Actor Bill Murray Takes On Role Of Caddie
Scarborough, N.Y. – Talk about going from one extreme to the other. One day removed from having 9-year-old Drew Kilman carry her bag, Kailin Downs ran into a surprise guest looper on Tuesday. Plodding toward the 10th tee, the first hole of Downs’ round, was a mystery figure hidden by a beige bucket hat and sunglasses emerging from the sun’s shadows.
“This guy came walking up and said, ‘Do I need to register?’” said USGA Women’s Committee member and Rules official Laura Saf. “I turned around and thought, ‘That’s Bill Murray!’”
Indeed it was. As in Bill Murray: actor, comedian and Sleepy Hollow club member.
“He came up, looked at my name tag and asked how to say my name,” added Saf. “He said, ‘You know, you can have that name legally changed.’”
Drum roll please.
Normally the jokester, Murray wasn’t here to reprise his role as the aloof course-superintendent-turned-cult-hero Carl Spackler he played in the 1980-released Caddyshack. Nor was he there to do another Nick The Lounge Singer riff from his Saturday Night Live days.
Prior to the Women’s Amateur, Murray volunteered his services as a caddie to any player that needed one.
Murray, who lives in the area, said he did it because many amateur players have budgetary concerns, especially when it comes to caddies. Fifty dollars or so a day for a caddie can add up over four or five days.
Then the Murray kicker.
“I’m trying to work out and get in shape, anyway,” he said. “It’s all about trying to have fun. The worst thing you can do as a player is get tight. I try to keep things loose.”
Said defending champion Meredith Duncan, 22, who played in Downs’ group and shot an 8-over 79: “It was relaxed. It was cool.”
Duncan wouldn’t put the 79 showing on Murray’s shoulders, denying that he was a distraction. Rather, she suffered an asthma attack and may have been a bit fatigued from a Monday trip to New York City.
“Sometimes I’m too serious,” said Duncan. “He would say little things here and there. It loosened up things.”
Offering caddie services wasn’t Murray’s only charitable contribution. On the Friday before practice rounds began, USA Curtis Cup team member Laura Myerscough noticed there was an open tee time with Murray and pounced on it. She and Great Britain and Ireland member Heather Stirling wound up playing a round with Murray, then were treated to dinner by him at a local Mexican restaurant.
“He was so funny,” said the 22-year-old Myerscough. “He is a smart---; non-stop jokes.”
When one player discovered the airline lost her luggage, rendering her clothes poor, Murray bought her some threads from the pro shop when he had heard about it.
The story of how Downs, from Bend, Ore., hooked up with Murray was a case of someone knowing someone else. Downs knew that Kilman wouldn’t be able to carry her bag after the first round because of a planned trip to see his grandmother.
But to be honest, Downs was pretty much a one-person show during the first round, marking off her own yardage, clubbing herself and doing all the green readings – things caddies usually chime in on.
A 7-over 78 was carded that first day. She figured she’d carry her own bag the rest of the championship.
As it turned out, a host family at Sleepy Hollow told Downs late Monday night that Murray might make an appearance in the second round. But Downs kept it a secret, not telling anyone.
After all, what kind of fool would she look like if she babbled to all her friends that an A-list celebrity would be toting her bag and then failed to deliver? Downs could already hear the sing-song jibes: ‘Suuuure, Kailin. Yeah, and Britney Spears will be giving me my next manicure.’
“One of the friends asked if I’d like a caddie,” said Downs. “I didn’t know who it was. Then they said, ‘What if it was Bill Murray?’ I was like, ‘We’ll see.’”
With her tee time approaching, Downs fiddled about. The countdown was on. Minutes before teeing off, Murray nonchalantly strode up. In tow were his brother Andy Murray and nephew Drew.
Dressed in khaki shorts, a blue Hawaiian button-down shirt and Chuck Taylor Converse to complement the hat and glasses, Murray snapped on a USGA smock.
This was a new role he would assume: caddie for player No. 7.
The round wasn’t all chuckles and hi-jinks. Murray, who plays the course about 10 times a summer depending on schedule and claims his handicap is “not for publication,” provided encouragement and advice wherever needed. (Later he admitted to an 11 handicap).
Of course, there were some light moments. On No. 2, after Downs hit out of a bunker, Murray grabbed a rake and meticulously cleaned up until Meredith Duncan’s mom, Debbie, sidled by and chortled, “Missed a spot.”
To which an exasperated Murray -- the master of gullible comedy – unknowingly fell prey to his own shtick by replying, “Where?”
Debbie cackled while Murray shot her the famed Moe Howard ‘Why I oughta …’ look.
If there was one memory Downs would take away from the round, it would be this not so surprising item, considering the source: “He kept giving me protein bars,” she said as Murray shoved another one into her hand through a forest of legs. “I had granola bars. But he kept telling me I had too many granola bars. He goes on dieting kicks with carbohydrates and all that.”
Murray’s proudest moment came on the 453-yard par-5 8th hole. With Downs staring at an uphill 45-footer just off the green, Murray surveyed the area and said, “You want to get it up the hill,” pointing out a right-to-left break. Seconds later, Downs’ ball lipped out.
But both were pleased.
Downs wrapped up her round with a 2-over 73, five strokes better than the first round. How much did Murray help?
“A lot,” quipped Murray. “I was enormous. I don’t think she could have done it without me.”
Pause. Seriousness set in.
“If not for a few missed putts, she could have shot a 68. Easily,” said Murray. “Yesterday she had to do all the work. The 78 was more impressive than the 73 today.”
With the 78-73-151 two-round finish, Downs was unsure whether she’d make it to match play. Murray was more confident.
“I’m a fighter, like that Gloria Gaynor song (I Will Survive),” said Murray.
Asked whether he’d hang on as her caddie, Murray looked down for effect.
“That all depends. We’ll see what kind of tip I get,” he deadpanned. “I went through her bag and only found $20, so it doesn’t look good for me.”
The epilogue to this story is that Downs qualified for a 15-for-2 playoff. Murray was there still carrying her bag, even though her round had ended an hour earlier. He was there on the teeing ground mingling, talking and doing what he does best: making people laugh.
When the starter announced Downs during the playoff, Murray worked the crowd for raucous applause.
In solid shape after a beautiful drive down the middle of the fairway, Downs found the right bunker on her approach 135 yards from the hole. She got up and down OK, but the cause was lost. That’s because Elizabeth Janangelo sank a 12-footer for birdie to fill the second and final spot.
Downs walked off the green smiling meekly. Murray was there to console her as the darkness filled the air like a black crayon. “Bummer” was all Downs could muster.
But she knew this much: the experience of having Murray as a caddie was one she won’t soon forget.
“I don’t know many people who can say that,” she said, still smiling.
Story written by Ken Klavon, USGA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions.