The real world beckons, and Kevin Murphy, armed principally with a golf bag full of clubs and a swashbuckler’s mentality, will venture forth.
“You’re basically gambling with your money and gambling on your golf skills,” said the former Rogue River High state champion, who recently completed his senior year at Oregon State and is embarking on a professional career.
Murphy took his final exam on Tuesday morning, was back home in Rogue River that afternoon, and was on the highway headed east Thursday morning.
He’ll play on The Dakotas Tour this summer. It has 19 tournaments, beginning next week in Vermillion, South Dakota, and ending the first week of September.
The fields have roughly 60 pros, and winner’s checks are in the $10,000 area, with a few that are two or three times that because of sponsor enhancement.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” said Murphy, who was the Beavers’ No. 2 scorer in 2016-17 with an average round of 73.39. “When it comes down to every tournament being kind of for my livelihood, it makes things a little more stressful. But I’m planning to just go out and have fun and treat it like any other round of golf.”
The potential to win a good chunk of cash will be “extra motivation,” he said.
“I naturally want to practice all the time,” he said, “and I think that will make me enjoy practice even more, just knowing the benefits that could come from it.”
Murphy doesn’t have sponsors backing him. He realized when he entered Oregon State that this was the path he’d likely navigate. He’s saved enough money for entry fees — about $800 per event on the Dakotas — and travel expenses to get through the summer even if he makes “absolutely no money,” he said.
That is unlikely to happen, of course.
Oregon State coach Jon Reehorn believes Murphy is a strong candidate to make it professionally.
Two years ago, he watched Murphy go head-to-head with Arizona State’s Jon Rahm, now a PGA Tour neophyte who has ascended to No. 10 in the world rankings.
Murphy is a long way from that level, but he has shown encouraging signs. He makes lots of birdies and has a terrific short game — “He’s one of the best putters I’ve ever seen,” said Reehorn.
What plagued Murphy in college was inconsistency, too many moments when “he wasn’t totally into the shot,” said Reehorn.
“When he’s able to dedicate all his time to practice, I think he’ll do really well,” said the coach. “He’s a great putter, has a great short game and hits his irons really well. When it’s time to focus on golf and be all about golf, I think he’ll do great.”
Murphy didn’t achieve all he wanted to in college.
He didn’t win any tournaments, didn’t make the NCAAs.
He was the Beavers’ top scorer as a junior, with a 73.50 stroke average, and his best scoring season was as a sophomore (72.92).
He had three top-10 placings In 11 tournaments both as a junior and a senior.
This past year, he twice shot second-round scores of 66, but surrounded them with rounds that were seven or eight shots worse.
“It was a very up-and-down year,” said Murphy, “kind of a roller coaster. I had some good tournaments, but it seemed like I couldn’t put more than one really good round together.”
He misses were big, he said, and he didn’t hit enough greens. His short game often saved him.
College golf was a different animal from junior golf, when he got to practice much more and had ready access to his professional instructor, Ed Fisher at Rogue Valley Country Club.
During junior golf, said Murphy, “It was swing improvements that kind of catapulted me.”
He hit the ball straighter before college than during it, he said.
“I think what kind of made it a little inconsistent was me trying to make swing changes without any guidance,” said Murphy. “When you’re playing OK, but not great, you want to get to the next level. I felt stagnant for a while.”
How players handle being removed from their personal instructors varies, said Reehorn, depending “on the amount they relied on their swing coach at home.”
He encourages players to engage with their mentors, using video when feasible, and he occasionally has conversations with the instructors.
A bigger adjustment, said Reehorn, is handling the stress of being a college golfer: academic responsibilities, missed classes, travel, studying on the road, qualifying rounds, tournaments.
Only baseball players miss more class time than golfers, he said.
Murphy won’t have to worry about that now. He has a three-credit business class to complete online this summer, but otherwise, it’s all golf.
He chose The Dakotas Tour because with higher entry fees, there’s a chance to make more money than on other mini tours.
Doug Quinones, who has ties to the Rogue Valley, has played four years on the Dakotas. He placed sixth on the money list each of the past two years, making more than $60,000 in 27 events over two summers.
“He thinks it’s a good tour and he’s done well on it,” said Murphy.
Murphy will travel the tour with former Beaver teammates and other friends. His girlfriend lives in the region, and so do some family members.
He won’t have much of a home base because tournaments come one after another, he said.
Though he’s familiar with some of the players and has a sense of the strength of the fields, Murphy wants to avoid preconceptions.
“I’m trying to not really think about that,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s just about shooting numbers, and if you can go out there and shoot really low on these easy golf courses, you’re going to do well.”
His options after the summer are attempting to qualify for the Web.com Tour or trying another circuit, such as the Asian Tour. His performance on the Dakotas will help determine the next step.
As he thought about the future, Murphy didn’t forget the past. It was in 2012 that he shot a 29 on the front nine as a junior and won the 3A/2A/1A state championship at Quail Valley in Banks.
“It feels so fast,” he said. “It’s crazy to think that was only five years ago.”
— Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org