By James BrabenecMay 30, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., May 30, 2019 -- When launcher chief Staff Sgt. Chris MacMurray, 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery, is at work a stiff head wind doesn't affect his ability to deliver steel on target in his High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
Recently he proved quite adept at blasting another projectile into the teeth of a stout Oklahoma breeze when he won the Military Long Drive Championship qualifier here earning a free trip to Fort Jackson and a chance to appear on The Golf Channel.
At 5 feet 7 inches, 165 pounds, MacMurray out-drove many much taller and stronger competitors, but then busting golf balls with gorillas is hardly the strength of his game.
While technology has made it easier to hit the ball far, MacMurray relies on swing mechanics to get the distance he needs. "I try to use my torso, twisting my body around to create more club head speed at impact."
MacMurray credited Ernie Altic, manager of the Fort Sill Golf Course, for urging him into entering the long drive contest.
"I wasn't going to sign up, but Ernie knows me really well and that I can play (good)," he said. "He just bugged me until I said fine and signed up."
MacMurray's sight was $500 focused on the accompanying gift certificate he would receive if he won. It would pay for a new TaylorMade M6 driver, "That's all I wanted."
About 30-40 golfers showed up for the April 15 contest, and he saw several bigger, stronger guys carrying their long "war clubs" to the 9th tee, the site of the long drive qualifier.
"I began thinking second place would still be good," said MacMurray, of the $200 gift certificate his efforts could still earn him.
However, his 299-yard drive was good enough to earn the "McKinley-esque" certificate for first place. "I gave Ernie the gift certificate, and he gave me the driver."
Although Altic was well aware of MacMurray's game, he didn't know if the Soldier of smaller stature could hit it long with the big guys.
"With the wind blowing the way it was that day, I was very surprised. But, I also liked the fact he was a local guy, an active-duty Soldier, and such a good young man," he said.
Altic added the regulars at the golf course know all about MacMurray's penchant for putting the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible. However, the contest at Fort Jackson definitely boosted his fame. "Everybody knows about that around here, and for some who didn't know who he was before, now it's like, 'There he is!' That's good that he got that kind of recognition."
While Altic conceded bigger guys may out-drive MacMurray, he spoke of the ultimate goal: "I guarantee you he will beat them into the hole."
To understand just how good a player MacMurray is, it helps to know a little about the number of strokes needed to finish all 18 holes at Fort Sill and how handicaps factor in. A good player should be able to do this in 72 strokes, and if he or she does so regularly that person would be a scratch golfer or 0 handicap. MacMurray's handicap is 1 so that certainly speaks to his consistency.
But, golfers have good days when they go LOW. Either everything is clicking or the hole just keeps getting in the way of any putt they stroke.
"I shot 63 here for my best round ever, and it felt great," he said.
Fort Sill's layout is kind of a "Jekyll and Hyde" affair. From the tips (the blue tees), total yardage is 6,592 yards, with a nearly equal split between the front and back nines. But, MacMurray said the front is much more open and forgiving of tee shots that stray off the intended line and end up in the rough.
"I shot 29 on the front including eagles at the par-5, 522-yard seventh hole and the par-4, 347-yard eighth hole," he said.
Yep, that's a par-4, which means he used the big stick to knock the ball on the green, then drained the putt for a deuce. Scatter in three additional birdies, and MacMurray was flirting with the immortal 50s, an 18-hole score only reachable by the best golfers.
"I definitely could have shot 59 that day, and I was thinking of it after the first nine," he said.
But then the Mr. Hyde back nine made its presence known.
"The back is tougher: It's tight, there's water on several holes, and out of bounds to deal with," he said. "So although it didn't happen, I was happy with my score."
He hopes to have more times to shoot below 60 as said he's not looking for an assignment change.
"I actually like it here -- I love this golf course, my kids like the school system here, my wife's pretty comfortable, so we're just kind of settled in," he said.
As for the golf course, MacMurray was generous with his praise. "Ernie -- you couldn't ask for a nicer guy to work with. The membership fees aren't bad at all, and the course is immaculate, especially for what people normally think of for a military course. This is one of the best courses in this area."
He called the golf course his comfort zone and a worthy distraction after a long work week.
"Friday afternoon I'm already looking forward to Saturday morning out here playing golf with the guys," he said. "This is the way to relax for me."
He regularly tees off around 7 a.m. with the same 10 to 15 guys, a mix of civilians and military retirees. MacMurray thinks he may be the only active-duty player. He gets his fun in early and is usually home around noon to spend the rest of the day with his family.
"Weekends it's either sleeping in or playing golf, and I always choose golf," he said.
Although an Army brat, MacMurray credits Waynesville, Mo., as his hometown.
He said his grandfather, a retired Soldier, taught him how to swing a golf club, and that he's never had a lesson from a professional golfer. When he wasn't perfecting his golf swing, the two would be out fishing, another activity MacMurray enjoys.
As for the Fort Jackson competition, MacMurray said the Golf Channel rolled out all the props for the event such as grandstands, Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour vans, PGA TV personality and reporter David Feherty, and the names of the 12 competitors on their spot to practice on the driving range.
He said each round players had 3 minutes to hit eight balls, and that all competitors hit at the same time.
"The first ball I just tried to get in the landing zone. After that I was just cranking it as hard as I could," he said.
He said cooler morning temperatures deflated driving distance for all competitors. His best was around 270 yards, but even professionals were struggling to reach 300 yards. He made it to the semi-finals before losing and missing a chance to appear on TV.
MacMurray said most successful long drive competitors are big men who swing all out hoping for the one shot that lands where it's supposed to go with the other sailing off in impossibly random directions. Behind the competitors a PGA spotter tracked each shot and alerted crews downrange of balls that were on target.
"He told me all my drives were in the grid, but not long enough," said MacMurray.
Although he said he won't enter the competition again next year, one can't help but wonder what would happen if TaylorMade rolls out an M7. In the meantime, though, while the big guys drive for show, MacMurray will be putting for low.