McGirt poised to go from journeyman to TOUR champion in LA
February 15, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- William McGirt pulled ahead Saturday and is ready to chase his first PGA TOUR triumph. (Dunn/Getty Images)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The last time William McGirt won a golf tournament was back in 2007 when he prevailed in a playoff at the Cabarras Classic Championship on the eGolf Tour.
McGirt used that five-figure paycheck to pay off some of the credit card bills he'd accrued while playing on a handful of mini-tours across the southeast.
"My big splurge from that win was a brand new GPS," recalled McGirt, who put more than 260,000 miles on one car and 80,000 on another during that eight-year stretch chasing his dream. "It cost 400 bucks and I thought it was going to break me, but it was nice to splurge on something."
The Carolinian stands on the verge of something much bigger on Sunday as he takes a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Northern Trust Open. McGirt has never led after 54 holes of a PGA TOUR event, although he does have two runner-up finishes in the last two years, both at the RBC Canadian Open.
"Tomorrow I'll look back on that and try to draw from those experiences," he said as he pondered the potential career-changer.
McGirt has made steady progress since leaving the mini-tours behind for good in 2011 after tying for second at the PGA TOUR qualifying tournament. He'd had close calls in 2007 and '08, lipping out putts that would have put him in the all-important final stage, before earning Web.com Tour status for 2010 when he was on the verge of hanging it up.
"I basically told my wife, I said, this is it, we are practically out of money," McGirt said. "... I was lucky I had a few people help me out here and there. Thank goodness my parents supported me 100 percent of what I was trying to do.
"There were several times, and especially after the way I missed q-school in 2007 and 2008, ... you look back at it and you're kind of like, I don't know if it's ever going to happen."
But it did, and McGirt has earned more than $2.7 million in a little over three years. He's comfortable talking about his roots, though, and he's not one to take the opportunities on TOUR for granted.
"For guys that came through mini-tours, I think we tend to appreciate things a lot more," McGirt said. "We could be playing for less than our own entry fee, full entry fee every week. So yeah, everything that's out here, nothing's taken for granted, I can assure you of that.
"Out here, we have people that take days and weeks off work to help us, to volunteer to do stuff for us. I try to say thank you as much as I can to those folks, because without all the volunteers, we would not be able to do what we do. ... Once you finally get here, you really have to appreciate it."
You only have to read those words to know McGirt is one of the nicest guys on the PGA TOUR. Humble to a fault, too, and with a great sense of humor. On Saturday after polishing off a 65, McGirt entertained the media with stories of the tough times and the unexpected outcomes -- like the time he made two holes-in-one during a charity event at Thornblade Country Club in Greenville, S.C.
The first came on the fourth hole, where he knocks a wedge into the hole.
"(I'm like), great, why couldn't I do it on the hole they were giving the car away," McGirt remembers, thinking about that Infiniti G37 at stake. "But they were giving away a $2,500 Bose surround sound system, and I'm like, okay, this is nice."
His next ace came on the ninth hole where the four-wheel prize was on display. No one on in his group had found the green when McGirt launched a 7-iron into the hole, went "nuts," and promptly called his wife with the good news.
When McGirt finished the round, his friend, who had organized the charity event, sought him out.
"We got a little problem," McGirt's buddy told him. "We didn't pay the pro (hole-in-one) insurance."
No new car. No surround sound system. As a consolation prize, though, McGirt got a weed wacker in the shape of a golf club. It's still wrapped in plastic in his garage back home in Boiling Springs, S.C.
"At least I walked away with a good story to tell," he says with a grin.
McGirt's first brush with a potential victory came at the 2012 RBC Canadian Open when he bogeyed the last hole to miss out on a playoff. He says the only mistake he made that day was not looking at the leaderboards -- which he confessed to Tiger Woods' caddy, Joe LaCava, the following week at the PGA Championship.
"Tiger was probably 30 feet away," McGirt recalls, again chuckling. "... I think he was mid-stroke, stops, looks up at me, and he goes, 'What did you say? You didn't look at a leaderboard?' And I said, 'No.' And he walks over and he looks at me and he goes, 'Okay, spill the beans.'"
McGirt explained to Woods that he had never been in that situation on TOUR before. But last year, when McGirt was surging up the leaderboard to another second place finish with a 68, he was well aware of how he stood on every hole.
"Maybe I made him happy doing that," McGirt said.
That said, McGirt expects to look at the leaderboards again on Sunday as he chases what would be his first PGA TOUR win.
"I'd rather put my head down and sprint through the finish line and look up at the end and see what happens," he said. "... But we'll see. I mean, I've just got to go play my game tomorrow and hope that it's good enough."