McGirt plans to make first Masters count
April 06, 2017
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- William McGirt is in solo second after Round 1 at three-under. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – William McGirt isn’t naïve. He knows his first Masters also could be his last, which is why the 37-year-old is intent on completing a comprehensive itinerary before he turns on to Washington Road for the last time this week.
The Masters Tournament has the smallest field of all of golf’s major championships. Invitations are reserved for a select few who accomplish some of golf’s toughest feats. Sure, there are those like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day who know where they’ll be each time the first full week of April rolls around. But they own major titles and are firmly entrenched atop the FedExCup and the world ranking. Many players leave Augusta National uncertain when, or if, they’ll ever get to return.
“I'd love to be back every year, but I'm not going to walk away and go, ‘Gosh, I wish I would have enjoyed it more or wish I would have done this or wish I would have done that,’ McGirt said. “I’ve dreamed my whole life about playing this tournament, and I’m going to enjoy it.”
McGirt, 37, is making his Masters debut more than a decade after turning pro. Several of those years were spent on pro golf’s lowest levels. McGirt finally earned his Masters invitation by winning last year’s Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. It took him 165 PGA TOUR starts to net that first win.
“There’s been years and years, ever since I’ve been on TOUR, that I didn’t know if this moment would ever happen,” he said.
McGirt cried the first time he drove down Magnolia Lane. He almost shed another tear when he was announced on the first tee Thursday. He grew up just across the state line in South Carolina, and attended the Masters as a patron, but waited to play the course until he’d qualified for the tournament.
He played Thursday alongside Rod Pampling in the wake of some of the game’s biggest names, including Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson. It was McGirt who was atop the leaderboard, though, when he walked off the 18th green. He took a moment to soak in the sight of his name atop those famous white leaderboards, a position he earned by making just one bogey in Thursday’s cool, windy conditions.
His 3-under 69 was eventually surpassed by Charly Hoffman’s sterling first round of 65, but McGirt’s score was still one of just 11 that were under par. The club’s palatial new Press Center received plenty of attention after opening this week, and it was McGirt who was the first one invited Thursday for an interview inside its walls.
His desire to maximize his Masters experience explains why McGirt was on Augusta National’s first tee some 3 ½ hours before Thursday’s starting time. He wanted to watch Nicklaus, the Memorial’s host, and Player pay tribute to Arnold Palmer during the honorary first tee shots.
“There was never any question that I was going to be there,” McGirt said. “I was not going to miss it.”
Like every other eager Masters attendee, he sampled the famous fare from the club’s concession stands and made sure to load up on Masters memorabilia. He didn’t dare estimate how much he spent.
“AmEx is going to be very happy to have me as a customer. I’m scared to look (at the bill), honestly,” he said.
That memorabilia carries extra significance, though, because of his hard-fought journey to Augusta National. He played some seven different mini-tours before making it to the TOUR. He admits there were multiple times when he considered giving up the dream.
His endurance has been rewarded. McGirt is close friends with Augusta National member Rob Chapman, but he told Chapman that he didn’t want to play the course, “until I have a reason.”
Chapman called McGirt a couple days after the Memorial win and asked, “Is this a good enough reason?” The answer was obvious, so Chapman told McGirt that the club opens for play Oct. 17.
Nicklaus told McGirt on Wednesday that if he can conquer Muirfield Village, as he did last May, that he’s also capable of winning this week. The encouragement of a six-time Masters champion can do wonders for one’s confidence. Both courses feature wide fairways with undulating greens that can be used to funnel approach shots toward the hole.
A victory this week, as unlikely as it may be, would alleviate any uncertainty about McGirt’s April plans.
Masters champions receive a lifetime’s worth of invitations.