Grayson Murray steps up to the tee on the 11th hole as Wilson Furr looks on.

PGA Tour at Blue Hills Country Club finds a new champion and attracts a former native one

“This [tournament] is wonderful to have. It gives Kansas City a chance to see real players play golf.”

By Max Goodwin

Each year around the middle of May, professional golfers looking to make their way onto the PGA Tour arrive in South Kansas City for the AdventHealth Championship, dazzling fans with some of the best shots they will ever see on the fairways of Blue Hills Country Club.

The tournament even brings out 73-year-old Tom Watson, the best golfer these parts have seen. He’s a born-and-raised Kansas Citian and one of the best ever to play the game. As an 8-time major winner, Watson ranks sixth all-time, just below Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagan, Ben Hogan, and Gary Player.

By Saturday, after the cut, Watson crept along the 6th fairway encircled by a gaggle of local kids for Watson Links, a new program he’s promoting that links kids with a mentor to play nine holes of golf. “Which way is the wind blowing?” Watson quizzed the kids before explaining how that wind could benefit tournament leader Wilson Furr on this next shot. They watched as Furr hit a beauty right at the pin.

Tom Watson with kids for Watson Links, a new program to pair kids up with mentors to play golf.

The crowd moved to the next tee as the leader card finished the hole. Before sauntering off towards the clubhouse with the kids, Watson stopped and offered them valuable advice, looking around at each of them.

“Do this throughout life, no matter how bad the fight, no matter how bad you’re playing; you never give up. Because you never know the next time you’re in a situation where it’s tough. If you gave up, it might be easier to give up that next time. It shows character.”

And with that, they made their way toward the clubhouse. “This is wonderful to have,” Watson said as they walked. “It gives Kansas City a chance to see real players play golf. These guys, they’re struggling to make it into the show on the PGA Tour.”

As Sunday rolled around, Furr was still atop the leaderboard. Furr is a 24-year-old rookie on the Korn Ferry Tour, showing shades of Cameron Young. Just like Young, Furr led from the first day.

24-year-old rookie, Wilson Furr, jumped out to an early lead.

Young, also a 24-year-old rookie then, came into Blue Hills having never won a professional tournament. He shot a course record on day one and never relinquished his lead. He would qualify for the PGA Tour after winning at Blue Hills and went on to win Rookie of the Year.

A seasoned 29-year-old Grayson Murray would stand in Furr’s way. Murray and Furr would battle shot-for-shot down the fairways of Blue Hills, stunning the crowd each time they stuck a shot a few feet of the pin.

Furr played college golf at the University of Alabama, and from the shouts of ‘Roll Tide!’ around the course on Sunday, it was clear who the fan favorite was. But Murray’s persistence steadily earned him points from the gallery throughout the day. 

Murray was in trouble on the sixth hole. His ball was buried deep along the left side rough. In front of him was an overhanging tree, and 70 yards beyond that was a bunker guarding the green. Murray trailed by two shots and couldn’t afford to give Furr anymore.

Grayson Murray chooses which wedge to use in getting out of the thick rough on the 6th hole.

“All you have to do is get the ball out of the grass, keep it under the three, and get it over the bunker. Can you do that?” asked Murray’s caddie, Kip Henley. Murray said he could. “The trick is to just do it,” Henley said. 

Murray swept his wedge through the grass, catching the ball cleanly, driving it out of the grass, keeping it under the tree, and carrying it over the bunker for a miraculous recovery, leaving the crowd in awe. He would par the hole and tilt the momentum for the first time in the day in his direction.

By the time they rounded the 12th hole, playing the short par three that runs along Wornall Road, Murray had tied Furr’s lead at 19-under. On 13, Murray ripped a sizzling drive. “I smell smoke!” a young boy yelled and then first bumped Henley. Murray would eagle the hole and take a two-shot lead as he swaggered to the next tee.

It had been six years since Murray last won a tournament. That was the Barbisol Championship on the PGA Tour. It was over half a decade ago, but he still knew what it was like to chase down a leader and maintain a tournament lead. He relied on those old habits.

Murray has been battling mental health, overcoming anxiety and depression. And then, in October, Murray was riding a scooter in Bermuda, making his way across a crosswalk, when he was hit by a car. He tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and still has scarring around his face from the accident. 

Grayson Murray looks down the fairway of
the 2nd hole.

Murray says it’s been hard as he’s gotten older; 29 years old might seem young, but as a professional golfer, each year a new wave of future pros come through the tour, and it feels like he’s watching his chance at the show slip away. Through it all, he never gave up.

“It’s like one day you feel like nothing can go wrong, you’re playing your best, you can’t lose, and then all of a sudden you lose it,” Murray said. “That’s kind of how golf is. It’s a very humbling sport.”

Murray had only one bogey during the tournament as he approached the 18th tee. If he could just put his drive out in the fairway and ease his way up to the green for par, he was all but guaranteed to walk away with the tournament trophy and prize money.

Instead, Murray pulled the drive left and smacked a tree, sending his ball out of bounds. He described it as his worst shot of the week, and it opened the window for Furr to come back from two shots back on the final hole. 

Murray teed his ball up a second time, gathered himself, and hit another drive, landing in the right side rough. He would end up with a double-bogey leaving Furr a chance to sink a long putt for par to tie the lead and send the tournament to a playoff hole. But Furr would miss that long putt and bogey the hole. Murray had no doubt as he stood over his final putt before sinking it.

After celebrating and accepting his prize check, Murray turned to the crowd. 

Grayson Murray, 29, from Ralaeigh, NC, won the 2023 AdventHealth Championship at Blue Hills Country Club. Photos by Max Goodwin

“There’s stuff that drove me. There’s been a lot of hardships, up and down, just like everyone else out there,” Murray said over a microphone. “Today, a lot of hard work has paid off.”

He expounded on these hardships with reporters, explaining he has been through anxiety and depression.

“My parents have been through hell and back, basically, for the last six years with me fighting some mental stuff,” Murray said. “It’s not easy on me and the people around me that love me. They don’t like to see me down, and they’ve been my number one supporters. There’s a few friends as well that have been there as well. It makes these moments a lot more special when you can share with them.”

This was the first year of a five-year contract for the AdventHealth Championship and the Korn Ferry Tour to be played at Blue Hills. They pass through South Kansas City again a year from now.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: