SPA-tlight: Don Murphy

Don Murphy, Head Professional at Life Time Fitness (Austin, TX)

SM: Who first taught you the game?
DM: I started playing in 1964 at 11 years of age. My first and only coach was Andy Leung who not only taught me to play squash, but also how to coach. Andy was a great inspiration for all of the kids in our club. Many went on to play at high levels in Australia and internationally.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 4.15.42 PMSM: Who were some of your biggest influences in the squash community?
DM: Eric Luscombe, owner of the Olympic courts in Parramatta (Australia), gave the junior players at the club a great opportunity when he invited us to start a junior club. He funded us with half of the 10 cent court fees paid by the juniors each Saturday morning and had only two stipulations: Firstly, that we run the club ourselves and, secondly, that we learn to coach the younger players. At 14 years of age I was elected as Club Captain, with responsibility for coaching, team selection and tournament organization.

SM: How did you get involved in squash in the United States?
DM: When I first moved to Austin (TX) in May 2000, I was unable to find anywhere to play squash and had to cut down my playing to occasional matches whilst travelling around the USA on work assignments and when back home in Sydney. A couple of years later I stumbled across an ad for the Texas Open and decided to enter. Whilst refereeing a match, I was approached by another player who also turned out to be from Austin, by way of Australia, and coached at the University of Texas Squash Club. They were in need of another coach so I signed on as Advanced Players Coach, a role I continued in until the end of 2009.

SM: How is the American squash scene different from that in Australia?
DM: The biggest difference that I see is that there are so many more players in Australia that the leagues there have significantly more depth which results in a difference of around .2 rating points between the No. 1 and No. 5 player in a league team. Despite the great friendships here between players, there appears to be a less social atmosphere in our leagues. In Australia there is a tradition of league matches being followed by a supper provided by the home team. My experience here is that players are more inclined to play and go home rather than stay and socialize after the matches are done.

SM: Discuss your competitive career?
DM: I started playing competitively at 13 years of age, winning a number of High School and regional junior tournaments and led my Olympic Junior club team to consecutive victories in the NSW (state) Division 1 Junior Pennant team competitions in 1969 and 1970. I played regional tournaments through the mid 70’s with mixed results and stopped travelling with the birth of my first daughter in 1979. After that I continued playing in the Sydney Pennants (leagues), winning eleven over a 25 year period. Since arriving in the USA I have won Skill Level and Age Group tournaments in Texas and Illinois and last year returned to Australia to compete in the World Masters Games 55 & Over Open Division and finished in 8th place. These days I play in the Austin Squash League team competitions each week as a way to stay sharp for tournaments.

SM: How is working for a public club different than working for a private club?
DM: The business model here in the USA is much different from that in Australia. Here, your monthly dues cover unlimited social play. In Australia, squash clubs are generally public facilities where anyone may walk up and hire a court for about $30-$35 per hour.

SM: Talk about the squash scene in the Southwest?
DM: There is a small but vibrant squash community here in Texas. Houston and Dallas are the primary centers and host the Texas Open WISPA event in alternate years. For the first time this year we had Women’s World No. 9, Kasey Brown, visit Austin for a series of exhibition matches and clinics which were very well received. We are looking to expand on this and hold our first pro event here within the next two years. Over the last two to three years we have more than doubled the number of players in Austin, largely due to the enthusiasm of our community, who continually introduce new players to the sport. Another part of the equation can be seen in the growth of the Austin Squash League that I started in 2007. In our first season we had four teams and just 20 players. This has now grown to 12 teams, playing in two divisions with 60 full-time players supported by 20 reserves.

SM: How do you prepare for a match?
DM: I start by making sure my bag is packed with everything I need—racquets, shoes, glasses, sweat bands, spare shirt and Gatorade. Whenever possible I arrive at the courts 30 minutes before match time to make sure I have plenty of time to stretch, with some left over to exchange pleasantries with other players. I also use my stretching time to think about my match plan, especially for those matches where I am playing a known opponent.

SM: What is your favorite shot to hit?
DM: No doubt about this one! While a cross-court volley nick is lots of fun, there is nothing like a well-placed lob to destroy an opponent.