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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vinnie Murphy earns Lilac title, $10,000 check in professional debut

Vinnie Murphy tees off on the 10th during the Lilac City Invitational at The Fairways. Murphy finished the tournament at 14 under to win. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Vinnie Murphy and Li Wang go about as far back as possible for a couple of talented, 23-year-old golfers.

So a post-Lilac City Invitational bear hug seemed appropriate.

“Good playing,” Wang told Murphy, after sneaking up on his buddy while Murphy was being interviewed. “First pro tournament; that’s a pretty good check.”

“No kidding,” replied Murphy, who endured some anxious moments on No. 18 before finishing off a 4-under 68 at the Fairways to hold off Wang (67) and Olympia’s Shane Prante (68) for a one-shot victory.

Murphy, a recent graduate of Grand Canyon who won the Bremerton Amateur last weekend, took control with an eagle on the par-5 14th and a birdie on 15. That gave him a three-stroke lead over Prante and Wang, but the Puyallup-based Murphy didn’t hesitate to pull out driver on No. 16.

“That’s the straightest club in my bag,” said Murphy, who finished with a 14-under 274 to collect $10,000 in his first pro event.

Wang, who went to Eastlake High in Sammamish, Washington, has seen it firsthand. The two were regulars on the Washington junior golf circuit.

“He hits it really straight and has no fear,” said Wang, who turned pro last October after playing four years at Yale. “He’s one of those guys that gets on a tight hole and just trusts it and rips it down the middle, and the rest of us are like, ‘Maybe a hybrid or an iron here.’ ”

The two played together in Friday’s second round. When that was over, Murphy trailed Prante by seven shots and Wang was six behind. Murphy’s 64 gave him a share of the 54-hole lead with Clarkston teaching pro Drew Reinland.

Murphy stayed in attack mode Sunday, turning in 3 under to take a one-stroke advantage over Reinland and Prante, who was one group ahead. Walking down No. 14, Prante glanced at a leaderboard to see he was still one behind Murphy with Wang two back.

That changed in a hurry. Prante and Wang both birdied 14 but still lost ground. Murphy striped a 3-iron off the tee, and his 6-iron from 207 yards left him 20 feet below the cup. He rolled in the eagle putt and followed with a 15-foot birdie putt on 15.

“That eagle gave me the cushion,” Murphy said.

That cushion became important when Murphy’s approach on 18 found the long grass in front of the green. He chopped it out 30 feet above the hole and three-putted for double bogey. Wang was just about to put his clubs in the trunk but put that task on hold when he saw Murphy’s second shot find trouble.

Murphy looked like he didn’t have a care in the world all afternoon, even during his adventure on 18.

“I try to model Dustin Johnson,” Murphy said. “He’s kind of my idol and he’s always so casual out there. I tried to stay as calm as possible but on the inside it wasn’t as calm as it seemed.”

Murphy’s plans include several Dakotas Tour events in the Midwest and the Long Beach Open. His first pro check couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It means everything,” he said. “All these entry fees, I think we’re already $8,000 in the hole, all on my dad’s card. This helps a lot getting me started on my career.”

Murphy’s and Wang’s career paths will likely cross again down the road. Wang has been going to Monday qualifiers trying to gain entry into Mackenzie Tour (PGA Canada) tournaments.

“My first tournament ever I think I was 10 years old and I played against Li,” Murphy said. “He waxed me. It’s nice to beat him for once.”

Reinland (72) finished fourth. Derek Barron (69) and Jamie Hall (63) shared fifth.