How to Play the Murphy Bet In Golf

Bob Murphy hits a chip shot during the 1994 US Senior Open golf tournament
The Murphy bet can be invoked on shots around the green, and may be named after Bob Murphy (pictured). Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

"Murphy" is the name of a side bet in golf that can be invoked by a golfer who is hitting to the green from any position around the green (fringe, rough, bunker, etc.). When a group of golfers agrees to play Murphies, any golfer who declares a "Murphy" is betting that he can get up and down (one chip, one putt - or a chip-in) from his position off the green.

Invoking the Murphy

Let's say your golf ball is sitting a few feet off the green, you have a good lie, you like the pin position - this is a shot you are very confident you can get up-and-down.

So you call a Murphy. You invoke the Murphy bet.

It is most common that the other golfers in the group have the option of accepting or declining the bet. Maybe they see that your golf ball is sitting pretty, too, and they also think you'll get it up-and-down. They can decline the bet.

Or one might accept while two others decline. Or all might accept. Once a golfer invokes the Murphy bet, the others in the group get to decide whether to accept or decline.

Note that some groups play Murphies as an automatic bet - that is, when a golfer calls a Murphy, acceptance is automatic. When a Murphy is invoked, in this version, the bet is in place. (This version of Murphies makes it very much like chippies.)

If the golfer who calls the Murphy makes the up-and-down, he or she wins the bet from each of the other golfers. If they fail to get up-and-down, they owe the bet to each of the others.

What Your Group Has to Agree on to Play Murphies

Most groups that use the Murphy bet are friends who've played golf together for years. They know each others' games, and they know the rules for and amounts of the bets they like to play.

But for groups that want to add the Murphy bet, or if you join up with other golfers you haven't bet with before, make sure everyone is clear on the rules. As with other golf bets, the rules of the Murphy bet are whatever your group agrees they are.

Before teeing off, be sure to:

  • Agree on the bet amount;
  • Agree on whether Murphies are optional (the other golfers can decline if you invoke) or automatic;
  • And make sure everyone agrees on the area from which a Murphy can be declared. A Murphy can never be declared for a ball on the putting green, and many groups rule out balls on the fringe, too. Setting distance limits (or even ruling out the fringe) isn't important so long as golfers can choose to decline the Murphy.

Who Is the 'Murphy' in 'Murphy Bet'?

So who is Murphy, anyway? Who is this golf bet named after?

We can't say with certainty, but our educated guess is that Bob Murphy is the golfer after whom this bet is named. Murphy played on the PGA Tour from the late 1960s into the 1980s; he was a member of the 1975 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He won five times on the PGA Tour and, in the 1990s, 11 times on the Champions Tour. Murphy might be best-remembered today, though, as a golf broadcaster, starting work on CBS telecasts in the mid-1980s, and staying on the air at CBS, then ESPN, then NBC, until 2009.

And Murphy was one of those golfers who other golfers call "a master of the short game," or "a short-game whiz." He was great at shots around the green, in other words, to the point that we've seen Murphy used as an example in the chipping sections of some golf instructional books.

Return to Golf Glossary index