McGirt ready to live the dream as first Masters nears

By Rex HoggardMarch 31, 2017, 12:58 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – For three days William McGirt’s phone was quiet.

He’d waited a lifetime for this opportunity, politely sidestepping the occasional offer, but always hopeful that his time would come and he’d walk to the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club with a purpose.

Rob Chapman – a longtime member at Augusta National – had offered for years to take McGirt to play the storied course.

“I told him that if he asks me [to play] then I’m not going to turn it down, but I really don’t want to go until I have a reason,” McGirt says. “I didn’t want to go down and play Augusta National just to play Augusta National. I wanted to have a good reason to go play and take it all in and learn as much as a I could.”

On June 5, 2016, McGirt outlasted Jon Curran with a par at the second playoff to win the Memorial in his sixth full season on the PGA Tour. After more than a decade of trial and largely error, the 36-year-old was bound for Augusta National as a Masters rookie.

He waited three days for Chapman’s call.

“He called me and said, ‘Well, is that a good enough reason to go to Augusta?’” McGirt laughs. “He said, ‘We don’t open until Oct. 14, but we can go any time after that.’”

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Since then, McGirt has made the 3 1/2-hour commute down from his home in Boiling Springs, S.C., to Augusta, Ga., three times, careful he says not to wear out his welcome but regular enough to realize it was all worth the wait.

In some ways the drive to Augusta has been cathartic, a vivid reminder of what it took to earn his coveted spot in next week’s field. He’d made similar drives hundreds if not thousands of times to nondescript mini-tour events all over the Southeast.

From 2004 to ’09, McGirt was a mini-tour staple, playing wherever and whenever he could.

“For three or four years, if there was a mini-tour event being held I was there,” he remembers. “It was nothing for me to go to Jacksonville [Fla.] to play a one- or two-day event on Monday and Tuesday and then drive eight hours to go play Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Go home on Saturday and Sunday and then do it all again the next week.”

Before making it onto the Tour in 2010, he crisscrossed the south in an old Honda Passport, putting more than 100,000 miles on the car before it went “belly up,” his dream of someday playing the Tour far outlasting the auto industry’s best technology.

Journeyman really doesn’t do McGirt justice. At 5-foot-8 he’s not exactly the model of the modern professional and consider that the web site for his alma mater, Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., lists the likes of ESPN announcer Wendi Nix and MSNBC host Craig Melvin among that school’s notable alum. There is no mention of McGirt.

“Not surprising,” he laughs.

While last year’s Memorial Tournament was McGirt’s 165th Tour start, he estimates he played well over 200 events on an assortment of mini-tours before that.

It was apropos that it was at the 2015 Memorial when McGirt turned to swing coach John Tillery for help. He has always been a gritty competitor and a true clutch putter, but he needed to hit the ball higher if he was going to compete on courses like Muirfield Village and even Augusta National.

“He was kind of boxed in a corner. There are only so many courses on the PGA Tour you can compete on hitting it that low,” says Tillery, who explains that McGirt went from an apex height of 84 feet with his driver in 2015 to 101 feet this season.

Last season was McGirt’s best year on Tour, by far, and included his first trip to the Tour Championship and starts at three of the year’s four majors, all thanks to his victory at Jack Nicklaus’ place. But since Chapman called last June it’s only been one tournament that’s dominated his competitive thoughts.

Growing up in the south young players don’t sit on practice greens rolling in putts to win the U.S. Open or PGA Championship. There’s always a green jacket at the end of that 5-footer.

“The Masters is part of our lives forever. It has so much mystic when it’s right down the road growing up. For us it’s the grown-up version of the Magic Kingdom,” Tillery says.

For McGirt, that bond began in 1988 when his father took him to the Masters for the first time. The 8-year-old watched Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer play the 18th hole, scurried around Amen Corner to cheer on Lee Trevino and eventually made it to the first tee.

“Greg Norman was teeing off on No. 1 and I couldn’t see and there was this guy who had to be 6-foot-6 and he put me on his shoulders so I could watch him tee off,” McGirt says. “Just a random guy.”

McGirt admits that if officials at Augusta National would have let him he would have spent the three weeks leading up to the Masters playing the course every day, learning every mound and subtle break.

“You see so much on TV, but there is so much stuff you just can’t pick up. Like on No. 1, you never know there is so much slope on that green. I never knew there were three little mounds in front of the second green,” he says.

After a professional lifetime of toil, the father of two admits that it won’t be the iconic drive down Magnolia Lane or even the thrill of setting out for his first competitive round at the Masters that he’s been looking forward to the most since his victory last summer at Muirfield Village. If he’s going to become overcome with emotion it will be on Wednesday when his family joins him for the annual Par 3 Contest.

“Miles [his son] has watched all of his friends caddie in the Par 3 and he looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, when can I do that?’ I’m like, ‘Buddy, daddy’s got to win first and trust me, I’m trying,’” McGirt smiles. “If I’m going to lose it, it’s going to be on Wednesday with them. It’s special to hear your name on the first tee at Augusta National, but being able to take your two kids out and play nine holes in the Par 3, I don’t know that there’s anything much better than that.”

Of the 94 players currently in the Masters field there may be some with better pedigrees then McGirt, but none with more passion or purpose when it comes to the year’s first major.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry