BACK in March, John Murphy had a disappointing end to what was meant to his final year as a college golfer with the cancellation of the NCAA season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there was some hope as news came that seniors would be allowed to participate again in the 2020-21 academic year and then last week the Kinsale native won this year’s Byron Nelson Award, a prize open to seniors across the USA.
Naturally, Murphy, who came home in March after the Covid outbreak, was delighted. He won twice during the academic year and his stroke average of 71.98 is the third-best ever by a University of Louisville golfer.
‘I got the news last Tuesday, but I couldn’t tell anybody until it was announced on the Thursday,’ he says.
‘Only my family knew about it, so it was funny enough, it was almost as if it happened twice. It was certainly a nice bonus to receive a phone call like that.
‘It combines golf and personality, how you treat others and your citizenship. Bryon Nelson was one of the best players of all-time. He retired at a relatively early age but he won 11 straight tournaments on the PGA Tour, which is pretty unbelievable. He was also fairly well-known for what he did off the course.’
Murphy credits his coach Sean Covich of West Virginia with putting him on the path to the honour.
‘The initial process was that my coach told me I was being nominated,’ he says.
‘That was nice but there are over 900 colleges in college golf, so any coach can nominate any player. Then, you had to write an essay to explain why you should be in contention for it and they look at that, combined with your golfing achievements.
‘I made it to the last three and I was over the moon about that. I felt that, once I got there, winning was a bonus – once I got to the last three, that was very satisfying for me.
‘When I got the call, I can’t say I was expecting it. I knew I had a really good senior year in terms of golf and that I was well-liked by the people interviewing me and on the selection committee.
‘Everything just seemed to work in my favour and it thankfully worked out in the end.’
One of the perks of winning is that Murphy will get to take part in the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas next May 13th-16th.
‘The award has been going on for 15 years and this is the first year that the winner knows he’s definitely going to get to play in a PGA Tour event,’ he says.
‘It’s only a new thing. The committee said they’d been working on it for a number of years, because it’s very hard to get amateurs into tour events.
‘It was the first thing that popped into my mind when I got the call, because the idea of competing in a PGA Tour event is a bit surreal, to be honest. It’s something you always think about and you work towards your whole life.
‘The fact that I get that opportunity now and that chance is still a bit hard to believe. It’s certainly something to look forward to.
‘It’s a bonus, it’s a kind of a pick-me-up, I didn’t expect it to happen. In golf, you just have to take the breaks you can get because you get enough bad breaks. I’m certainly going to try to take advantage of this and just enjoy it in every way that I can.’
Since coming home, Murphy has been taking things easy but, since the reopening of golf courses, he has been gearing up for a return to America next month.
‘It didn’t bother me too much, because I knew I wasn’t going to be playing a tournament for a few months,’ he says.
‘When I practice, I’m working towards something – I wouldn’t just be standing there hitting balls for no reason. I want there to be purpose behind me playing.
‘As of now, my plan is to go back to America in July and play a few tournaments, so at least I’ve something to work towards for the next few months. Something to get ready for, if that makes sense.’
In the autumn, he will return to college at the University of Louisiana in Kentucky – having completed a marketing major, he will undertake a minor in sports management. Prior to that, he is targeting some of the top amateur events, including the US Amateur Open in Bandon – Oregon, rather than West Cork. The Southern and Western Amateur Championships are also in his sights as he seeks to pick up where he left off before the enforced break.
‘It will take a little bit of time,’ he says, ‘but golf is such a strange game – you could take a month off and come back and play the best you ever have the next day. You just never know.
‘Since I’ve come back, I’ve been working on a few things with my coach Ian [Stafford], just to stay on top of it and make sure I’m sharp when things come back.’