Pinky Murphy: At 95, playing golf for fun and camaraderie

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon |

Life’s scorecard

On his birthday last Tuesday, Pinky Murphy played his regularly scheduled nine holes at Laurelwood Golf Course in south Eugene.

His longtime playing partner, Arnold Valdenegro, gave him a new Callaway golf hat, which Pinky immediately wore. Another regular, Bob Murdoch, the group’s resident quipster, gave him some Callaway golf balls.

In the round, Murphy had several bogeys, just missing par on the second hole when his fourth shot, a putt from 17 feet, stopped an inch or so short.

Once upon a time, Murphy shot 67 for 18 holes at Laurelwood, three birdies, three bogeys. He was playing in the men’s club then, won some money that day, and they displayed the scorecard in the pro shop for a while.

Once upon a time, back in the day, Murphy had three holes-in-one at Laurelwood, including an ace while playing with his daughter, Chris. “She sure got a cackle out of that,” he said.

Once upon a time, Murphy, who’s never had a golf lesson in his life and who holds the golf club the way he held a softball bat on his squad’s fastpitch team in the U.S. Marine Corps, played to a 12 handicap and was hard to beat.

Now Murphy admits that he doesn’t hit it far anymore, maybe 160 yards at best.

Except the golf ball almost always goes straight, and the putts are true, and the conversations — on this day, the group includes Laurelwood assistant pro Rob Bressi and Jack Darmody — are punctuated by laughs and smiles.

“I choose good friends,” Murphy said, “or they choose me.”

And what better way to celebrate his 95th birthday?

‘A wonderful marriage’

This isn’t simply another story about a golfer; rather, a story about a man who plays golf, for fun and camaraderie, and whose long life has touched people around him, and what a life it has been — love, tragedy, family, loyalty, hope and honor.

He was born Winfred Alton Murphy, to a farming family in Pawnee County, Kansas, on Aug. 4, 1920. When he was 11, the family moved to Colorado. It was there, while in high school, that he got his nickname, Pinky, because his face tended to burn in the sun, and because he was a shy kid who blushed a lot.

At 17, he first took up golf, on a cow pasture course with sand greens. In high school he played basketball and ran track, vaulting 10-and-a-half feet with a bamboo pole. He also played football, as the center and kicker; as a senior, he hurt his right knee covering one of his kickoffs, and figures that’s why it aches so much nowadays.

In 1942, World War II underway, Murphy enlisted in the Marine Corps and worked as an aircraft mechanic; he would serve in the Marines for 20 years, retiring with the rank of master sergeant.

In the war, he lost a brother, Kenneth, a B-17 pilot whose bomber was shot down over France, near Paris; upon crashing, the plane grazed a building, and the pilot and crew are commemorated on a plaque there, placed by townspeople. (On a trip to France in 2002, Murphy saw the memorial, as well as a rosebush, still blooming, under which some of his brother’s remains were buried.)

In 1945, stationed in Southern California, Murphy went with some buddies to a dance at the Hollywood Palladium, and there he met a young woman named Margaret, called Peggy, serving in the Women’s Army Corps.

“She was standing there in this dress, she looked so nice,” he said. “I asked for a dance. We danced practically all night. This was on a Friday night, and on Monday I called her and made a date for the next weekend. I told my friend that night, ‘I found the lady I’m going to marry.’ And I went after her, and it worked out great.”

They were married three months later.

“It was a wonderful marriage,” he said. “It’s almost like we were meant for each other, you know? You ever get a feeling like that? That you and someone were just meant to be? It just was wonderful. So many people don’t get past four or five years of marriage. They give up the best part of life.”

Peggy Murphy died last May; on Sept. 1, the Murphys would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

“We enjoyed helping each other,” he said. “I was so sad when she went. … Pretty lonely up here now.”

