The redemption of Grayson Murray: Clutch birdie seals 2024 Sony Open in Hawaii via three-way playoff

HONOLULU – On the first hole of a three-man playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Grayson Murray faced a 40-foot birdie putt. Both of his competitors – Byeong Hun (Ben) An and Keegan Bradley – were well inside him, with An 4 feet from possibly his first win. Murray figured one if not both of them would make their birdie putts, so he knew he had to give his putt a chance. Did he ever.

His left-to-right breaking putt straightened out as it neared the hole and disappeared, center cut. When neither An nor Bradley converted their birdie putts, Murray was a champion again on the PGA Tour for the first time in six years, five months and 22 days.

“I kept telling Jay, (his caddie), we’re hitting good putts, we’re hitting them right where we want, and we’re going to have one drop today, and it’s going to be big… and it might be for the win.”

Murray closed in 3-under 67 on Sunday at Waialae Country Club, including a clutch birdie at 18 in regulation to force his way into the playoff with a 72-hole total of 17-under 263.

That he returned to the winner’s circle in Hawaii of all places is fitting as it was site of one of his lowest points. Three years ago during this tournament, Murray was involved in an incident at a hotel bar where many of the players stayed, and the Tour placed him on probation.

“Why was I drunk?” he posted on social media. “Because I’m an alcoholic that hates everything to do with the PGA Tour life and that’s my scapegoat.”

Nevertheless, Murray showed great promise on the course, winning the 2017 Barbasol Championship despite drinking during tournament week and admitting he played three days hungover when he won.

“Best thing and worst thing that ever happened to me was winning my rookie year,” he said. “I think the alcohol brought a side out of me that wasn’t me. It was kind of the monster in me in a way.”

But the early success proved to be short-lived. He struggled to make cuts and conceded he was jealous of the players he grew up competing against, who were having greater success. Along the way, he had a Twitter spat with a fellow player, suffered a scooter accident in 2022 in Bermuda, and threatened to quit on multiple occasions. Murray also dealt with anxiety and depression, and said there were days he didn’t want to get out of bed.

2024 Sony Open in Hawaii
2024 Sony Open in Hawaii

Grayson Murray celebrates with Akshay Bhatia after winning the 2023 Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“I just thought I was a failure,” he said. “I thought I had a lot of talent that was just a waste of talent.”

Murray eventually entered rehab and said he’s been sober for eight months.

“It was by choice,” he said. “It was time.”

He regained exempt status on the PGA Tour this season after winning twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and set out to treat his return to the big leagues as a new beginning.

“I said, ‘Hey, look, I have an opportunity here,'” Murray recounted. “Probably haven’t reached my prime yet. I can get on a good solid 10-year run, and that’s what I plan on doing. I’m in such a good spot right now where I don’t want to change anything I’m doing.”

His caddie, Jay Green, called the change in Murray “night and day,” and added, “What I knew of him was off Twitter and his off-course issues. He’s got a lot of support now and he’s living a disciplined life.”

Murray is engaged to be married on April 27, and his fiancée, Christiana, walked the final holes and the playoff with fellow pro Tom Hoge’s father. Murray met her three years ago at the American Express, the week after his incident during the Sony Open.

2024 Sony Open in Hawaii
2024 Sony Open in Hawaii

Grayson Murray and fiancee Christiana pose with the trophy winning the 2023 Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“I can’t wait to do life with you,” she said when asked what she wanted to say to Murray after the win. “That’s going to be our wedding song.”

Murray shot 64 in the third round to share the 54-hole lead with Bradley. Before the final round, Josh Gregory, his short-game coach, told him that the day wouldn’t be life changing no matter the result; it might do something for his golf career but it’s not life-changing. “I just used that mentality,” Murray said.

He stayed patient, making eight straight pars to start the final round before birdies at Nos. 9 and 10. With the final group on the 14th hole, there were five players tied for the lead at 16 under. At 18, Murray flighted a wedge from 78 yards inside three feet to match Bradley’s 67 and An’s 64. An two-putted for birdie ahead of him to get to 17 under.

The tee shot at the dog-leg left 18th, the first playoff hole, doesn’t set up well for Murray, a fader, especially with the wind off the left. He tugged it off the tee in the playoff, clipping a palm and had no choice but to lay up. He wedged 40 feet left of the hole. During regulation, his caddie watched Sam Stevens leave a putt on the same line short. Murray made sure he didn’t make the same mistake and broke into fist pumps when his putt fell in.

“I love making big-time putts in big-time moments,” he said. “I’m never going to back down from a celebration.”

Bradley had made a clutch 20-foot birdie putt at 15 to assume the lead but played the par-5 18th in two pars.

“This is one of the hardest losses I’ve ever had in my career, if not the hardest,” said Bradley, who missed to the left on his 17-foot birdie putt to extend the playoff. “I played good enough to win. But sometimes it’s just not quite good enough, and that was one of these weeks.”

An shoved his 4-foot putt that would have forced another hole with Murray to the right and it didn’t even touch the cup.

“It’s a shame it ended that way,” An said. “It hurts, but what are you going to do.”

Murray’s life didn’t change by winning on Sunday, but his watery eyes revealed how much seeing the hard work pay off meant to him.

“It’s not easy, you know. I want to give up a lot of times, give up on myself, give up on the game of golf, give up on life at times,” he said. “Just persevere, and when you get tired of fighting let someone else fight for you.”

That final line was a reference to something said by former North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano. A Raleigh native, Murray said those word had lifted him up and helped him write this next chapter of his redemption story.

“My story is not finished,” Murray said. “I think it’s just beginning. I hope I can inspire a lot of people going forward that have their own issues.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek