NORTON, Mass. – For a guy who grew up in the South, the happiest times for William McGirt are coming to Boston.
This is where McGirt and his wife, Sarah, decided to spend their honeymoon seven years ago when he was just starting out a career in golf that was going nowhere quickly.
“Just seemed like a cool place that we always wanted to see,” he said.
More surprising is what brings him to New England this week.
One putt made McGirt the last man to get into the playoffs. One putt at The Barclays allowed him to advance, still the ultimate long shot for the $10 million FedEx Cup prize.
Not many knew McGirt before last week. Odds are, not many will remember him at the end of the month when the FedEx Cup reaches the Tour Championship.
But he is more than just the fresh face of these playoffs. Considering his journey - not just the last two weeks but the last seven years - McGirt is a reminder that even the most successful players should realize how good they have it.
“If you can’t enjoy this job, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” McGirt said.
This is from a 32-year-old PGA Tour rookie who played more mini-tours than he cares to remember; who still thinks it’s a privilege - not a right - to get a courtesy car; and who thought more than once about quitting, promising himself “one more year” until he finally reached the last stage of Q-school two years ago.
He has traveled so much in the minor leagues that he once saw his wife for only eight days during a four-month stretch.
“If something happens and we never get back out here, I wouldn’t kick myself for stuff I could have done,” McGirt said. “I would know we gave it our best, and we had a blast while we were doing it.”
There have been plenty of thrills the last two weeks.
McGirt had missed the cut in 13 of the 25 tournaments he had played, but he had done just well enough in the others that he was on the cusp of getting the 125th and final spot in the playoffs. His car already was packed in Greensboro, N.C. McGirt either was going west toward Knoxville, Tenn., for a Nationwide Tour event, or north toward New Jersey for the $8 million playoff opener at The Barclays.
Long after McGirt had finished his final round, it came down to this: On the 18th hole, Justin Leonard just missed the fairway and wound up missing a 12-foot par putt, a sequence that moved McGirt to No. 125 and sent him to the richest event he had ever played.
Six days later came another close call, only this time it was in his hands.
Hurricane Irene not only cut short The Barclays to 54 holes, it also forced the tournament to remove all electronic scoreboards from Plainfield. Only the top 100 advance to the second playoff event outside Boston. McGirt was not aware that he was projected at No. 101 as he stood in the 17th fairway of the final round.
He was playing with Padraig Harrington, whose wife, Caroline, was walking with Sarah McGirt.
“Caroline told her that she had to tell me where I stood,” McGirt said. “Sarah didn’t know if it would put more pressure on me, but Caroline told her to do it.”
That’s when McGirt’s wife used her fingers to indicate his projected position - one, zero, one - and he understood. With his best swing of the day, he hit a 7-iron to 6 feet for birdie. That put him in a tie for 24th, and he moved to No. 96.
Instead of driving toward home to North Carolina, they headed for Boston.
It was enough time to think about the long road to this point. The couple met at Wofford College in North Carolina. Sarah used to walk by his dorm room every day and see him watching TV, wondering if he ever went to class.
“I took all my classes early and was done at 11:30 a.m. so I could go to the golf course in the afternoon. She didn’t wake up until 11:30,” McGirt said with a laugh.
He said his wife worked for Reebok, overseeing the move to a new distribution center in South Carolina. There were a few tough years, when he was barely making enough to break even and she was putting in long hours as the distribution center was being built. They didn’t see much of each other.
“That’s one reason I almost hung it up,” he said. “She was working 50 or 60 hours a week, and when they started building the center, 70 or 80 hours. She busted her butt for seven years. For two of those years, she was paying all the bills.”
McGirt got to the final stage of Q-school in 2009, which put him on the Nationwide Tour. He tied for third in his first event in Bogota, Colombia, to keep status for the year, and then made it all the way through Q-school last December to earn his card.
Sarah left her job the week before they headed to Hawaii for the Sony Open to start his rookie season.
“We’ve spent more time together this year than we did the first four years we were married,” McGirt said. “It’s the most fun we’ve ever had.”
McGirt has earned about $400,000 this year. And if he isn’t among the top 70 who advance to the third playoff event outside Chicago, he will have to play all of the Fall Series and try to keep his card for next year.
That can wait.
On Tuesday morning, he had new grips put on his clubs, then headed out for a pro-am at the TPC Boston. His amateur partner was former Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
“I’m going to hit my first tee shot and then go like this,” McGirt said, skipping and waving his arms to the right, just as Fisk did when he hit the game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
Life has never been better.