Pinky and Peggy had six children, and there are four grandchildren and six great-grandhildren. Two sons live out of state; two daughters live in Eugene — Chris Humble, who helps her dad with dinners and other needs, and Colleen, born with cerebral palsy. One son was stillborn. Another, Patrick, was killed in Vietnam, near Da Nang, in May 1969.

By then the Murphys were living in Oregon; they’d first moved to Sweet Home, after Pinky left the Marine Corps, then to Eugene, to a house on Maxwell Road, where Patrick graduated from North Eugene High School in 1967.

“We were sitting in our front room in the house, and it had a big picture window, and we could see the green Marine Corps car go by real slowly,” Murphy said. “And it pulled in. They didn’t need to come in and tell us. We knew that something sad had happened.

“They came in and told us he was killed.”

Patrick Murphy was 20. He was in a reconnaissance unit, and fatally shot while coming to the aid of a comrade. On a wall in Murphy’s house is a framed memorial, with a photograph, letters of commendation, a purple heart and a bronze star.

In their grief, Pinky and Peggy had each other.

“I wasn’t a drinker, so I didn’t go to the bar when something sad would happen,” he said. “We’d support each other. …

“We were very sad. We helped each other, and we got through it. We always had good memories of him and we loved him all the way. I’m sure he was a good Marine.”

‘A quality man’

When the Murphys moved to Eugene in 1966, Pinky began working for the Eugene School District; he was in charge of maintenance at Roosevelt Middle School for 11 years.

Around that time he started golfing at Laurelwood, and he is such a fixture there that last year, when the course inaugurated a new tournament, the City of Eugene Golf Championships, Murphy hit a ceremonial first drive, along with highly respected teaching pro Al Mundle, and he’ll be invited to do so again when the tournament returns this weekend.

“Everybody loves him out there, I know that,” daughter Chris Humble said.

Valdenegro, 84, a retired high school teacher and coach, has golfed with Murphy since early 1980s, and now drives him to the course, and drives the cart that Murphy must ride in a grudging concession to age.

“My gosh, you could never find a better person than him,” Valdenegro said. “In all these years, I’ve never heard a swear word from him, on a bad shot or anything. Nicest person I’ve ever known. Haven’t heard him criticize anything about anyone. Ever.”

In the three older players of the group — Murdoch is 89 — are the echoes of games that were once quite accomplished, and an enduring enjoyment that embodies the spirit of golf. They urge shots to roll, and they still care about playing the best they can that day, while ribbing each other about missed putts and anything else.

“When he passes on, I get his swing,” Murdoch joked, pointing toward Murphy.

Bressi, the assistant pro, has golfed with Murphy for more than 20 years; in their mid-60s, he and Darmody were the youngsters in the birthday fivesome that played in just over two hours.

“He’s always been such a quality man,” Bressi said. “I’ve always respected his humility and his heart. He never fails to ask how my wife is doing. He always tells me to give her a little kiss on the cheek. To me, he’s the epitome of a quality man who plays golf, who has led an amazing life.”

In the late 1980s, Murphy beat prostate cancer. Clearly, Murphys are strong — his brother Harold turns 100 in September.

Away from the golf course, Pinky sings in the choir at First Christian Church; a tenor with range, he’s sung in choirs for much of his life. He follows Marist High School sports, having adopted the Spartans when he and Peggy lived near there, and University of Oregon softball, having developed a friendship with coach Mike White and his family when his daughter, Nyree, was the star pitcher at Marist.

He deals admirably with the loss of Peggy.

“He’s been really strong,” Humble said. “I thought it would pretty much tear him apart , but he’s been doing really well.”

Said Bressi: “His quote to me was ‘I just wish we would have gone together.’”

On the golf course, a couple of times a week, there are friends, and fun.

“I’m surprised that I have so many good friends,” Pinky Murphy said. “I just love them all. … In a lot of ways, I think I’ve been pretty lucky, you know?”

(Note: Winfred Alton “Pinky” Murphy passed away in his sleep on Feb. 20, 2016. It was an honor to get to tell his story.)

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