His first European vacation
Part-golfer, part-tourist this week, William McGirt has quickly embraced his Scottish roots
July 15, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- William McGirt's top-20 position in the FedExCup standings earned him a spot in The Open. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
TROON, Scotland – William McGirt was in the passenger seat in a van. He and wife Sarah had just landed in Scotland on Monday – the first time he had ever stepped foot in Europe – and were being driven to their accommodations for this week’s Open Championship. A delivery truck was coming the opposite way.
The two-lane road was tight. Very tight. Knuckle-clinching tight. Like some of the holes he’s facing this week at Royal Troon, there was no bailout on either side.
McGirt held his breath. One thought crossed his mind. We’re about to get smashed.
“But then everybody just kind of slows down and eases past and goes on,” McGirt said. “You’re like, ‘Whew.’ Big sigh of relief.”
Consider it McGirt’s Welcome to Europe moment.
A month ago, McGirt won the Memorial Tournament sponsored by Nationwide. Not only was it his first PGA TOUR win, but it was his first win of any kind in nine years since his days on the mini-tours. The victory at Muirfield Village guaranteed him entry into the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
A few weeks later, McGirt secured his spot in the fourth major, the Open Championship, thanks to his top-20 position in the FedExCup standings.
Although he’s traveled to several foreign tournaments, he had never even visited Europe, much less competed here. But it didn’t take him long to get absorbed into the Scottish golf mystique. From the first time he stepped onto Royal Troon, McGirt knew he was going to enjoy himself.
“It’s such a different style golf than what I’m used to back home,” said the South Carolina-bred McGirt. “I’m not complaining about playing some of the best courses in the world, in the absolute best conditions you’re going to see them all year.
“But it’s nice to come over here and play where everything is not dead perfect. These greens are very slow and a touch on the bumpy side. But it’s still fun.”
McGirt didn’t have quite as much fun on Thursday when he opened with a 4-over 75, and he missed the cut by a stroke after a second-round 72. But this week is not just about what happens inside the ropes. McGirt acknowledged he’s part golfer, part tourist, and that his week will be successful no matter how he finishes.
Sarah has been to Europe before but never to Scotland, and she walked with her husband during practice rounds, taking photos to chronicle the experience and show their two young kids back home.
Ready to head across the pond! My first trip to Europe. Looking forward to a kid-free week with this mama! pic.twitter.com/q0IbXv0mPU— William McGirt (@WilliamMcGirt) July 10, 2016
“I’d love to play well but the big thing is I’ve never had a chance to come to Europe period,” McGirt said while enjoying the Scottish sun Wednesday after his final practice round. “You catch days like this, where you can see forever and, wow, this place is beautiful.”
McGirt has been particularly taken with the Scottish golf fans, appreciating their knowledge and understanding of a good golf shot. He recalled a buried lie near the lip of the bunker at the 14th hole. He figured it was a 10-to-1 shot to get it out, but he managed to splash onto the green. The applause he received impressed him.
“They know what a good golf shot is – and it’s not necessarily a shot 5 feet from the hole. It could be 50 feet and they know it’s a really good golf shot,” McGirt said.
“That’s the difference between Scottish fans and American fans. American fans want to see two things. One, who can hit it the farthest? They want to see you absolutely kill it. And the other thing is, they want to see how bad you can screw up. Over here, they don’t want to see bad shots. They don’t want you to screw up.”
McGirt even appreciates the Scottish weather. He played in a driving rain storm for the front nine during one of his practice rounds. Had this been a practice round in the U.S., he would have stayed in the clubhouse and texted his caddie Brandon Antus, telling him they would wait out the storm until it cleared.
Instead, he and Antus stayed on the course. At one point, as he stood on the seventh tee, McGirt could have sworn the rain was coming from the ground up. He wondered if the horn was going to blow to suspend play. But it didn’t – and McGirt never stopped practicing.
“It was borderline miserable,” he said, “but it was still fun.”
Like most first-time visitors to Scotland, McGirt has also found humor in trying to understand some of the thicker Scottish brogues. On Tuesday during his practice round with Bill Haas, the two started up a discussion with one of the marshals. Haas had heard that all of the world’s curling stones came from a tiny volcanic island off the coast of Scotland and wondered how close that island was from Troon.
The marshal offered an answer – Ailsa Craig -- but neither McGirt nor Haas could understand him. Finally one of the camera guys intervened and they all had a good chuckle.
“The people here are fantastic,” McGirt said. “So respectful. If you ask a question, they’ll answer as honestly as they can.”
Perhaps McGirt feels a kinship with the Scottish people because he’s one of them. Makes sense with his surname. A few days before his trip, McGirt’s mother contacted him and told her son that the family origins are about 60 miles from Troon.
“I’ve got a little Scotch in me,” he said.
McGirt, of course, would love to play more Open Championships, but none are guaranteed for him past this week. If he qualifies next year, he said he may come over early and play the Scottish Open.
And even if he doesn’t get back for a tournament, he wants to bring his family to Scotland, especially when the kids get older. He’d love nothing more than to get in a car and ride through the countryside.
The only thing he won’t be doing is the driving.
“I’m not brave enough,” McGirt said, “to get behind the wheel.”