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  • GOLF

    Different Strokes

    Rogue River teen Murphy has taken an atypical route to golf stardom
  • ROGUE RIVER — The bays beckon. Three of them. They're pristine, clean as could be, but that's what you'd expect. It's a car wash, and liberal amounts of soap and water run through it.
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  • ROGUE RIVER — The bays beckon. Three of them. They're pristine, clean as could be, but that's what you'd expect. It's a car wash, and liberal amounts of soap and water run through it.
    But it's also tidy because of the young man who serves as caretaker. This is Kevin Murphy's baby.
    You pull in not long after the sun has risen and he's there, sweeping. His broom strokes might be the best of any car-wash attendant ever. He plays golf, and he plays it very well, hence the correlation.
    The sign on the building says, simply, "Car Wash."
    Not "Murphy's Car Wash?" a visitor asks.
    "You don't really need a name on it," he says. "It's the only one around here."
    Perfectly understated. This is a familiar theme with the 18-year-old.
    Murphy's unpretentious demeanor belies the level of acclaim he's achieved in golf. He's captured a national junior event, won a state individual championship, represented Oregon in tournaments and, last summer, became the youngest champion in the 82-year history of the Southern Oregon Golf Championships.
    He has his own equipment deal with TaylorMade, one of only 10 to 15 juniors in the nation who do, says company representative Ryan Ressa, and he has verbally accepted a full scholarship — rare for minor sports — to Oregon State.
    Murphy's grandest golf achievement, he says, was taking the American Junior Golf Association tournament at Centennial Golf Club in mid-July. They are hard to win, he reasons, and good friend Dylan Wu had claimed one, so that, too, was motivation.
    "I thought I could do it and I really wanted to do it," says Murphy.
    To come through was immensely gratifying. But there is a back story.
    On his way to Centennial, he stopped by the car wash to sweep, fill the change machines, make sure the soap mix was correct, stock the vending machines, do whatever needed to be done.
    Then he hopped on Interstate 5, using gas he pays for in a car he insures and with a cell phone nearby for which he foots the bill, all possible from the quarters that clank into the guts of the change boxes.
    In the first round of the AJGA, he vaulted into the lead with a 5-under-par 67. He then practiced a bit and hung around before starting the 30-plus-mile drive home. Before meandering through town and out West Evans Creek Road to the family property, he stopped.
    At the car wash.
    More cleaning. More sprucing. Murphy smiled throughout. As he worked, he reflected on his play that day. Who wouldn't smile?
    He did it again the next day, and the next, going 13 under and winning by seven strokes.
    "I've always thought that was kind of cool," says his father, Pat, an electrician who bought the car wash as an investment, then turned it over to Kevin when he became old enough to oversee it. "Here he comes off this tournament and he's a star shooting these low rounds. Then he goes and cleans out the car wash and dumps the trash cans. It's pretty cool."
    Murphy is not the typical country-club kid who populates big-time junior tournaments.
    He doesn't live on or even near a golf course, meaning access as he grew up was infrequent.
    He's one of 12 children, six boys and six girls, and, like his siblings, was mostly home-schooled.
    With such a large family, money went to food, clothes, utilities and study materials rather than golf equipment and tournament fees. His first golf shoes and bag once belonged to brother Brian. His first clubs, Clevelands, were Dad's hand-me-downs.
    "It was pretty rough stuff," says Pat, relaxing at home with his wife, Jo, and Kevin on a cushy, dark brown, leather sofa just off the kitchen. "Everyone was swapping clubs."
    Then he laughs, "I wanted my clubs back."
    "There were a lot of years," says Jo, "when he was not using good equipment."
    "It was almost embarrassing," nods Dad.
    For Kevin's part, he marveled at the nice clubs other kids used and longed to have some that gleamed in sunlight rather than his dull ones that rebuffed rays.
    To suggest the family was destitute, however, would be inappropriate. Pat and Jo moved from California 22 years ago and bought 10 wooded acres. For 11/2 years, and with oodles of kids running around, they lived in a mobile home while they built their house.
    "The kids and I built this house together with our own hands," says Pat, who was a contractor in California before turning solely to electrical work here.
    "That front corner wall," says Jo, "I remember standing that very first wall up with you."
    It's 3,700 square feet with seven bedrooms. It appears as well-kept and sturdy now as it must have back then. Kevin got out of the construction work, wisely waiting to be born. In fact, Jo gave birth to him and younger brother David in the house.
    They are the two youngest. The Murphy kids are 18 years and one day apart.
    Pat and Jo always figured they'd have a big family. It's what they were used to.
    U
    PAT WAS BORN IN North Carolina and raised in South Dakota. He was one of nine children, the son of a Marine captain who later became a lawyer. At 18, Pat joined the Coast Guard and wound up in Stockton, Calif. His parents moved there and bought a tennis club, thinking it would be nice to have a family business.
    Pat never got into tennis. His game was racquetball.
    Jo had 12 brothers and sisters. She was born in upstate New York but raised in Lodi, Calif., a dozen miles or so from Stockton. She attended junior college and worked in a hospital emergency room.
    The two met in Stockton and tied the knot.
    As the family grew, they considered finding a less-crowded area to move to. They happened to pass through the Rogue Valley and came upon the property on which they now live.
    "I said, 'This is a nice area,'" recalls Jo. "We saw a lot for sale, we called a realtor and we bought it."
    When the house was finished, all the kids were under the roof for about a year, she says. A wall just inside the front door is lined with portraits of them, oldest to youngest.
