Publish date:


All you golf nuts trapped in last week's subfreezing weather
should know that it wasn't exactly a picnic down in South
Florida. Why, heck, the temperature never crawled out of the
60's during the final round of the Royal Caribbean Classic, the
first full-field stop on the Senior tour. And it was so dang
windy at the Links at Key Biscayne that Bob Murphy, who has been
known to blow leads and titles on blustery days, was compelled
to resort to drastic measures.

First, and this should tell you exactly how hard the wind was
blowing, Murphy put aside his trademark wide-brimmed hat in
favor of a baseball cap. As everybody knows, you see Murphy
without the hat about as often as you see Sophia Loren without
makeup. Then, before teeing it up, Murphy also instructed his
caddie to break out the huge beach towel that he carries in his
luggage for weather-related emergencies.

"I used that last year at Pensacola," said Murphy. "It was cold
and nasty, and the wind was blowing. I wrapped the towel around
my shoulders. It encapsulates me and keeps me from having to
come out of a jacket before every shot."

Even as you're reading this, new Bob Murphy signature warming
towels are probably rolling off the lines at Callaway, the
equipment company that supplies him with his clubs and headwear.
You know how golfers like to be on the cutting edge of fashion,
right? Besides, the towel is as good a reason as any why Murphy
was able to gain what he called "sweet revenge" for what the
wind did to his long, deliberate swing last year in this very
tournament. Look at it this way: Superman has his cape, Murphy
has his towel.

After opening last year with a 66 that gave him a two-shot lead,
Murphy billowed to a second-round 78 because he couldn't cope
with the winds that were gusting off Biscayne Bay at upward of
40 mph. This was hardly a shock. Although Murphy has lived in
South Florida most of his 52 years (he'll turn 53 on Valentine's
Day) and thus should be accustomed to dealing with windy
conditions, he is, by his own admission, "not known as the
world's greatest wind player."

But on Sunday he wrestled the lead away from rookie Rick Acton
on the first hole and was, well, gone with the wind. At the end
Murphy's four-under 67 gave him a 10-under total and a four-shot
cushion over Hale Irwin. Acton, a club professional from Seattle
who earned his tour card by finishing fifth in last fall's
qualifying school, hung on for third, five shots back of Murphy.

"I didn't handle the wind today like Bob and Hale did," said
Acton after a final-round 73. "Their experience showed. I made
several poor club selections and aiming selections that they
didn't. Bob Murphy played an absolutely spectacular round of
golf under the conditions."

Exactly how spectacular was Towelman? His 67 was the day's low
round by two shots (Graham Marsh, with a 69, was the only other
player to break par on Sunday). The wind was so vicious that 12
players failed to break 80. Of the 14 players who were within
five shots of the lead after two rounds, only Murphy improved
his position.

After grinding out a 72 that left him tied for fourth place with
Mike Hill at four under par, Raymond Floyd said, "I didn't
handle the conditions well. In my mind, the hardest conditions
to play under are high winds. The round Murphy shot was

It was the kind of finish many expected from Irwin. It was
generally assumed that after he turned 50 last June the
three-time U.S. Open winner would instantly rule the Senior
tour. (Everybody say, "Hail, Hale!") The only variable was how
many Senior events Irwin, who was still competitive on the
regular Tour, would play. He entered 12 and had two wins, three
seconds and 11 top-10 finishes. Impressive, to be sure, but not
total domination.

When Irwin rolled into Key Biscayne last Thursday and fired a
practice-round 64 the first time he toured the 6,754-yard
municipal course with its Bermuda greens, it was quickly assumed
that his voyage through the tournament would be a perfect
reflection of sponsor Royal Caribbean's product. A cruise, in
other words. But Irwin's practice round came on a day when there
was no wind. As the wind picked up during the week, his scores
went south. After a 65 on Friday, he soared to 71 on Saturday, a
day on which play was suspended for almost 45 minutes when the
wind was joined by a hard rain. On Sunday he rallied to shoot
another 71 after opening with back-to-back bogeys, but he was
never a serious threat.

Was he disappointed? Surprised? Worried?

"I'm Hale Irwin," said Hale Irwin after walking off the 18th
green, "but Bob Murphy and on down aren't backing off. They rise
to a challenge, as I do sometimes. But I'm not getting worried
about my game. I'm not putting this tournament down at all, but
there are a few tournaments down the road that I'm taking aim at."

Speaking of aim, Irwin, who had seven birdies in his first round
and only five in the next 36 holes, might want to take a few
long-putting lessons from Acton, who made at least six putts of
25 feet or more in the two days he played in Irwin's threesome.
Every time Acton, who swings righthanded but putts from the left
side, would sink another snake, Irwin would shake his head.

"He made more 30-foot putts than I've seen in a while," Irwin
said. "At 10 feet out, he was 50-50. But at 30 feet, it was in."

Acton, whose budding career on the regular Tour was cut short by
serious injuries suffered in a 1976 automobile accident, was the
only member of the field who played the final round in short
sleeves. Or as Murphy put it, "He played with no clothes on."
But Acton said he wasn't trying to psych out the competition,
like those NFL linemen who roll up their sleeves in the coldest

"I didn't think it was that cold out there," Acton said. "Heck,
I'm from Seattle. To me, it was hot and dusty. We don't play
much in the wind in the Northwest. Murph and Hale had on so many
clothes that I don't see how they swung the club."

Actually, Murphy wasn't as bundled up as he might have looked.
Because of the towel, he was able to wear only a cotton
sweatshirt over his golf shirt. "I get tight in the cold and I'm
not able to make that long, loose, ridiculous swing I make," he
said. His victory indicated that he has an excellent chance of
duplicating his very good year of 1995, when he and Jim Colbert
were the only four-time winners on the Senior tour.

It was only five years ago that Murphy suffered from such a
severe case of psoriatic arthritis that he had resigned himself
to the belief that the closest he would ever again get to
winning golf was his analyst's job with ESPN. Then he began
taking methotrexate, a drug that is also used to treat cancer
patients, and the arthritis became manageable. "I went to the
ESPN people," he said, "and told them I should be out there
playing instead of announcing." Now Murphy has a form letter
that he uses to answer the mail (300 to 500 letters a year) from
fellow arthritis sufferers.

"The good Lord gave me my hands back," Murphy said late on
Sunday. "I found an answer to the kind of arthritis that I have.
Every chance I get, I try to get a little word out to anybody
suffering from arthritis. That's why I press on."

This week, weather permitting, Murphy will be back in his
wide-brimmed hat. The towel will be in his luggage, to be pulled
out only if it gets cold or windy. The lesson for Murphy's
competitors is that from now on, neither wind nor rain nor snow
(just kidding, all you cabin-fevered golfers) nor Hale can
henceforth be expected to keep Murphy from making his appointed

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES Winning warmed Murphy even more than his trusty towel. [Bob Murphy kissing trophy; Bob Murphy with towel over his shoulders]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKESActon was in the driver's seat after two rounds, but the rookie had a rough ride on Sunday. [Rick Acton]