All you golf nuts trapped in last week's subfreezing weather should know that it wasn't exactly a picnic down in South Florida. Why, heck, the temperature never crawled out of the 60's during the final round of the Royal Caribbean Classic, the first full-field stop on the Senior tour. And it was so dang windy at the Links at Key Biscayne that Bob Murphy, who has been known to blow leads and titles on blustery days, was compelled to resort to drastic measures.
First, and this should tell you exactly how hard the wind was blowing, Murphy put aside his trademark wide-brimmed hat in favor of a baseball cap. As everybody knows, you see Murphy without the hat about as often as you see Sophia Loren without makeup. Then, before teeing it up, Murphy also instructed his caddie to break out the huge beach towel that he carries in his luggage for weather-related emergencies.
"I used that last year at Pensacola," said Murphy, "it was cold and nasty, and the wind was blowing. I wrapped the towel around my shoulders. It encapsulates me and keeps me from having to come out of a jacket before every shot."
Even as you're reading this, new Bob Murphy signature warming towels are probably rolling off the lines at Callaway, the equipment company that supplies him with his clubs and headwear. You know how golfers like to be on the cutting edge of fashion, right? Besides, the towel is as good a reason as any why Murphy was able to gain what he called "sweet revenge" for what the wind did to his long, deliberate swing last year in this very tournament. Look at it this way: Superman has his cape. Murphy has his towel.
After opening last year with a 66 that gave him a two-shot lead, Murphy billowed to a second-round 78 because he couldn't cope with the winds that were gusting off Biscayne Bay at upward of 40 mph. This was hardly a shock. Although Murphy has lived in South Florida most of his 52 years (he'll turn 53 on Valentine's Day) and thus should be accustomed to dealing with windy conditions, he is, by his own admission, "not known as the world's greatest wind player."
But on Sunday he wrestled the lead away from rookie Rick Acton on the first hole and was, well, gone with the wind. At the end Murphy's four-under 67 gave him a blunder total and a four-shot cushion over Hale Irwin. Acton, a club professional from Seattle who earned his tour card by finishing fifth in last fall's qualifying school. hung on for third, five shots back of Murphy.
"I didn't handle the wind today like Bob and Hale did," said Acton after a final-round 73. "Their experience showed. I made several poor club selections and aiming selections that they didn't. Bob Murphy played an absolutely spectacular round of golf under the conditions."
Exactly how spectacular was Towelman? His 67 was the day's low round by two shots (Graham Marsh, with a 69, was the only other player to break par on Sunday). The wind was so vicious that 12 players failed to break 80. Of the 14 players who were within five shots of the lead after two rounds, only Murphy improved his position.
After grinding out a 72 that left him tied for fourth place with Mike Hill at four under par, Raymond Floyd said, "I didn't handle the conditions well. In my mind, the hardest conditions to play under are high winds. The round Murphy shot was incredible."
It was the kind of finish many expected from Irwin. It was generally assumed that after he turned 50 last June the three-time U.S. Open winner would instantly rule the Senior tour. (Everybody say, "Hail, Hale!") The only variable was how many Senior events Irwin, who was still competitive on the regular Tour, would play. He entered 12 and had two wins, three seconds and 11 top-10 finishes. Impressive, to be sure, but not total domination.