KINSALE golfer John Murphy had more exposure than most to the disruptive nature of this strangest of years, but he is determined to end his college career on a high in 2021.
Back in March, when Covid-19 first began to spread, the NCAA – the body responsible for college sport in the USA, where Murphy studies – brought the season to a premature halt. The University of Louisville student did receive a reprieve of sorts as final-year students were given the opportunity to compete in the 2020-21 season, but the up-and-down nature of his luck continued when he was ruled out of the US Amateur Open in August after contracting Covid.
‘It certainly has been a strange year, with the whole stop-and-start and I even got Covid in between it all, which threw a spanner in the works,’ he says.
‘It was a matter of trying to make the most of what I had this year and I think I did a pretty good job of that.
‘Going back over to America, I felt that I got a lot better this semester and there were things that I worked on that I needed to work on and got a lot better.
‘As a whole, I feel that I used it in the right way and, hopefully, moving forward, it’ll benefit me.’
In Murphy’s case, getting Covid was thankfully not too serious, apart from the restrictions it imposed on his golf.
‘I was meant to fly out to the US Amateur Championship, which is the biggest amateur tournament over there,’ he says.
‘The day before I went, I was tested and I tested positive so I couldn’t go. That was a bit disheartening, it stung pretty badly, and I had to self-isolate for 14 days.
‘I haven’t had anything since but that fortnight was a bit strange. I just lost my taste and my smell and I had a cough for a day, but other than that it wasn’t too bad. It could have been a lot worse.’
Despite the interruptions, the winner of the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2018 and Mullingar Scratch Cup in 2019 is happy with his form as he faces into 2021.
‘I felt that there was a lot of good golf in there this year,’ he says.
‘Obviously, I didn’t get the chance to express it as much as I would have liked but I feel that my game is in a really good place.
‘I’ve a few weeks now to sharpen things up with my coach Ian before I get ready for a busy season and hopefully finish off my amateur career in the way that I want to.’
Back home in West Cork for Christmas, he will work with his coach Ian Stafford to make sure that everything is in full working order.
‘We have maintenance drills planned out that I do to make sure that my swing and my positions stay where I want them to,’ he says.
‘Right now, I feel that my swing is where I want it to be. There are a few things that need sharpening up but I feel like I have ‘my’ swing formed at this stage.
‘I know how I swing when I swing the golf club and I know what positions I get into, so it’s just a matter of doing those maintenance drills to make sure that I stay in those positions. Ian’s very good at spotting things like that and helping me out in that regard.
‘Before I know it, it’ll be January and nearly time to go again. That’s one thing I’ve learned about a break – it just goes so quickly and it can always be used for other things.
‘I’m going to take a few days off golf completely and just focus on my body and try to maintain strength and work out as much as possible. There are a few small things like that that you do have to work on when you have time off.
‘It’s kind of at the stage now where I’m trying to pinpoint little weaknesses in my game.
‘I have my strengths now and I know them and I know my weaknesses. It’s just a matter of trying to improve on my weaknesses so that my game can be better all-round.
‘There are attributes to my game that I don’t feel that I have to improve if I want to be successful in professional golf but then there are a couple of small things that I feel could do with some improvement if I want to go out and compete on the world stage straightaway.
He will get the chance to measure himself against the pros in May when he takes part in the AT&T Byron Nelson in Texas, having won the prestigious award named in honour of the five-time major winner.
It is a big opportunity, but he won’t be getting carried away.
‘Golf is funny in that you can be playing great and then have one bad week,’ he notes.
‘So if I go out and win the Byron Nelson, I’m not going to walk away and think I have it made or if I miss the cut I’m not going to think, “I’m not where I need to be.”
‘I’ve grown a lot of confidence over the last few years and I feel that I can compete when I turn professional and one week won’t be pivotal either way in that regard.
‘I’ll try to take advantage of the week as much as possible, but I feel like there’ll hopefully be plenty of opportunities down the road. I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket.’
Overall, it’s a case of things going as smoothly as they can – with the benefit of no more political talk.
‘Leading up to the election, you couldn’t hold a conversation without talking about it,’ Murphy says.
‘I didn’t really enjoy that – over here, I couldn’t tell you who my best friends voted for but in American you’re kind of judged off who you vote for and your friend-group is reliant on that.
‘I have noticed that that has stopped since the election and things have calmed down and they’re getting back to some sense of normality, which is nice.’