by Aaron Burns
Whether he’s on the 18th tee with a tournament on the line, or just playing a practice round with his friends, Lake Norman Charter golfer Sean Murphy has the same pre-shot routine.
First, he takes two practice swings before stepping behind the ball for a look at his shot. After a deep breath, Murphy takes aim. When the club has hit the ball this year, it’s usually gone where Murphy wanted it to go. The success Murphy has enjoyed on the links, thanks in part to that routine, has almost become routine itself.
A junior, Murphy’s low rounds on the golf course propelled Lake Norman Charter to an 11-1 record in the regular season. Murphy’s had some help, too. All six of the Knights’ players qualified for regional competition on May 3 at Hendersonville Country Club, where the Knights tied host Hendersonville for first place, but lost the tie-breaker to finish second. Even so, the Knights qualified for the Class 1A state tournament.
Thanks, in part, to Murphy and crew, Lake Norman Charter’s golf program has been on the rise; the team finished fifth in the state finals at Pinehurst’s Longleaf Golf and Country Club in 2010. The improvement to Murphy’s game over the years has been a big reason. Murphy’s coach can take some of the credit for maximizing his talent. After all, Knights coach Greg Murphy is Sean’s father.
The elder Murphy said his son stepped up his game after two of the Knights’ top golfers last season – Clay Brown and Mace Timberlake – transferred to Hough. Never, Greg said, was it more apparent than in the first round of the Knights’ tournament at the Palmetto High School Championships on April 21. Murphy squared off against three other No. 1 golfers from contending programs, and he more than held his ground.
Against top-flight competition, Murphy set the school record for an 18-hole round with a score of 75. On the 18th hole that day, a par 5, Murphy said he wanted to attack the ball and gain a stroke on his competition. Murphy said he played the hole as “a three-shot hole,” meaning the objective was to reach the green in two. He nearly finished in three, as his 100-yard approach shot dropped three feet from the cup. He tapped in for a birdie to wrap up the round in style.
“Sean stayed composed the whole round, never got too high or low,” Greg said. “He was unflappable.”
The younger Murphy’s performance wasn’t a shock to Greg, who said the divide between dad and coach has never been a gray area with the pair.
“He’s been a captain for three years,” Greg said, who added that his son earned the title. Greg said he lets every member of the team have a vote for captain, and the players elected Sean. Just to make sure there’s no favoritism, Greg makes sure to remind his son when tryouts come around every year, and it’s up to Sean to make the cut after the Knights’ qualifying rounds.
Although the younger Murphy has never missed a team cut, he said that everything hasn’t been easy. From the time he started following his dad to the driving range as a child, to the time he chose golf over soccer for good in eighth grade at Lake Norman Charter, Murphy said he’s learned a lot – and not just about the game.
“Golf has taught me how to persevere, and I went through a time where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue,” Murphy said. “But I decided to take a more fun approach to the game, and I look at the positives. I’m playing my best golf right now.”
Clearly, there are plenty of positives to dwell on if that’s what Murphy wants. He’s had the Knights’ low round in all but three matches this year, and he’s gotten plenty of quality father-son time in the process.
Murphy said the opportunity to get instant, unbiased feedback after a good or bad round – sometimes as soon as they get in the car after a tournament – helps him out a ton the next time he plays.
It’s also a point of pride to be able to improve from one round to the next. But the game of golf has taught him more than just perseverance and patience. Murphy admitted the mental aspects of golf not only appeal to him but play a vital role in other aspects of life. Interested in studying nuclear engineering when he goes off to college, Murphy said everything he picks up when he’s on the course is something he can use elsewhere.
“It’s like any other part of life; you put the work in to get the results you want,” Murphy said. “That’s the case whether it’s golf, homework, tests – anything.”
Greg, who retired from practicing law in February 2010 to put a greater focus on teaching golf – not just to his son or the Lake Norman boys team, but the Knights’ girls team as well – said the chance to play a larger role as a coach was something he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” Greg said. “It was a dream come true to be able to be out there with Sean and all the men and women on the teams.”
In his third year at the helm of the Knights’ boys’ team, Greg acknowledged how far not only his entire team has come in that time span but also how much he’s learned about the game. When his son graduates, Greg said he expects to keep coaching. But until then, he’s enjoying the chance to do something that Sean admitted “strengthened the father-son relationship.
“Being the No. 1 guy on a team, there’s pressure, but I try to stay as relaxed as I can,” Murphy explained. “Having Dad give pointers – not as a father but as a coach – is a big deal.”
All the pointers Murphy said he gets are valuable, but he keeps the game in perspective. When it’s time to gear up and go for the green, Murphy said he knows what to do.
It all goes back to the routine.