the way in which you described them, can have a VERY deleterious impact on a player’s reputation and how he will be perceived by the golfing public and his fellow competitors on the PGA TOUR. Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement.
Phil Gets a #TourSauce Lesson
I’m standing on the 15th tee on Saturday as I’m following Kyle Stanley and Phil, and there’s a backup as usual. In the group ahead, Russell Knox pulls one left, and displays the full #TourSauce logo with a wayward point to the left. I was looking down at the time, so Bones turns to me to get my attention and explains that I just missed the perfect point. Phil starts asking some questions, class was in session. Bones practically got out a blackboard and some chalk and outlined a full #TourSauce 101 syllabus to an intrigued Phil. Thankfully Matt Presley was there to witness it.
Phil asks what's going on, Bones explains tour sauce to him and he chuckles as Soly's whole life comes together right before his eyes
— Matt Presley (@theprez4) June 3, 2017
Those who have followed us for awhile know that Kyle Stanley’s traj was my initial man-crush way back in the pre-NLU era, even before he burst onto the scene at Torrey and in Phoenix. Unfortunately he had trouble maintaining the success that came so quickly to him, and after a couple of dark years, it’s awesome to see him have some really nice finishes in some big time events (T4 at the Players, T6 this week). His ball striking is still something to behold, and as I’ve said for years, when he putts it just average, he’s in some kind of contention. If you get a chance at a tournament, go follow him for 9 holes. The crowds won’t be insane, you’ll be able to get great viewpoints, and you’ll be really impressed with the lines he takes and how aggressively he fires at pins. Don’t be surprised at all if the putter gets hot one week, and he ends up winning one this year.
-I watched a fan look at Kevin Kisner’s caddie’s calves for the first time, his jaw drop, and then watched him frantically get the attention of the rest of his group to make sure they saw it. It was like watching a group of boys become men.
-Golf fans just yell out things that they associate a certain player with it. “Hey JT, Snapchat!” “Hey Rickie, where’s the orange!?” “Spring Break Crew!” It’s awful. If I was a tour pro, I would legitimately need some kind of therapy or advice for how to deal with such inane commentary on every single hole. Cheering and support is obviously part of the fan experience, but I don’t think people realize how dumb they sound, and how tiresome that stuff would get to a guy walking between the ropes every week.
-You hear players thank the volunteers often, but tournament operations really is something that I’ve grown a special appreciation for over the years. Working in the business world for a while will teach you that no step in the process is effortless. There’s people responsible for getting the ropes up, the scoreboards, the range balls separated out by brand, the marshalls, the media dining, the snack tents, the water coolers, communications, etc. It’s all one big crazy logistical nightmare, and the Memorial has always handled these things so effortlessly that it seems way easier than it actually is.
-I got the chance to play The Golf Club on Friday morning. It was an out of this world experience, and maybe one of my top five golf experiences ever. More to come on this in the future hopefully.