In rather quiet fashion, Shawn Murphy compiled more Angler of the Year points than any other first-year competitor on the FLW Tour last season. His performance was so unassuming, in fact, that the organization initially handed the top-rookie trophy so somebody else by mistake.
Murphy, a 32-year-old resident of Nicholasville, Ky., finished 37th on the points list and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup in his debut season as a pro. That was four places higher than Florida's John Cox, the winner of the event at the Red River. But on day 3 of the season finale at Pickwick, it was Cox who was called to the stage to accept the Rookie of the Year trophy.
Murphy was sure something was amiss – his father had run the numbers and assured him that his point total was higher than any other rookie. He brought the matter to the attention of FLW officials, and he received a call the following day informing him that there had indeed been an error and that he was indeed the ROY.
In a true better-late-than-never scenario, he got his trophy 3 weeks later at the Forrest Wood Cup in Arkansas.
"It was nice because you only get one chance at that one," he said. "I've got the rest of my career to try to win the Angler of the Year, but you're only a rookie once."
Solid, if Unspectacular
The consistency that Murphy displayed in his first pro campaign was solid by just about anyone's standards and exceptional for a rookie. He never seriously threatened to crack the Top 10 in any of the six majors, but he finished in the 20s three times and cashed another check with a 46th.
His only real bomb was at Hartwell, where his primary stuff got blown out by 40-mph winds on day 1 and he had no backup areas, which led to a 131st-place showing. His other non-paying finish (68th) was on his home water, Kentucky Lake, where he fell victim to a phenomenon that's plagued many "locals" throughout competitive bass-fishing history.
"That's the one where I had the most confidence, but I know too much about that lake and I rushed everything and I panicked," he said. "I had spots from the dam going south for 70 miles and I started at my farthest point.
"I couldn't get those fish to fire up, so I said, 'If they're not here, they're probably there.' Then I'd go to the next place and say, 'Well, if they're not here, then they have to be there.' I kept running around when I should've camped out where they'd been all week in practice."
When asked to pinpoint the highlight of his season, he tabbed the first event at Beaver.
"I was a nervous wreck. It's my first day fishing against all the guys I'd seen on TV, and I go out and catch one fish. I started thinking that maybe I didn't belong there."
He spent that day flipping way up the White River, but scrapped that plan on day 2 in favor of throwing a jerkbait on the main lake. It produced a 12-pound sack – a serious haul for that event – and he moved up 60 places in the standings.
"When they handed me that $10,000 check, it was almost like they'd handed me a million dollars. That got me into the mindset that I could fish with these guys and gave me confidence that carried me through the rest of the year."
Experience Will Help
Murphy's primary goal for 2012 will be to qualify for his second straight Cup.
"Other that than, I don't really have any goals," he said. "I just want to fish to the best of my ability and I don't want to put a lot of pressure on myself.
"I'd eventually like to win an Angler of the Year, but I think I've got some work to do before that."
One season of experience might not seem like a lot, but he expects it to make a big difference in a lot of ways.
"I don't think you can ever be really prepared for your first year – all the hours you put into pre-tournament research and everything, you can work daylight to dark and still be like a lost ball in a huge patch of weeds. Next year, having been at some of those places before and having my work ethic carry over, I think I'll be a little better prepared."
And he vows to improve upon his finish at his home lake.
"I plan to utilize my time a lot better there, that's for sure."