For 30 years, whenever Bill Murray showed up on a golf course, nobody with any shred of credibility wanted to be That Guy. You know, That Guy who says, when Murray walks within earshot: "Big hitter, Lama!" You know, That Guy who says, when Murray is over a putt, "It's in da hole!"
That Guy. That "Caddyshack"-quotin', Spackler-worshippin', cannonball-droppin' guy who tells Murray when he walks down a fairway: "Heavy stuff won't be coming down for a while. I'd keep playing." That Guy who makes you slap your forehead if you're near him, as you agonize at such geeky behavior.
Heck, Chris Farley built an entire "Saturday Night Live" character around the idea of the over-worshipping fan, playing the zealous talk-show host who only wanted to recount great moments in his guests' careers. Farley was mocking That Guy, people.
And yet, the most amazing thing happened on the shores of glorious Pebble Beach this past weekend: Carl Spackler broke free.
As if waiting decades to shower unmitigated love on Murray for creating one of the most beloved characters in the history of sports films, every golf fan – and yes, Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo, too – couldn't wait to dust off his or her finest line from the gopher-hunting groundskeeper when Murray reached the mountaintop.
Such was the power of Murray's neatly emotional win in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with his pro partner D.A. Points, who might be mistaken for – all together now – "a Cinderella story … out of rural Illinois … about to win at Pebble Beach … "
For one day, it was totally cool put on your Haz-Mat suit and clean out the pool of Spackler quotes until it was empty. When you finished, you could sate yourself with a Baby Ruth.
Faldo went for the triple play on CBS when Murray finished up for the win, dropping a "He's achieved total consciousness" alongside a "gunga, gunga-galunga" alongside a "He's got that goin' for him!" and showing American-style lack of restraint. Nantz went straight down the middle with an "It's in da hole!" shout-out when Murray ran alongside his errant putt and tapped it in. When the blue blazers at CBS turn into That Guy, you know it's a special day.
And you know what? It was OK, for that Sunday on the Monterey Peninsula. While "Caddyshack"-quoting is one of American golfers' favorite pastimes, it's usually just not cool to do it around Murray himself. But when Murray stood over his putt on 18, even he couldn't resist, launching into a Spackler-esque monologue: "The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am … formerly the Crosby Clambake … "
For a tournament that had about a 25-watt leaderboard – what, you craved the Steve Marino/Alex Cejka/Tom Gillis/D.A. Points showdown? – Murray's pro-am win gave the 2011 Pebble all the glitter it needed. And truth be told, it was touching to see how much the win meant to Murray. It rattled him so much that he appeared off-kilter in the CBS interview afterwards, unable to summon his trademark disarming irony.
I salute Murray for admitting as much, too. His post-round visit to the Pebble Beach media center was a classic bit of open-book Murray, revealing and entertaining.
He said that Points' long birdie putt on 15 made him laugh because he was so overwhelmed by the moment – Pebble, on Sunday, the ocean beckoning, the win looming – that he compared it to what he does when he sees a Rembrandt, or true art: He laughs, because it is so good. He said his antics on the golf course have always had an intended beneficial effect that he learned back in his days at Second City: If you make the other performer look good, you will have done your job well. He said he hoped his pro partners would play better when relaxed, because in Murray's view, anybody who is great at his craft is relaxed, whether it's Michael Jordan or a great actor.
How fun and rewarding to see a great golf ambassador confess his love for the game, and Pebble Beach, and the Clambake. Tiger Woods won't come near the AT&T, not since Tommy Smothers rolled his yo-yo on the green and the idea of bumpy greens addled his preconceived notion that everything in golf should benefit him.
Murray comes every year. He says he doesn't do it for the publicity, and if you think that, "You just don't get it." He comes because of the community it touches and the chance to play a great game with good people and maybe, just once in two decades, create something eternal. Murray and Points will see their names engraved on a plaque behind the first tee at Pebble Beach now, honoring past winners of the pro-am, for future generations to see.
Not bad for a former greenskeeper out of nowhere …
Scorecard of the week
• 71-66-72-75 – 4-under 284, tie-20th, Tiger Woods, Dubai Desert Classic.
Some serious stuff is going down here, golf fans.
Yes, Tiger has changed swing instructors twice before, and yes, each change was accompanied by a slump. However, we are now compounding: a) a change of swing instructor with b) a seriously inconsistent putter (for Tiger Woods!) with c) a changed golf landscape of players who are moving on without him, and perhaps most important … d) a Tiger Woods who appears, by every measure, to be lacking confidence.
