Notes: McGirt gets a spot in PGA Championship
He has been sequestered in South Carolina since Thursday. By itself, no big shock. It’s his adopted home state, after all.
Only William McGirt has been in the area of Kiawah Island, not at his house in Boiling Springs, which is more than 200 miles away. The reason for the extended stay has been for the best of reasons, however McGirt wanted to be prepared for what he had hoped would be a dream come true. Last night he was officially told it had come true - he's in the PGA Championship.
“To make my first major start in my adopted home state, well, it’s probably icing on the cake to my season,” said McGirt, who was first alternate and not taking anything for granted until he heard from the PGA of America.
Still, “I’m not counting my chickens until they’re hatched,” he said.
It’s by the slimmest of margins that McGirt wasn’t already in the field, a mere $11. That’s how much more money Jimmy Walker ($1,189,510) compiled than McGirt ($1,189,499) to snare the final automatic spot off the PGA Championship points list. While it might have been agonizing to some to fall that shy, McGirt kept his perspective. He said he thought all along that he needed to finish second all alone in the recent RBC Canadian Open, “so to be perfectly honest, when I finished tied for second I figured I had no chance.”
His chance as first alternate looked good from the very beginning, because the PGA of America leaves two spots open in case winners of the Bridgestone Invitational and Reno-Tahoe Classic aren’t already qualified for the season’s final major. Heading into the final round of the Bridgestone, the best chance for a non-qualified winner was Englishman Lee Slattery, who finished T-8, allowing McGirt to clinch a spot in the PGA.
Then again, it’s golf and one can’t blame for McGirt for ignoring premature celebration. At 33, he has truly paid his dues in a series of minitours and appreciates the PGA Tour lifestyle perhaps more than anyone. That’s why you can’t help but appreciate how passionate he is about the PGA opportunity that figures to come his way.
He said it hit him most dramatically Thursday when he went out to the Country Club of Charleston with head pro Danny Stewart, his longtime swing coach. Dozens of club members are volunteering their services for the upcoming major, which will be held at the Ocean Course about 25 miles away, and as they were going through a training session they caught a glimpse of McGirt.
“They started applauding and coming over to wish me the best,” McGirt said. “It was really cool.”
McGirt has played the Ocean Course each of the last three days and each time there was a different wind. And make no mistake, as unique as the course is with its sweeping vistas and sandy areas that will not be treated as bunkers, Kiawah Island is all about the wind.
“I had it fro the southeast Thursday, due south the next, and due east the third day,” McGirt said. And for how different the course plays, he said to consider the par-5 11th, which will play roughly 600 yards. One day he hit driver, 5-wood, pitching wedge, the next day he hit driver and hybrid and was just off the back.
Now that McGirt is officially in, he can go through the routine of registering, an act that will include picking up guest passes. Given his South Carolina ties and his genuine, warm-hearted personality, one would assume he’ll have an easy time distributing them.
“Yeah, they’ll go pretty quick,” he said.
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NO ADVANTAGES HERE: So, it’s on to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for the season’s final major championship, aka “Glory’s Last Shot.”
Now before you go thinking that there’ll be an advantage of sorts to Dustin Johnson and Kyle Stanley at the PGA Championship, think again. Johnson is a native South Carolinian, yes, but he hasn’t played the Ocean Course in years. When asked about it, he pointed to his caddie, Bobbie Brown, and said, “Ask him, he plays it.”
As for Stanley, his South Carolina residence is no longer. He said he’s living now in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is closer to his family in Gig Harbor, Wash.
Stanley had settled in the Hilton Harbor Island, S.C., area after graduating from Clemson, mostly “because it was convenient.” While he played plenty of golf in that area, he said he never made it to Kiawah Island, so cross him off your list of those you suspected would have “local knowledge.”
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GOING BUNKER-LESS: Ernie Els fielded the question about “through the green,” understood what it meant, but couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Lots of sand at the Ocean Course, but no bunkers? Players can feel free to ground their clubs or remove loose impediments.
“All the bunkers?” Els asked.
“So you can ground your club?”
Told that that was the message delivered by the PGA of America, that the sandy areas from start to finish would be treated as waste areas and not as bunkers, Els still wasn’t believing.
“No, no, no. That can’t be. Even fairway bunkers? If that’s the rule they’re going to have to change it because that’s ridiculous. That would be absolutely astonishing.”
He shook his head.
“We’ll have to check that one out.”
Feel free, but it will be a bunker-less major championship.
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FUTURE CAPTAIN? David Toms came into the Bridgestone Invitational 28th in the Ryder Cup standings. So, no, there aren’t any hopes of a fourth appearance in the biennial competition, yet one could argue there will be a Ryder Cup in his future.
As a U.S. captain, that is.
Given his PGA Championship win (in 2001), Toms has what has always seemed to be a prerequisite to be named team captain and it’s not like such speculation surprises him.
Asked if making captain’s picks would be the toughest part of the job, Toms seemed to agree, though he offered a lighthearted philosophy.
“If it’s in Europe, you pick the guys who putt well on slow greens and play well when it’s raining,” Toms said. But in the U.S.? “Someone who drives it straight and putts it great on fast greens.”