PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – As a two-time NCAA champion during his play days at USC, Scott Simpson was the scheduled featured speaker at Monday night’s NCAA Championship players dinner at Riviera Country Club.
Though Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open champion, certainly did a good job in addressing players, coaches and tournament officials, it was the guy he brought with him who really got everyone’s attention. That’s because it was Simpson’s long-time Pebble Beach pro-am playing partner, Hollywood star Bill Murray.
Most of the young players probably don’t remember or know much about Simpson, but everyone seemed to relate to Murray. And in one word, the overall consensus: fantastic.
“Simpson spoke for a little bit and, while he was pretty good, you could tell he didn’t overly excite the kids,” said Donnie Wagner, NCAA assistant director of championships. “Then he introduced Murray and he got up there and said something like, ‘Nice job, Scott. You really knocked them dead.’ The whole place just broke up. He really got everyone loosened up.”
While Murray was his normal and typical comic self and kept the crowd entertained and laughing, he also had a serious side to him this night when he talked about golf and life in general.
“It was amazing,” Wagner said. “When he got serious, you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone got so quiet. It really turned out great.”
Chattanooga coach Mark Guhne probably summed up the feelings of all those in attendance.
“What a fantastic way to start things off,” he said. “Both Simpson and Murray were great. And Murray really kept everyone entertained. I think it was an evening all of us will remember for a long time, especially the players.”
The night certainly drew a fair share of comments on Twitter, as well.
“Bill Murray and Scott Simpson speech at NCAA banquet was classic to say the least,” tweeted Virginia’s Ben Kohles, while Washington coach Matt Thurmond simply said, “great stuff.”
Alabama senior Hunter Hamrick tweeted, “Bill Murray speaking at dinner. Best speaker at a golf tournament ever. . .” and the Texas A&M site posted “Long day but Bill Murray at dinner was totally worth it! Hilarious!”
No doubt staging the NCAA Championship in the Los Angeles area and for host team USC having an alumnus such as Simpson has its advantages. And a large group of coaches and student-athletes were the benefactors.