I have been following William McGirt since August of 2011 when he was hanging by a thread waiting for the final round of the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro to complete. He gave a low-key, matter-of-fact interview while he was waiting to see if he finished No. 125 on the FedExCup Points List to keep his card for 2012. He did, by a whisker.
But I couldn’t get enough of this guy’s story — having nine years of experience as a bottom feeder myself — and wrote about his path through the mini-tours to the PGA Tour in, “Hang Around Long Enough.” In 2012 he made $1.2 million. I love stories like his.
And so here he is again, this time tied for the lead at the 36-hole mark of the John Deere Classic. He’ll be playing with Zach Johnson in the last group on Saturday. But it didn’t look that was the way it was going to go as he struggled through his front nine:
“Yeah, kind of got off to a slow start. A couple loose shots here and there, but pretty sure I either cracked my driver or put a flat spot on it because it was going short and crooked, but we’ve got to get that worked out here in a few minutes.”
“But yeah, kind of didn’t have anything going on the first nine starting out but made the turn and can’t tell you what happened. Made four [birdies] in a row and then made two more and had a chance to shoot 29 but missed the green there on 9, just had a horrible lie. Ended up making a really good bogey. But solid day, and it’s tough to follow up a good round like yesterday with another good round, and I felt like I did today”
The magic was in his putter, but he was unable to explain how or why:
“I wish I knew. I’d be doing it every week. For some reason I’m able to see the line this week. I hope it sticks around for two more days. Last few weeks — I actually feel like I’ve putted better the last few weeks and just haven’t made anything. But they seemed to find the hole the first two days, and hopefully they’ll find it for two more.”
So he shoots 64-66 to get to 12-under par and he has no idea how he did that either:
“Who knows? I wish they’d show up more often. “
He wasn’t being uncooperative, he just didn’t really know. Nor did he have any sense that this good play was coming:
“Well, like I said, I feel like I’ve been playing really well the last month and been getting nothing out of it. Yeah, I hit it great last week, and you could have put a garbage can out there [as the hole] and it would have found a way to miss. It’s a stupid game, it really is.”
So how do you keep your equilibrium and your confidence in your ability to play beyond today’s results?
“Well, you know, it’s easy for people to tell you that you really have to focus on the positives, but I mean, it’s very true. My caddie has been telling me, look, you’re playing really well. We just need something good to happen, and then you can run with it.”
“You know, I look at yesterday, and it’s little things, stuff you don’t even think about. Probably a half a dozen tee shots yesterday missed a divot by an inch or two, whereas the last few weeks it would just creep into that divot.”
“It’s just little stuff like that that kind of adds up. I won’t say it kills you mentally, but it wears on you after a while. It’s nice to actually see a ball bounce the right way every now and then and not drive it in divots and see some putts go in.”
“You know, I’ve had a few that have had a really good chance to miss that have kind of caught the edge and gone down. It’s little stuff like that, and like I said, you just have to stay positive with it, and I’ve tried to keep a good attitude with it, which is very hard to do for me, but I’ve tried to stay as positive as I could”
And with that eventual success, comes the notoriety forcing you out of the comfortable, anonymous state of consciousness you made the journey in:
“Yeah, I’ve been through this before. It comes with the territory. I mean, you play well, people are going to follow you. Yeah, it’s something you kind of have to thrive on. I mean, if you can’t deal with it, you’re in the wrong profession.”
But until you become real famous, tomorrow it will be Zach Johnson and “who’s that guy?” playing in the last group. But shouldn’t he get his due?
“I love being in that position because you can go about your business and nobody really knows who you are. You can go to dinner and everybody kind of looks at you and goes, are you a golfer? Yeah. What’s your name? William. You just leave it at that, and they walk away, and they’re like, who was that guy?”
“But no, I mean, it’s great fun under the radar. You don’t have as much attention on you. I’d say the expectations from a lot of people are lower so you can go out and have a chance to prove yourself.”
And one of the things that keeps him centered is that he has no pretensions about who he is. He’s “just a guy” trying to play golf on its grandest stages:
“I’m just a regular guy. I’m just like everybody else. I think all my friends at home will tell you the same thing. Go out, play golf, have a couple of beers, watch a football game, just nothing real flashy about me, nothing that stands out. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. It’s never very difficult to tell how I’m playing.”
“It’s hard to say. I mean, I’m just like everybody else in this room. I’m just like everybody out here at the tournament. I didn’t grow up with a — never grew up very well off, had to work for everything, and it’s been the same with golf. I’ve never been the most talented guy out here, but I’m not afraid of hard work. I feel like that everything that I’ve gotten out of the game I’ve pretty much earned through hard work. That’s just me in a nutshell.”
And he is quite grounded in who he is and the life he wants for himself. He’s not so sure that making the big money of the stars is all that it’s made out to be:
“Well, it would be nice, but there’s a lot of stuff that comes with it. I honestly would not trade one day for all of Tiger Woods’ money. I would not trade places with him for one day. You look at the stuff that he goes through, you know, I’ve been around a few times when he’s just trying to get to or from the golf course. I wouldn’t want to go through that.”
“I mean, it would be nice to have all the money and the fame and stuff that goes with it, but it would be a massive headache, and I wouldn’t want to put my family through that. That’s the big thing”
And I found this next comment interesting because I never heard another Tour pro speak about his limitations. McGirt knows his game well enough that he avoids courses where he knows that he’s going to get beat up. I’ve only heard players talking about such things in a positive way, playing where they give themselves the best chance to win:
“Well, I wouldn’t say I go into that particularly — with that attitude this particular event. I mean, I feel like every week when I tee it up, I play thinking I have a chance to win. I mean, I didn’t play Congressional a couple weeks ago because I knew I had no chance to win out there. There’s a couple of events out here I skip because I know I have no chance. I mean, I don’t hit it far enough. That’s plain and simple. Why go put yourself through that for a week when the best you can do, you can play your absolute best and finish 35th. I mean, it’s not worth it to me.”
“It would be great if this was my first win, if it just happens with this tournament to be the 20th first time winner. There’s so much talent out here now, somebody is going to win for the first time, and it could happen every week. That’s just the way it is now. If it was this event, it would be great for me. I’d love it. They take really good care of us here…from the volunteers, the staff, the community, coming out and supporting this event, it’s awesome.”
Is he surprised that he hasn’t won yet?
“Yes and no. I still feel like there’s a lot I still need to work on. I feel like every single facet of my game could get better, but I think if you ask every player out here they’d all tell you the same thing, they could all get better at every facet of their game. “
But for McGirt, one facet seems to be more troublesome than the others. It is the most common complaint of players who are trying to get everything to round into form:
“This year it’s probably been the putter. But like I said, I felt like I’ve had quite a few weeks here lately that I’ve putted really well and made nothing. When you look at it, the big picture, it’s a lot of little things here and there. It’s not necessarily one thing that you can definitely pinpoint, but like I said, everything could get a little better.”
And so the beat goes on…