William McGirt took his time turning pro, and there was a simple reason.
"I just never won that much in college or did anything spectacular as an amateur so I knew I wasn't ready," said McGirt, a 31-year-old rookie playing his first full season on the Nationwide Tour.
Back when he graduated from Wofford College in 2001 he took the slow road to professional golf and remained an amateur. He didn't turn pro until 2004 and started to hit the mini-tours hard.
"If there was a mini-tour to play, I found out," he said.
McGirt also got some on-the-job training from the other side of the ropes. His father used to run the Eastern Junior Golf Association, and it was shortly after McGirt graduated that he was rushed into duty.
"My dad actually caught pneumonia and was in the hospital for it and all of a sudden I was running the tour," McGirt said. "So I learned a lot on the fly about what goes on and it was an eye-opener."
Once he turned pro and made the rounds on the various mini-tours he had a great appreciation for how much goes into putting on a tournament. He's a rare player on the Nationwide Tour that's been on both sides of an event.
"I really learned to grind and to get the most out of what you have that day," said McGirt, who was born in Fairmont, N.C. and now lives near Greenville, S.C. "When you are doing it all yourself with no sponsors you really learn to make the most of each round and I think mentally that's really helped me this year on the Nationwide (Tour)."
A good example was Sunday's round at the Cox Classic in Omaha, Neb. Entering the final round he was tied for 51st but put together a solid 65 and moved into a tie for 27th.
The Nationwide Tour moves to Wichita, Kansas, for the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open this week and McGirt currently sits 20th on the money list. He's been consistent this season, but also knows that a couple of bad weeks could put him on the outside of the Top 25.
"I stare at that thing all the time," he admitted. "It's funny too because a friend of mine, Tim Huet, who is a TaylorMade rep, was telling me not to do that. He was telling me don't worry about the money list, let me look at that -- you just play golf.
"I would look at it on Monday, then look again on Wednesday even though I know it hadn't changed."
McGirt says it sometimes feels like he's swimming in a 100-meter race.
"You have to swim like mad and not look at who might be gaining on you," he said. "You have to swim through the finish line and that's what it's like with the money list, just keep your head down and play."
The 31-year-old estimates that he played in at least 250 mini-tour events before finally getting to the Nationwide Tour. "I know I'm considered a rookie out here but I bet three or four times this season I've been the oldest in our group," he said.
There have been plenty of challenges for McGirt this season, despite his experience. One of the biggest is trying to learn the courses -- and toward that end, he's tried to play practice rounds with Nationwide Tour veterans.
"I try to just see how they play holes and things like that," he said. "I try to pick up little things that might help me once the tournament starts on Thursday."
Another challenge is the travel. Most people don't understand the toll it takes.
"Some people think we all fly on private jets to this tournament or that tournament, but guess what, I've flown one time this year and that was to Bogotá," McGirt said. "Otherwise I'm driving to every tournament."
He bought a used Chevy Tahoe in May and has put nearly 11,000 miles on it since. "Nobody realizes that in this stretch here that we are playing I'll be on the road for six straight weeks," he said.
Still, McGirt has stayed positive, and is looking forward to the rest of the season.
"I've played pretty consistent and that's what I'm most proud of," he said. "Like I said earlier I just have to keep my head down and play."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 17 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR