The temperature was dropping quickly and the setting sun provided an ideal backdrop. A few spectators drifted in and out of the upscale retail shops that parallel the practice green.
No one was putting until a solitary player arrived with an open bottle of wine tucked into the back pocket of his pants. It was Bill Murray, and it didn’t take long for an increasing number of fans (and golfers) to watch his impromptu routine.
When Murray made a putt, he’d take an extended swig from his bottle of wine. When his missed a putt, the crowd collectively groaned. It was a hilarious, unrehearsed half-hour of comedy.
Scott Simpson knows Murray’s ways better than anyone, although the circumstances are quite different.
Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open winner and the reigning First Tee Open winner, and Murray, the actor/comedian and star the now legendary golf 1980 movie Caddyshack, have been playing partners during the AT&T since 1993.
They’ve missed a few years because of scheduling conflicts. Yes, despite their overtly different personalities, Simpson and Murray have built a sustained friendship and an ideal playing partnership.
Murray wears funny hats, baggy shorts and engages the gallery. Simpson is often reserved and attends the PGA Tour’s weekly faith meetings.
And the were paired together last February during the AT&T’s 60th anniversary edition.
“I think it would be silly to break that (team) up,” said Ollie Nutt, tournament director. “It’s a little bit of the tournament lore now, I guess. Bill is really such a good golfer. If he weren’t performing out there,
he’d likely play really well.”
Simpson and Murray began their pro-am pairing during one of the tournament’s unusual years. Australian PGA Tour rookie Brett Ogle became the second of only three foreign-born tournament winners. Simpson and Murray, meanwhile, began their partnership with ideal exchanges.
“I told him the first year, ‘Bill, if you’d like to play with someone else, go ahead; it’s ok,” Simpson recalled. “Bill looked at me and said, ‘No we gotta go win this thing.’ ”
The same year, Murray attracted dubious attention when he pulled an elderly woman into a sand trap at Pebble Beach. The woman fell down. The overt laughter was countered by less-than-glowing reactions from then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman and a few players, including Tom Watson. Murray was unsure he would return to the tournament.
Simpson, whose tie for 38th place that year was 10 places higher than the previous year, told Murray it was the most fun he’d had playing golf.
The Simpson-Murray pro-am team has yet to contest for the title, but they’ve finished as high as a seventh-place tie (1995) in the AT&T pro. They play together in various other tournaments, including a shared-pro situation during last fall’s First Tee Open.
With Murray watching from the gallery during the final round, Simpson claimed his first Champions Tour win. Murray provided plenty of banter during the waning holes, and Simpson kept pace, adding a few one-liners while en route to the title.
“You talk with him (Murray) about playing in the AT&T and every round is like 36 holes,” explained Nutt. “He’s basically expected to do something on every tee and the on every green.
“The reason I think Scott and Bill get along so well is that they’re opposites. I think it (Murray) relaxes Scott. He plays better when he’s around Bill. He doesn’t have someone who he’s trying to compete with for the same stage. But what I appreciate most about Bill is that he’s always listening. He’s out there performing, but he knows what’s going on in the tournament all time.”