No. 1 Course Jester: Bill Murray

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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