Grayson Murray’s life touched many. So, too, has his death

Grayson Murray reacts after a birdie putt on the 15th hole during the third round of the UNC Health Championship presented by STITCH at Raleigh Country Club

Grayson Murray at a Korn Ferry Tour event in 2023.

getty images

What Herb Wind was to golf, Roger Angell was to baseball. This snippet is from a piece Roger wrote a decade ago called This Old Man, when he was in his early 90sThe Carol he refers to is his wife and Harry is their dog. 

Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry died, Carol and I couldn’t stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.

Roger’s piece and the “oceanic force” of Callie’s death came to mind after reading about the life and death of Grayson Murray. Grayson was in our living rooms and on our phones, in his life and in his death. We all grieve for Grayson’s parents, his siblings, his partner, his loved ones. Though we don’t know you, we’re here, holding your hands. 

Some years ago, old friends of mine, the first in our circle to get married, lost a beautiful and gifted daughter when she was in her 20s. “We were lucky to have her for as long as we did,” the dad said.

The courage to go on, finding the strength to wade through that oceanic force, people do it. Somehow, they do. Roger did. David and Lori are. Grayson’s parents, Eric and Terry, will find a way. His caddie, Jay Green, too. But they’re changed. Changed forever, likely in ways the rest of us cannot see.

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Grayson was a mega-talent. It’s hard for most of us to understand how good you have to be to win on the Korn Ferry Tour, to get a PGA Tour card, to keep it for a while. Good at golf, that is. Grayson did all that and more while waging a war within that made the whole keep-your-card thing even harder. We’re drowning in data. The stuff that matters most defies measurement.  

I respect any and all persons who can play by the rules, act appropriately, golf their way to the game’s biggest stages. Eventually, always, another somebody will step in and take their place, by way of better scores. The basic math of professional golf is its ultimate superpower. It fuels everything, your rise and your fall. Churn rate is a new phrase but an old idea. U.S. Open I (the women) this week at Lancaster Country Club will have 156 players. If somebody drops out late somebody else will step right in.

At U.S. Open II (the men), next month at Pinehurst, the same: 156. Tiger Woods is in the Pinehurst field by way of special exemption, a gift from the USGA. Were he not in the field, another player would be there. Phil Mickelson is in this year’s field by way of his win at the 2021 PGA Championship. That win gets him into next year’s Open at Oakmont, too. Beyond that, who knows? Grayson’s spot will not go vacant. The players, many of them, will have him on their sleeves and in their hearts. His absence is almost inconceivable. But the field come Thursday of that week, appropriately, will be 156 players. We’re all stumbling, all the time, but life is a march. 

These professional golfers we watch are often conformists on the outside and cowboys deep within. Grayson Murray said a few years ago that he hated life on the PGA Tour and that alcohol was his escape valve. He was a big guy, and those escape valves are narrow. His honesty was astounding. He acknowledged his alcoholism and, without playing the blame game, said the PGA Tour was not there to help him. Phil Mickelson was at his best when he responded to Grayson by way of Twitter: “I’m sorry playing the Tour has been so overwhelming and if I can help in any way I’d be happy to. It’s not an easy life for sure, and even winning every year can bring about other challenges. FYI ‘we will get back to you’ is the only response I’ve ever gotten [from the Tour] too.”

Should such messages — Murray’s statement, Mickelson’s response, a thousand others in a similar vein — be public? You can debate it all you want but it almost doesn’t matter: most everything is public these days. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 and the organization’s surname, the second A, was necessary because there was such a stigma associated with the first A. Also, society in general was so much more private. But that was then.

Grayson Murray hugs his caddie, Jay Green, after winning in a playoff at the 18th hole on the first playoff hole during the final round of Sony Open in Hawaii
Grayson Murray and caddie Jay Green after Murray’s Sony Open win January. getty images

The pressure of being a public figure, even at Grayson’s modest level of fame, is so much more intense now than it has ever been. I’m here to tell you that Grayson Murray was a mega-talent but somebody else will tell you that his sand-save percentage (or whatever) was a joke. Everybody’s a critic. Criticism is a growth industry, fueled by cellphones and their connectivity. All that criticism — in public, by strangers — is a killer for self-esteem. Social media has turned everything into a competition, into a bizarre and costly search for perfection. Your vacation will get graded on TikTok, if you let it. It looked pretty good. I’ve seen better. There’s always better.

My friend and frequent golf partner Fred Anton was sober for 37 years. At 83, he walked off a pier and to his death. For 37 years, AA was his church, his spiritual home, the center of his life. (The golf course was a close second.) He thought the second A was unnecessary. David Feherty feels the same. David knows Grayson’s pain, and the pain Grayson’s parents will endure for the rest of their lives. David’s son Shey died from a drug overdose on his 29th birthday. David knows that compulsion, to escape your life as it is. Shey knew that compulsion. Fred knew the compulsion. Grayson Murray knew the compulsion. Everybody is looking for some kind of out. We all have a vice, a compulsion, a frustration we cannot shake. 

I feel for Tiger, the life he leads with no place for anonymity. A life with outsized expectations, with perfect as a goal. Nobody can live like that. He drove off a Los Angeles road three years ago and nearly to his death. He’s been climbing back ever since. He’ll try to play four rounds at Pinehurst because that’s what he’s wired to do. 

I feel for Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner. The Tour can try to be a matchmaker between patient and therapist but try is the extent of it. In Grayson’s death, Monahan spoke of the Tour as a family. You hear that. I would say the Tour fosters deep relationships and that’s a lot but that’s about it. The Tour was once a modest collection of charity golf tournaments that morphed into a big business. It’s not a family. No family lives and dies by top-60 and ties.

The statements since Grayson’s death have been beautiful. From Peter Malnati, who played with Grayson in his last tournament, last week at Colonial. Grayson’s caddie, Jay Green. Grayson’s parents. Harry Higgs, after his Korn Ferry win. Players, caddies, fans, writers, broadcasters. You hope you can hold on to it all, those words, these emotions. It’s impossible but we can try.

That oceanic force; this darkest of mysteries; this spectacular spring day, the morning light shining through our front-lawn trees, coffee in the pot, papers on the table, gas tank full.

“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” (Emily, Our Town.) Yes. But we can try.

Golf’s a funny game. Grayson withdrew from the Colonial event after playing 16 holes in the second round. Maybe if he had played the final two holes and made two birdies and made the cut he would have played on the weekend. Maybe he would still be here today. Impossible to say. A funny, tricky, difficult game. For millions, golf breathes life into us. We feel alive as we head to the course, when we’re on it, as we come off it. Grayson Murray surely, surely, surely had those days. His Friday round at Colonial was not one of them. In life he touched many and in death he touched more. We were lucky to have him for as long as we did.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.

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