In his first quasi-official performance as an Oregon State golfer, Kevin Murphy was less than stellar.
The freshman from Rogue River, just days removed from becoming the only player in 84 years to capture three straight men's titles in the Southern Oregon Golf Championships, competed in the first qualifying round of his collegiate career.
"I played really bad," he said of the 2-over-par 74 at the Beavers' course, Trysting Tree, in Corvallis. "I was in last place. And it was playing easy."
He was 11 shots behind another OSU newcomer who blistered the course, junior transfer Alex Franklin. It was the first of four pre-tournament rounds the team would play to determine its lineup for the season-opening Kikkor Husky Invitational, hosted by the University of Washington.
Fortunately for Murphy, it was not indicative of how his foray to the next level would unfold.
In Round 2, at Gold Mountain Olympic Course in Bremerton, Wash., where the tournament was to be played, he shot 66. It was a couple strokes off the course record and vaulted him into second place in the team qualifying standings. Subsequent rounds of 70 and 72 during what was a team retreat of sorts tied him for first with Franklin and earned a spot in the tournament.
Murphy had shown throughout his high school and junior golf careers that substandard rounds seldom keep him down. The initial qualifying round was no different.
"It really got me determined and focused to do better," he said.
His fine play has continued.
Murphy tied for 11th place in the 15-team tournament with a 54-hole score of 1-under 215.
Oregon State came in third behind two Pac-12 Conference mates, Washington and Arizona State, and ahead of four others: Oregon, Southern Cal, Washington State and Utah.
In the Beavers' next tournament, the Mark Simpson Colorado Invite last week, Murphy notched his first top 10, placing seventh with a 2-over 218 as the Beavers again finished third by a shot to Colorado and Washington State.
Through two tournaments and six rounds, Murphy leads the Beavers in scoring by one stroke over Franklin. Franklin, who played in the 2011 U.S. Amateur, attended Cal Poly and College of Marin before transferring to OSU and is another reason the Beavers have high hopes, said coach Jon Reehoorn.
OSU, which next plays in the Erin Hills Invitational in Erin, Wis., beginning Sunday, returned three key players from last year, when it advanced to the NCAA regionals for the seventh straight season.
As Reehoorn got to know Murphy through the recruiting process, he enjoyed the teenager's happy-go-lucky demeanor, was impressed by his impeccable short game and liked that the youngster is relatively unfazed by challenges and hasn't met a shot he didn't think he could pull off.
In the wall-to-wall golf setting since Murphy arrived at OSU two days after Labor Day — school doesn't start until this week — Reehoorn discovered something else: Murphy seems to be very much a perfectionist.
"The guy is never satisfied with anything," said Reehoorn. "That's why he is going to be really good."
Reehoorn, a former standout at Washington State, doesn't often tee it up with his players, but he did that first day at Trysting Tree and played with Murphy. They were each a couple under when Murphy triple-bogeyed the 12th hole and went into a tailspin.
"He was just trying way too hard," said Reehoorn. "He thought he needed to play well to show the guys on the team how good he is."
During the next round at Gold Mountain, Murphy again seemed to press early. Assistant coach Jonnie Motomochi, who followed his group, and Reehoorn encouraged him to relax, be himself and let it go. The freshman then shot 30 on the back nine for the 66.
"For a little while going into the first tournament, it was like, man, this is tough," said Murphy. "I'm playing for Oregon State, the coaches are relying on me, the team is relying on me, there are a lot of expectations for me to do well."
He felt like he needed "sort of a breakthrough," and it came in the form of an opening-round 69, good for co-second place at the time.
"It was kind of crazy because it was a pretty darn big tournament," said Murphy. "It turned out better than I could have imagined."
The beginning to his college career was gratifying, he acknowledged, but it didn't necessarily sate his desire to be without flaw. That's something Reehoorn got a taste of when Murphy was still in high school and often texted the coach with questions about what makes the best collegians tick.
In the van on the way back from Washington, Murphy told Reehoorn his swing wasn't good. Reehoorn disagreed and pulled out a stat-tracking program, showing Murphy he hit more greens in regulation during the tourney than he did in qualifying.
He had a team-best 12 birdies in three rounds and didn't make worse than a bogey.
"He lives and breathes golf, and he continuously pursues trying to get better," said Reehoorn.
To that end, Reehoorn has a couple of primary objectives: Keep Murphy believing in his swing and himself, and ingrain the notion that every shot requires sharp focus.
When player and coach went over stats in the van, they identified four or five lost strokes, said Reehoorn, that could be attributed to mental lapses.
"At the junior level, he could get away with those mistakes," said Reehoorn. "But he has goals, and if he wants to reach those goals, he can't get away with those kinds of mistakes."
"Kevin has the ability to shoot a really low round every time he goes out," he added. "If staying focused helps him save one shot a round, it helps the team."
For instance, Murphy missed a 2-foot putt in his opening round. Nerves might have played a part, he said, but he understands Reehoorn's message.
"The No. 1 thing he stresses is commitment to the process," said Murphy. "If you commit to each shot, you're gonna hit it pretty good and make the right plays."
In golf metrics, one stroke a round could mark the difference between being a decent player and being an All-American, said Reehoorn.
Which brings us to Murphy's goals.
One of the exercises Reehoorn has his players do is write down goals for the season, which is made up of fall and spring sessions. Murphy's include never finishing outside the top 25, placing in the top 10 at least three times and winning a tournament.
He wants to show Reehoorn he will practice more than anyone on the team. He wants to show he'll practice smart. He wants to be the Beavers' best player.
"That'll be tough," said Murphy, "because we have a good team."
They are high standards and he said he is serious about meeting them.
Reehoorn believes Murphy can be successful, so long as he cleans up "some simple mistakes.
"He's going to give himself plenty of opportunities to win tournaments. It's going to be fun to watch. I have high expectations for what he can achieve. He's a special kid."
And he's just getting started.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org