William McGirt wins Memorial, ending ‘years of…getting nose bloodied’
DUBLIN, Ohio – Having won the princely sum of $16,000 in a 2007 Tar Heel Tour event, William McGirt knew he hadn’t reached the promised land, but he was darn sure he was on his way. He just didn’t know it would take so long. “It feels like a lifetime ago,” McGirt said wistfully. It was a different lifetime, actually. His new life began Sunday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. A member of no fewer than seven developmental tours but the owner of a singular mindset, McGirt won the $8.5 million Memorial Tournament by defeating Jon Curran on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to capture his first PGA Tour title. The victory was worth $1.53 million and a three-year tour exemption, and it qualified him for the U.S. Open in two weeks, the PGA Championship, and his first Masters. In his 12-year professional career, the journeyman had played in just one major previously.
“It will all sink in at some point. I don’t know when,” said the resident of aptly named Boiling Springs, S.C., who won the third straight playoff at Muirfield Village and became the third straight first-time winner at the Memorial. “We’re just here to spread the wealth around,” tournament host Jack Nicklaus joked. McGirt, 36, survived a cauldron of pressure on a rainy day when at least a half-dozen players, including 2013 Memorial winner Matt Kuchar and world No. 8 Dustin Johnson, had a chance to win Nicklaus’ invitational. But it was the 102nd-ranked player in the world with a 0-for-164 record who persevered – and he did it in a way that was a microcosm of his career. Beginning the day in a three-way tie for the lead after 54 holes, McGirt cobbled together a one-under-par 71 composed of 17 pars and a birdie. On the final two holes of regulation, he converted knee-knockers of seven and five feet to match Curran at 15-under 273. Curran, also looking for his first win, had closed with a 70. McGirt had to clean up more dirt in the playoff. He got up and down out of the deep front bunker at the par-4 18th hole to save par on the first playoff hole after Curran’s two-putt par. On the second, also at 18, he flopped a shot deftly from behind the green after airmailing his approach. When Curran couldn’t save par after also missing the green long, McGirt calmly sank his 6-footer for the win. That’s 19 pars for the day on a course that finally showed its teeth thanks to freshening breezes and slick greens. “It was a hard day,” McGirt said, appearing excited and exhausted at the same time. “I’ve always been one to kind of keep my head down and do what I do. My wife [Sarah] can tell you that. I would practice hours and hours and hours. I would do whatever it took to get here. “It's just been years and years of practice and getting your nose bloodied and learning from it.” What McGirt has done mostly in the days leading up to Sunday – besides bleeding inside and out like many aspiring pros – was bounce around those developmental tours trying to make a living and work towards his life’s dream. He did it for one simple reason. “Because I’m crazy,” he blurted out. “We’re all nuts. We play this game. We chase a little ball around the grass and to it 18 times. We’re all nuts. “I kept doing it because this was my ultimate dream to get on the PGA Tour and try to win on the PGA Tour. The other thing was I didn’t know what else I was going to do.” That is no longer a problem. There was a handshake from Nicklaus waiting for McGirt at the end of the wet day. And a secure job now. But there were no tears. He fought hard to keep them in check, promising himself he wasn't going to cry or “make a fool of myself.” All those years toiling, he made himself into a winner.