The voyage to Royal Portrush and the 2012 Irish Open began many years ago with a bet struck at Waterville, a bet that launched the experience of a lifetime for Big Break winner Mark Murphy.
When Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell step it out on home turf next June they will joined by one Irishman whose journey North has been interesting to say the least.
A year ago, Mark Murphy was a sporting unknown in the final interview stage for the Big Break, American golf’s equivalent to the X Factor.
On New Year’s Day, his game show winning streak, at the K Club of all places, was repeated over and over again on the Golf Channel, the American TV station dedicated to the small ball game.
On the last Thursday of June, as part of his Big Break bounty, Murphy will tee it up alongside Clarke, McDowell, and Rory McIlroy on one of the finest links courses on the island of Ireland.
At 33 years of age, Mark Murphy is finally close to fulfilling his potential, but this is an overnight success story 19 years in the making.
His golfing tale begins with life as a 14-year-old caddy for a group of Americans, guests of a friend of his Garda dad Tom at the great Waterville links where mum Eileen oversees the food and beverage facility.
One visitor, a man with money and sense, offered the young Murphy a bet, what the Yanks like to call a wager, as they stood on the tee box of the par three 15th.
“He took his shot, hit the green and put to the ball to about 15 feet of the pin,” remembered Murphy, now back in New Orleans and ready to make the most of his Big Break.
“Then he turned to me and offered me a simple challenge – hit it inside his ball and I could have his clubs, his bag and everything in it.
“At the time golf wasn’t my thing. GAA was the big attraction locally and I played a bit but soccer was my game and that was difficult because you had to go to Tralee and that was over an hour away.
“I played a little bit of golf, my dad was a member at Waterville and that’s why I was caddying that day. So I was up to his challenge.
“I hit the shot, put my ball inside the American’s and he was true to his word. When the round was over he took his keys and his wallet from the bag and presented me with it.
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“The clubs were a full set of Tommy Armour A45s and I had them for years. I played with them all the time and went from a 16 handicap on my 16th birthday to scratch on my 18th.”
Scholarship offers, all declined, and a glittering amateur career with Munster and the international team followed for Murphy, beaten by Noel Fox in a play-off for the East of Ireland at Baltray and by Eamonn Brady in the West of Ireland final.
America was a winter retreat for warm weather training until 10 years ago when West Palm Beach in Florida proved too attractive to return from.
“I’d always seen myself as a home bird but Florida was just too good,” admitted Murphy. “I turned pro and decided to give the golf a good go.
“I’ve been doing that for a decade now, knocking the door and getting close to the breakthrough but never close enough.
“I’ve missed out on qualifying for the final stage of Tour school by a shot. I’ve missed out on qualifying for the British Open by a shot. I’ve just missed the chance to win a Nationwide tour card. I kept plugging away without ever getting my break until now.”
The Big Break proved to be just that for Mark Murphy. He got to know several members of the Golf Channel crew when he caddied for US Tour winner Rocco Mediate a couple of years back. Like Rocco, they encouraged him to apply for the show that can launch a career.
“I was probably in last chance saloon when I put the application in,” confided the Kerryman.
“I had moved to New Orleans, I was 33 years of age and grinding my arse off every day, practising and practising and with very little to show for it.
“I couldn’t really afford to play golf last year. Only for the financial support of my parents I wouldn’t have been able to play golf.
“They stuck by me and they told me to stick with the golf. In my own head I was working towards something, towards the Tour school and getting myself right for that but the problem is that golf is so competitive.
“If you don’t play all year then you are not competitive, you can’t just turn it on for tour school. You have to be competitive and I wasn’t. Then the Big Break came up.
“I was urged to go for it and I did. Even with the interview, I decided to myself to have a bit of fun with it and give golf one last shot.
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“Of course, as I said the night we had to introduce ourselves to the other competitors, I would pick the year the tournament was coming to Ireland and the K Club. They’ve been to Barbados, the Cayman Islands, all over America and I pick two weeks in the rain in Kildare.
“But I won it. I played the golf and I won the mental battles. And now golf has given me a chance again.”
The prize was bigger than just a title for Murphy, greater than the $70,000, the Adams club sponsorship, the airline tickets and the sports goods shopping spree that went with the Big Break.
He will play in the Irish Open as an invited guest in June and at the Moroccan Open. He is back in America now, working on his game, looking for a manager and ready to make the most of his status.
“Golfers sort of know about the show in Ireland but in America it is massive with an audience in the millions which is incredible for a satellite station,” he added.
“It’s given me huge exposure and a huge opportunity. When I ring people or email them now I am Mark Murphy from the Big Break, not Mark Murphy just another wannabe pro golfer.
“I have got the chance I have always wanted. It is up to me to make the most of it now.”
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