Day 1: 800 miles, 8 kids and 6-over


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Playing in the U.S. Open for the first time, at the age of 38, Bill Murchison set two records before taking a swing yesterday at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

He set a record for the longest drive -- 800 miles, the approximate distance to the tournament from his home in Atlanta. Murchison made the trip in a van with his wife and eight kids.

Then, before yesterday's first round, he checked five of his kids into the day-care facility provided for the players. If that isn't a record, it should be.

Murchison then went out and, using his 14-year-old daughter as a caddie, shot himself into the early-afternoon lead by playing the first 11 holes in 2-under par.

"It was nice to see my name on the top of the leader board," he said, smiling.

Someone took a picture of it, hopefully, because he was a long way from the leader board after playing the last seven holes in 8-over, finishing with a 76.

"That's what happens when you hit four fairways [out of 18]," Murchison said. "I'm not upset. I did my best."

He then pulled his kids out of day care and began soliciting reporters for names of cheap restaurants where kids eat for free.

Welcome to Day 1 at the Open.

The weekend is for the contenders, the big names with the big games, the Prices and Normans and other golfer/conglomerates who win these things. Day One is for the starry-eyed first-timers to whom we can all relate, the pretenders who give the Open its marvelous humanity.

The Open is one of the last democracies on the sporting planet, see. Unlike the by-invitation-only Masters, the Open is, well, open. Anyone willing to pay the entry fee and take on the maze of qualifying events can get here. It's the equal-opportunity major.

Every year, the 156-man field is littered with teaching pros, minor-leaguers and pipe dreamers. A few always seem to take a run at the early lead, doubling the pleasure of their once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the occasional long shot even makes headlines. Surely you remember such immortal first-round leaders as Bob Brue, Bob Gadja and Florentino Molina.

The No-Hoper Class of '95 includes club pros from Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan; the 33-year-old son of former major-league pitcher Jim Perry; a member of middle management at Pitney Bowes; an Asian Tour reject; a 38-year-old Canadian who uses his wife as a caddie; and a handful of big-time wannabes stuck on the Nike Tour, the PGA's satellite tour.

Bill Murchison is among the last group, a dogged pro who gave up a safe teaching job to try to build a late-blooming career and still provide for his family on the fringes of the game. He piles his kids into a van every week and heads off to chase his Holy Grail at such events as the Shreveport Open and South Carolina Classic. His wife home-schools the kids on the road.

You'd think that being around eight kids (ages 2 to 14) all the time would damage his nerves to the point that he'd never make a 5-foot putt. He certainly has an excuse if he doesn't play well. But Murchison insists that isn't so.

"The older ones take care of the younger ones," he said. "Things are a lot more peaceful around my house than you'd think."

(So peaceful that he wants more kids. "I wouldn't be opposed at all," he said.)

When his eldest daughter, Kathleen, asked to become his caddie late last year, he was initially reluctant. She weighs 90 pounds, his bag 45. But she spent hours on a treadmill carrying a bag, and now handles the chore without any problems. The Open crowds cheered her yesterday.

"She's never late, she doesn't talk much and she keeps up," Murchison said, "so she passes the three-up rule for caddies: show up, shut up and keep up. I think she's terrific."

Murchison's lot improved when he won the Tallahassee Open in April, but qualifying for the "big" Open for the first time was a

matchless thrill. His parents and sister drove up to cheer him on with his kids. They're all spending the week in a six-bedroom rented house, Murchison's version of livin' large.

Then, bidding to become the next Florentino Molina, Murchison birdied three of the first eight holes yesterday on a day when Shinnecock yielded little. But his errant driver finally made him pay. He finished with a quadruple-bogey on the 18th hole, on which he found himself in horrifying thigh-high rough near the green.

He'll put his kids back in day care and try again today, but his poor finish yesterday means he probably won't make the cut. Either way, he'll put the kids in the van and motor down to Cary, N.C., for a tournament next week. His first Open will be a memory, and a good memory, regardless of what happens today.

B6 "I was here," Murchison said. "I'm proud of that."

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