CLEARWATER — Like a young artist studying a Picasso painting for the first time, Calvary Christian golfer Benjarong Murray watched intently as former PGA Tour legend and current Champions Tour standout Ben Crenshaw worked the putting green at Pebble Beach.
Crenshaw is regarded as one of the greatest putters ever, and Murray was getting a first-hand look at why.
The calm demeanor. The ritualistic approach. The smooth pendulum-like swing. The undeniable sound of the ball rattling around the inside of the cup.
Murray was receiving perhaps the greatest golf lesson of his life — and he didn’t even have to pay for it.
“Watching Crenshaw was awesome,” Murray said. “It was just unbelievable to be out there with him playing Pebble Beach.”
Murray, who is entering his senior season at Calvary Christian, was one of 78 junior golfers from around the country selected to play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open on July 8-10.
To qualify, Murray made it past a screening process that involved writing five essays, going through a series of interviews and proving he had the right balance of golf skill and volunteer experience to make the cut.
His reward? Two rounds at Pebble Beach and one at Del Monte Golf Course in California playing alongside a Champions Tour pro.
“(Murray’s) been a volunteer youth mentor for the younger kids in our program for about two years now,” said Tom Charlton, program director for the First Tee of St. Petersburg and Murray’s caddy during the three-day tournament.
“I believe there were close to 200 applicants submitted nationally. They select well-rounded participants who can go out and represent the First Tee on a national level.”
During the tournament’s opening round, Murray paired with Palm Harbor resident John Huston to play from the gold tees at Pebble Beach. Murray shot 73; the team came in at 68.
Round 2 saw the duo combine for a 66 at Del Monte Golf Course while individually Murray carded a 78, earning him a spot among the top 22 junior players and a chance to play another day at Pebble Beach in the tournament’s final round.
With both Crenshaw and Huston in his final-round group, Murray shot 77 and 67 as a team to finish in a tie for seventh place.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Charlton said. “Seeing how excited and how much it meant to (Murray) was so rewarding. It was all really new for him, and it was nice to see him out on that national stage and playing well.”
Murray, who has been with the First Tee of St. Petersburg for four years, was the ideal player to represent the program according to Charlton because of his natural ability coupled with his dedication to helping some of the younger, less experienced golfers.
“He comes out and serves as a volunteer and mentor to some of the younger kids, usually the 8- to 12-year-olds,” Charlton said. “His golf game is well established. He’s one of the best players in our chapter. It’s nice for him to help out some of the younger kids with their golf swings and the mental approach to the game.”
Murray hopes his experience at the First Tee Open will translate into a standout season with the Warriors this fall. With its top two golfers from a year ago gone, Murray is ready to become a leader for Calvary Christian.
“I think my experience playing Pebble Beach and learning from the pros first hand can only help my game this season,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing the rest of the area how much I’ve improved.”