No. 1 Course Jester: Bill Murray

Bill Murray, 60, and his five brothers co-host the annual Murray Bros. Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament at the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Karina Taira/Contour by Getty Images

Bill Murray is harder to get than a Cypress Point tee time. The reclusive icon has done only a handful of in-depth interviews in the last decade. Our work cut out for us, we cornered the star of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day between rip-roaring piano jams—he sings a soulful "In the Midnight Hour"—on stage at the Murray Bros. Caddyshack Tournament, an annual charity event he co-hosts at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. In person, Murray, 60, is grayer and taller (a strapping 6'2'') than he looks on-screen. The man who made "Cinderella Story" part of the golf lexicon discusses his love of Pebble, the real Carl Spackler, and the secret he whispered to Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

From Caddyshack to cracking up fans at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, golf's been part of your life for decades. When did the game get in your blood?
When I caddied as a kid. My brothers and I worked at this club where we grew up [near Chicago]. We caddied barefoot back in the old days. We didn't know there were pesticides on the grass [laughs]. I just loved the peace and quiet, being outside. I fell in love with the early and the late—being out early in the morning with dew on the grass, or late afternoons with the sun going down, beautiful light, birds all around. It's a nice way to live.

What's your No. 1 caddie story?
I guess I can tell you this, because he's long gone. I caddied for a guy who had really bad gas. The gas was so bad, there were colors coming out. I mean actual colors. I haven't seen anything like it since. Extraordinary.

That didn't turn you off to golf for good?
Well, it was just the one time. Like a shank or a bad shot, you shake it off.

This year is the 30th anniversary of Caddyshack. Back then, caddying inspired your brother Brian Doyle-Murray to co-write the film, right?
Brian knew that they needed a character to be the balance between the members and the caddies, and he asked me to come down and do the character that became Carl Spackler. It was supposed to be a small role—pretty much the scene with the head greens keeper telling me that we have to deal with the gopher. It became a lot more.

Director Harold Ramis told us that he would say 'action' and let you improvise. 'Varmint cong,' 'Cinderella story'—that was all adlibbed. Where did Carl come from?
I thought of this traffic cop who used to work at 77th and Broadway in New York. He was completely miserable with his job, and he'd be muttering out the side of his mouth. I'd stay and watch him pretty regularly. He absolutely despised the people crossing the street.

Cinderella Story became the name of your 1999 book, which was in part a love letter to Pebble. You wrote that at Pebble, 'The light seems to come from everywhere. All of the trees, buildings and cars seem...lit from within.'
It's a very special place. The course is great, beautiful, hard. You know, when I was watching the tournament [the 2010 U.S. Open], I was so proud. I know [the USGA] tricked it up more for the U.S. Open than for the bozos playing in the pro-am, but I still felt like it stood up to the test. I just felt so...proud. I was like, "Hey, that's my high school!" It stood up to these big guys.

How do you stand up to it? You're a 7 handicap, right?
I don't know. I got to a 7 once, but that's when I was playing a lot near the end of the summer. You know, the ground was hard and baked, and a good drive is out there 360 [yards]. Your handicap can drop quickly. I'm between a 7 and 11. Put that. "Seven-11" has a nice ring to it.

What's the No. 1 strength of your game?
When I'm playing a lot, I can drive the ball really well and hit it far and where I want to hit it. But when my swing is queer, I struggle with balance. So I'll hit 5-irons until I get right. I'll say, "OK, 5-irons off the tee from now on." It's a good lesson—you learn it's not too damaging [to your score] to hit 5-irons, if you hit them straight. And I can get them out there pretty good.

Your No. 1 weakness?
Long irons. I'm late to the hybrid-club craze. I still carry long irons. I'll reach a long par-3, look at the card, and you're like, "Geez, I don't have this club. I'm gonna have trouble." [Laughs] It's frustrating because I haven't played enough [lately] to really spank a 3-, 4-iron. And if you hit a knock-down wood, you have no idea where it's going.

What's your favorite shot to pull off? What brings you back?
I like to move the ball. I like hitting a long shot to an uphill green—a draw or a fade—that makes it over a bunker and lands on the green. That's fun! I can picture myself up there on the green watching it come in.

What makes you laugh on the course?
I try not to laugh at other people. I love playing with my friends. Something happens on a golf course. You're able to talk about things you can't speak about at other times with other people. You feel free. You can open up a big can of something that's been shut off inside you—things you've been keeping inside. Secrets come out.

Secrets? Like what?
Well, it's an intimacy you feel out there on the course, all alone in nature, that you don't get other places. It's very special. It's the way mobsters used to go out in fishing boats and have private conversations. Golf is like that for me.

While we're sharing secrets, what did you whisper to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost In Translation?
That intimacy I mentioned? I'm not feeling it at the moment with you.

Bill Murray, 60, and his five brothers co-host the annual Murray Bros. Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament at the World Golf Hall of Fame.

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