Tiger? Lacking confidence? You may as well tell me Lady Gaga is going minimalist/acoustic on her next album.
There is no other way to interpret it. At the Chevron World Challenge he frittered away a four-shot lead to Graeme McDowell on Sunday. At Torrey Pines, his home-sweet-home, he went into the weekend in the hunt – then posted a 74-75 Saturday and Sunday, respectively. And at Dubai, one shot off the lead on Saturday night, ready to strike and make good on all the overheated predictions that Tiger would have a "monster" 2011, he shot 75 when it mattered most.
Even in his most dire of "slumps" and swing changes and instructor changes, Tiger never gave off the aura or posted the scores of a player who threw it into reverse on the Sabbath.
Plus, he's got the whole world checking out YouTube video of him hocking a loogie on the 12th green at Dubai. Surely, he's not the first player to launch one on a green. But a year after his pledge to honor the game more, the mucous-laden launch doesn't look so good. When it rains, it pours, T-Dub.
His play was so irrelevant that The Golf Channel telecast from Dubai included long stretches where Tiger wasn't even shown on Sunday's back nine. Imagine yours truly getting up with the sun only to see two stretches of golf – plus an infomercial for the Astro-turf "Potty Patch," an indoor dog restroom – before seeing Tiger swing a club.
The fact that he even had to issue the defensive quote, "I still feel like I can win golf tournaments," almost sends a chill down one's spine. That's like hearing Warren Beatty say in his prime: "I still feel like I can get women to go on dates with me."
Next stop, Match Play. Don't pencil Tiger in to your final four, amigos.
Mulligan of the week
• Sometimes in life, you just want a do-over. And no, it's not Bill Murray's putt on 18 to close out Pebble (would have been nice to sink it); or Tiger's approach on 18 in Dubai (getting wet, so humiliating), or any other golf shot.
Sometimes, you just try to celebrate something and you get it all wrong. Think Paul Azinger's "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots" attempt at a high-five with his caddie at the 2002 Ryder Cup. Or think Tiger's high-five to Stevie's elbow after holing out the chip on 16 at the Masters in 2005.
This time, it was D.A. Points holing out his wedge for eagle on 14 at Pebble, essentially locking down his first PGA Tour win. That he did so while playing Pebble on a Sunday with Bill Murray makes it legendary. An amazing moment calls for an amazing celebration, but when Points jogged over to Murray and leaped like he wanted to chest bump with Murray, it all went so wrong: Points mistimed his leap, Murray mistimed his, one guy was going up while the other guy was going down, they barely made contact, and the moment was ruined.
Just think, if they nailed the chest bump, it would have been X-Mo footage for years to come.
So, let's go back out to 14 fairway at Pebble, give those two a choreography lesson and … give Points and Murray a chest-bump mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• This one requires a bit of a setup. You have to bring yourself back to the moment, as Tiger was doing his stunning, slow fade into oblivion at Dubai, coming up 18 like a desert zombie. And you know it had to crush him that he spent 18 miserable holes alongside Sergio (El Mess-o) Garcia, his least-favorite person in the world.
At that point, an amazing double-dip of humiliation occurred on my Golf Channel broadcast. It played out in two parts, right as Tiger's third shot got wet:
Part I: "That's the way to finish it off, isn't it? A pitch into the water." – Dougie Donnelly, The Golf Channel.
Part II: Tiger's ball hadn't been wet for three seconds, and Donnelly's words still hung in the air when the booming P.A. microphone greenside at 18 blared, louder than you could imagine, audible from Dubai to California: "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE WELCOME SERGIO GARCIA!"
I hope you can play this out in your mind and hear the comedy. I'm thinking of all the horrible things that have happened to Tiger since Nov. 27, 2009, the Dubai-Dunk/Sergio-Shout-out double-whammy has to be in the top 30.
Where do we go from here?
• I love Riviera C.C. In a modern Los Angeles marked by plastic surgery, choked traffic and billboards of Justin Bieber, The Riv's understated grace from another era calls to mind Bogart in a black-and-white film, Hepburn and Tracy squeezing in nine holes with pull-carts and Frank Sinatra running up a bar tab from here to eternity.
Phil Mickelson will be there, great West Coast Swing guy that he is. So will Johnny Vegas, poised to add to the legend. And D.A. Points is playing! He'll be the guy on the practice range, working on his chest bumps.