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Top Banana
Gary Van Sickle
February 17, 2003
At the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Bill Murray stole clothing, threw fruit—and once again demonstrated the importance of not being earnest
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February 17, 2003

Top Banana

At the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Bill Murray stole clothing, threw fruit—and once again demonstrated the importance of not being earnest

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It is time to acknowledge what has become stupefyingly obvious: The tournament that used to be called the Crosby, after the great crooner Bing, has become, for all practical purposes, the Murray, after the man who last Friday gave a scalp massage to a female spectator on the 15th tee and hit the Pebble Beach sign above the golf shop with a well-flung banana. Bill Murray is a multisport comedian. He oversees promotions as co-owner of a couple of minor league baseball teams, and he's done play-by-play on a Cubs broadcast. But it's his annual appearances at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that provide spiritual refreshment.

On that hallowed, ocean-kissed course Murray plays golf like nobody else, but like golf was a game meant for playing. And people find this irresistible. At Pebble Beach even Tiger Woods gets eclipsed by Caddyshack's Carl Spackler. How else to explain that advance ticket sales for this year, when Woods was out and Murray in, outstripped last year, when Murray missed but Tiger played?

You could call Murray the Meadowlark Lemon of golf, except the Globetrotters had more set pieces. Murray flies blind and flirts shamelessly. "Stick with us," he told two women on Friday. "Maybe we'll find some beer and wine." Later he scored a blue scarf from a female fan and wore it around his waist the rest of the round. When eight teenagers in sombreros joined his gallery, Murray cocked an eyebrow and said, "Are you here for the closing ceremonies?" Then he added, "I thought we tightened up our borders." Saturday was Murray's banana day: He tossed a peel at his pro partner, Scott Simpson, on the 1st tee, which incited Simpson and the rest of the foursome, actor Andy Garcia and pro Paul Stankowski, to throw bananas back. This is not, you see, a man who demands quiet on the course. "You!" Murray said suddenly, pointing to a white-haired woman watching him on the 10th tee last Thursday. "I need you in my posse!"

That's not exactly an exclusive group. The working-class kid from Willamette, Ill., is the Pied Piper of Pebble Beach. Kevin Costner had 25 fans behind him as he came off the 14th tee on Thursday. Murray, playing just behind him, had at least 10 times that number.

What makes the scene even more delicious is that the golf establishment once opposed Murray even being in the Murray. In their defense, PGA honchos circa 1992 were unprepared for a golfer wearing bib overalls and a hat shaped like the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome. Early on, Murray pulled an elderly woman out of the gallery, danced with her in a bunker, then tossed her into the sand. In '93 he yelled "Hurry Up!" at former vice president Dan Quayle as Quayle was about to hit a shot. That brought the wrath of then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who blasted Murray's behavior as "inappropriate" and "detrimental" to the tournament. Murray responded by likening the Tour to "a Nazi state" and demanded Beman's resignation, calling him "just another screw-head too big for his britches." For once he wasn't kidding. "Bill almost didn't come back after the first year," says Simpson. "Now he's embraced"

That's putting it mildly. Last Friday, when Murray hit his ball into the rough on the 16th hole, a middle-aged woman stretched out next to it Murray promptly pounced on her, gyrating spasmodically. A moment later he helped her to her feet. "You all right?" Murray asked.

"I am now," the woman said, speaking for sports fans everywhere.

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