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Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship honors Grayson Murray with honorary tee time

A little more than a week after the fact, it still seems surreal.

The final round of the UNC Health Championship was under way Sunday at Raleigh Country Club as the Korn Ferry Tour event concluded its four-day run. On the first tee was a golf bag. On it: “Grayson Murray.”

A year ago, the Raleigh golfer took a four-shot lead into the last round of the tournament. He was excited. Raleigh was his hometown. Raleigh Country Club, as much as any, was his home golf course.

On an arm, Murray had a map of North Carolina with ‘919’ positioned perfectly over Wake County — a tribute from a young man described Sunday as the ultimate “homebody.” It was a tournament he badly wanted to win, especially before family and friends, but a few back-nine slips resulted in a second-place finish.

A year later, another group gathered at the first tee on Sunday for an honorary tee time. In a way, they came to say goodbye to Murray. To remember him, yes. To talk of his golf talent, yes. But to say goodbye.

Murray died May 25. He took his own life, his parents, Eric and Terry Murray, later confirmed.

Murray was 30 years old and his death has shaken many on the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, where many players are under stress to perform, some defining their lives by the success or failure of their golf games.

The Murrays were seated Sunday near their son’s golf bag and did not speak at the tribute. Murray’s brother, Cameron, and sister, Erica, quietly stood behind them.

Jay Green, Murray’s caddie on the PGA Tour, was on hand to carry the bag to the tee. Speaking for the Korn Ferry Tour was tour president Alex Baldwin.

“My heart hurts deeply for his friends, his family and our golf community,” Baldwin said. “I hope you all know that you have the full love and support of our PGA Tour family.”

Jeff Maness, a close friend of the Murrays who helped sponsor Murray on tour, spoke for the family. He said the “Grayson Murray Foundation” soon would be launched to promote addiction awareness and enhance mental health services and research.

“It’s the start of something really special, I hope,” Maness said.

Grayson Murray never hid the fact he battled alcoholism and depression. He asked the PGA Tour to do more in terms of mental health services, to give more support to those who need it.

“He was very open about his struggles,” Maness said. “It’s really interesting with mental health. It’s an invisible disease. When it’s turned off, if you will, or dormant in the body it’s amazing the energy it can create. When you have a disease that’s turned on, it’s very difficult.

“Sometimes, the illness prevails in the short term like cancer or heart disease. Mental health illness is no different. Sometimes, it prevails in the short term. But our goal is to harness all this energy and try to make a difference. in other people’s lives.”

John McConnell, the Raleigh Country Club owner, remembered first seeing Murray on the practice tee at the club, a 13-year-old pounding shot after shot.

“I felt so insecure thinking how many years I had played this game and here’s this little kid could drive it 50 yards past me,” said McConnell, a low-handicapper.

Murray received the first McConnell Junior golf scholarship, playing the Raleigh course hundreds of times, McConnell said. He became one of the nation’s best junior players.

Murray won on the Korn Ferry Tour. He twice won on the PGA Tour.

A victory this year in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii qualified him for his first Masters. He was exempt into the U.S. Open this month in Pinehurst.

“It’s hard to believe it was just a year ago I saw him tee off with the lead here,” McConnell said Sunday. “A year later, we’re here to celebrate his (life and) passing. It’s hard to believe.

“All of us strive to have a greatness in life and Grayson has created a legacy with his short life that will be long remembered. This kid seemed like another person, another golfer out on tour, and now he’s a hero, a legend. What more can anyone want in life than to be a legend?”