The Rex Hospital Open has been awfully good to Grayson Murray.
He’s hoping it will be that way again this year.
As a 16-year-old in 2010, the Raleigh native become the second-youngest player to make a 36-hole cut in a Web.com Tour event, with a 66 in the second round of the Rex. That earned him a measure of golf acclaim.
Six years later, he returned to the Country Club at Wakefield Plantation trying to get his pro golf career jumpstarted, saying, “One good week can change your whole path.”
A good week, and a tie for 10th in the Rex, did just that. The Web.com Tour became his path to the PGA Tour, and in 2017 he won the Barbasol Open and earned almost $1.5 million on the big tour.
Which brings us to 2019, and a different kind of challenge for Murray, now 25.
In early April, after withdrawing from the Valero Texas Open, he posted on his Instagram account that a back injury would keep him out for six months. His golf year, in essence, was done.
“I’m off the PGA Tour until the fall but I get a few rehab starts out here and I was feeling pretty good and I feel I owe it back to Rex because I got it all started here a few years ago,” Murray said Wednesday after playing nine holes in the pro-am at Wakefield. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
The tournament begins Thursday at Wakefield and will be Murray’s first start since tying for 12th in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in late-March, his best finish in 14 PGA Tour events this year.
A week later, Murray said he was in a gym in San Antonio, working out, when he said his back “spasmed out.” Treatment didn’t help -- “There’s a lot of wear and tear,” he said of his back issues -- and that was that. The plan was to take a lot of time off but the plan changed a bit.
“I’m in good spirits and I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “Feeling the way I feel right now it was a no-brainer to play in my hometown. I still can’t go at it a hundred percent and won’t use a driver this week but I think I’m 90 percent right now and that’s good enough for me to go.”
Murray’s golf story is unusual if an intriguing one, with twists and turns mixed in with some social media controversy.
A former N.C. high school champion at Leesville Road High, he was given the prestigious Arnold Palmer scholarship to attend Wake Forest. But that would be the first stop on an odyssey that took him to East Carolina, briefly to UNC Greensboro and then Arizona State.
Murray, never fond of attending class when he could be teeing it up, decided to turn pro.. He made the most out of his sponsor’s exemption into the Rex in 2016, posting the first of eight top-10 finishes. He won the last event of the year and banked more than $400,000 to finish second on the money list, securing him playing rights on the PGA Tour the next year.
While his golf game was good enough, Murray had a few things to learn about social media and the platform a PGA Tour player has in the Twitter-verse. He was active and outspoken -- certainly more active and outspoken that some Tour types would like.
Asking a Playboy model to caddie for him in the Par-3 Contest at the Masters was one thing and became a moot point when he didn’t qualify. But he also questioned the relevancy and solvency of the PGA Tour Champions, a tweet that he quickly apologized for, saying, “I have nothing but respect for the guys that paved my way to play this game. I’m sorry to everyone I disrespected and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Murray created another stir on the course in 2017. He and caddie Mike Hicks, a family friend, split up -- during the middle of a round.
It was live and let live for Murray. But he has learned. No more opinionated tweets that can offend. If he does use Twitter it’s to show support for such things as The First Tee of the Triangle. which uses golf to teach young kids life lessons.
For now, it’s about this week and the Rex, about seeing how his back handles it. “This tournament has always been special to me,” said Murray, who owns a house in Raleigh.
Then it will be about regaining his status on the PGA Tour.
“I know I’m good enough to be out there for a long time,” Murray said. “Guys will go through stretches where they don’t play good and then do play good. You just have to ride the highs and try to manage the lows.”
Take it from a man who knows.
Rex Hospital Open
When: Thursday through Sunday
Where: The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation