HONOLULU – One tournament into his second go-round on the PGA Tour and William McGirt feels as he did before: Don’t shake him; he’s afraid he’ll wake up.
“I got out here last year and I was like a kid in a candy store – and I still am,” McGirt said at the Sony Open, where he began his sophomore year on the PGA Tour with a share of 19th place, good for $69,025. It took until his fifth tournament in his rookie season to pile up that much money, and McGirt considers it an enormous sum.
But he vows not to take it for granted or let it change his country-boy humility. He’s in a candy store, remember?
“Whenever I lose that feeling, I need to walk away, because this is the greatest job in the world, and anybody who doesn’t enjoy it needs to have a reality check.”
Amid palm trees, a glistening Pacific and tropical warmth, McGirt played solidly at the Sony Open and felt relieved to be back on the road. You’ve read endless stories of pro golfers who tire of the travel, who think three straight weeks of private jets, marvelously manicured golf courses and million-dollar purses is torture? Well, McGirt isn’t one of them.
Having swallowed minitour dust in obscure backwater towns for years, McGirt at 32 appreciates all that the PGA Tour provides him. That it requires travel is no worry, not to him nor his wife Sarah, for this is a priceless reward for years of patience and hard work.
“She’s loving it. We’re glad to be back on the road,” McGirt said. “We were talking in Palm Springs last week. She said it’s so much easier for us when we get on the road. I’m kind of back in my comfort zone on the road. When I’m at home (Boiling Springs, S.C.), I get antsy, and there are days when it’s 35 or 40 degrees and I start pacing the house. I walk two or three miles just in my living room.”
McGirt, like so many of his PGA Tour brethren, stopped in at Palm Springs to shake rust off of his game before heading to Hawaii. He had connected with a few gentlemen while playing last fall in the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational, and they invited him to play some golf in Palm Springs. He also was introduced to some other gentlemen by fellow PGA Tour member Joe Ogilvie, who has been known to associate with a well-heeled crowd, and next thing you know, McGirt once again was able to put his livelihood in perspective.
“In our group last week, the poor man was probably worth $50 million, the richest $500 million.”
Yet each of those men wanted to tee it up with these two unheralded PGA Tour members, so what McGirt took away from that opportunity was more reinforcement that his perspective is spot on. It’s a wonderful thing, this PGA Tour lifestyle, and shame on those who have it and don’t appreciate it.
“We go to play the nicest golf courses in the country and play them in the best condition they’ll be in all year. What’s not to like about that?” McGirt said. “You want to play well every week, but realistically, you can’t; what you want to do is figure out how to make the cut when you’re playing bad and take advantage of the good ones.”
While McGirt takes pride in the long road he has traveled from Wofford College – one that has included stops at the Gateway, Hooters and eGolf tours – and won’t ever relinquish the passion for golf that has made it all possible, he is comfortable every day in this setting.
“I’m way more relaxed (this year),” he said. “I know where I’m going every week. I know what to expect of the golf courses. I’ve played them once. It’s a lot more comfortable than last year, when I didn’t get a feel for the golf courses until the weekends.”
McGirt in 2011 missed the cut in each of his first three tournaments and 11 times in 19 starts. By July, he had earned just $270,125. But over the next 13 tournaments, a consistency settled in. He made 11 cuts, including seven in a row to finish the season. Though he wound up 142nd on the money list, the good news is he secured the 125th and final spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs and played in two post-season tournaments. The bad news is, he was forced back to Q-School.
But the glory of McGirt is, he didn’t see it as bad news. He saw it as a challenge that comes with the job. When he finished T-13, he had for a second year in a row secured his playing privileges through that grueling process. Sure, it would be your goal to avoid Q-School, but McGirt went, conquered, and already has improved on his 2011 season in just one week.
Heck, after shooting 67-67 at Waialae Country Club this year, he smiled and noted that he already was 11 shots better than the previous season, when he went 74-71 at the Sony and missed the cut. Of course, he explained that his improvement made sense, because McGirt arrived in Honolulu with a better feel for Waialae than he had in 2011.
“Here, it’s knowing where you can miss it and where you can’t,” McGirt said. “It seems whenever I missed it off the tee, I’ve been fine. It was hard (in 2011) to learn a golf course in one day.”
What remains difficult for McGirt is the challenge to accept how so many players week in and week out can opt out of glitzy, million-dollar tournaments.
“That’s the thing I don’t understand. Maybe we’re getting some guys who are getting too complacent out here. Maybe a hundred thousand dollars doesn’t entice them. But I can tell you, for me, playing for a million dollars a week gets me going.”
He doesn’t even break out into shakes when it’s a tournament of the pro-am variety like this week’s Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. At Sony, McGirt talked avidly about teeing it up in the old Hope, knowing he was an alternate, but hopeful he’d secure a spot. Early Tuesday, that spot opened up, so the folks at the Humana can count one more appreciative PGA Tour member to their lineup this week..
“I actually love (pro-ams),” he said. “I enjoy playing with other people. I enjoy getting out and meeting new guys and businessmen. You never know what relationships you can develop. A lot of guys think (pro-ams) are practice days. They’re not. It’s our job to keep these guys happy, keep them playing, keep the money coming in. That’s our job.”
He paused, shook his head, and thought about both the Humana and the AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tournaments that generally struggle to attract star players.
“I enjoy being around people, and I enjoy playing golf,” McGirt said. “Those are my two favorite things.”
And they’re right there for him in this candy-store world in which he lives.