    Each has his or her own distinctions. One daughter, Jennifer, gained fame as Miss Oregon USA in 2004 and for landing a spot the following year on the reality TV show "The Apprentice." She lasted six weeks before Donald Trump told her, "You're fired!"
    Jessica is the oldest and started it all. Mary and JoAnn are twins. When the kids were young, Mom got them into all sorts of sports — gymnastics, tennis, hockey, figure skating. Paul and Brian were especially athletic.
    Paul, in fact, was quite the break dancer and taught his siblings a few moves. Kevin elected not to spin on his head.
    "That's never been one of my favorites, break dancing," says Dad. "But it's definitely athletic."
    As the second youngest, Kevin says, it was a fight for food at the table.
    "Trust me, it was hard for us all," he says. Then he grins and turns to his mom. "Because you didn't exactly make a lot of food, and there were a lot of us."
    "I kept them lean and in shape," she says.
    Living well outside of town on a big piece of property and being home-schooled made the family very close. Kevin had the benefit of learning from his older brothers and sisters.
    "I couldn't really see it any other way," he says. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. I loved having them all around. We always had something to do."
    He learned do's and don'ts and, to listen to neighbor Bob Lund, he learned them well.
    When Lund moved in, it wasn't long before Kevin and David came down the narrow road connecting their homes and offered to help. Lund had never met such honest, polite kids. He had odd jobs for them, paying $7 an hour, and told them to keep track of their time.
    Kevin turned in a bill for an odd number, something like $37.85.
    "They figured it to the absolute minute," says Lund, laughing. "I said, geez, we really don't do that around here. We round it up to the half hour."
    He gave them a bit more than they asked for, and they thought him to be especially generous.
    The kids drive carefully on the one-lane road used by a half-dozen homeowners and always stop to say hello and ask if they can help with anything, adds Lund.
    He has encouraged Kevin to call him "Bob," but it won't take. It's always "Mr. Lund."
    "Pat and Jo have done a marvelous job raising them," he says.
    In life matters, certainly. In golf, well "…
    U
    TO SAY THE MURPHYS don't live near a golf course is mostly true. There is a hitting mat on their back patio and it points to three greens in the valley below. They're at 100, 130 and 185 yards.
    This is where Kevin learned to swing a golf club, albeit, poorly.
    Golf was nothing more than a family hobby, says Jo. Pat played in the low 80s on his best days, but there was nothing to suggest a prodigy was in their midst.
    "Kevin had the funniest backswing of everybody," says Pat. "He'd go back and he'd look behind him. I'd say, 'What are you doing, saying 'Hi' to everybody? Keep your eye on the ball.'"
    "I wasn't shown how to do it right," Kevin protests.
    Some people putt with their left hand low. He hit everything that way.
    But his game changed soon enough. Dad helped with mechanics out back. They initially had the two long holes to hit to, then decided one from 100 yards would be good. They dug a hole on the right, where a pond would evolve, and used the dirt to build a green with a couple adjoining bunkers.
    In their early years, the boys and twin girls played baseball and softball on different teams. Mom put a halt to that.
    "There were 20 practices per team, 20 games per team and they were NOT at the same locations and they were NOT at the same times and I was NOT going to do it," she says.
    Golf seemed a better alternative.
    Kevin and his brothers tagged along with Dad to Laurel Hill, a par-3 course in Gold Hill, from time to time. Kevin was 10.
    Soon after, the owners of Cedar Links, who also home-schooled their children, says Jo, had a day once a week for those kids to play.
    The following year, Jo took the kids to Rogue Valley Country Club, where then-assistant pro Tracy Snyder provided the kids' first formal lessons. Alas, Kevin still didn't stick out.
    "I remember all of them being very new to the game," says Snyder, now the head pro. "And they were very excited to be there. Once they started in on lessons, they were always around and just fell in love with it. Especially Kevin and David. You could see it in their eyes every time they walked around the corner.
    "But as far as him standing out, no, not at all."
    Their development was compromised because they lived so far from courses. Only when Jo made shopping trips a couple times a week to Medford or a sibling was heading there could the youngsters hitch rides.
    Later, Rogue River High golf coach Mike Sovine packed Kevin, who was in the eighth grade, along to high school practices at Eagle Point.
    Kevin's first round in the 70s came five years ago at age 13 at Running Y Resort in Klamath Falls. That's when the inkling surfaced that he "could become a decent golfer," he says, if he worked at it.
    Eventually, he took lessons from Ed Fisher at RVCC. And eventually, he got his driver's license.
    "I knew when I got it, it would be a whole different thing," says Kevin. "I wouldn't have things holding me back. That solved it."
    Oh, and those sparkling new clubs he yearned for? He bought a set of Titleist AP2 irons as he began playing in high school. Naturally, he used his own money.
    Murphy's successes since have been well-chronicled.
    During the Centennial AJGA, he asked a reporter if there would be a story on the tournament. He was uncertain how often the newspaper came out. Some people who are written about rush to get it. Murphy only saw the stories when friends delivered them, often at church.
    His parents have taught him that everything must be kept in balance: faith, school, work, golf.
    "Kevin knows that and he respects that," Jo says.
    Most recently on the course, his golf has been very good.
    He tied for second place in the Oregon Stroke Play Championships and tied for sixth in the Sunriver Junior, another AJGA event, on Thursday after shooting a final-round 5-under 66.
    He's in the city tournament this weekend and will defend his title in the Southern Oregon next week.
    Then it'll be back to school for his senior year at Rogue River High.
    With regular stops along the way at the car wash.
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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