William McGirt made a name at Memorial last year
DUBLIN, Ohio -- It would not have been out of place if, after William McGirt's miraculous up-and-down behind the 18th green to win the 2016 Memorial Tournament, Jim Nantz proclaimed that McGirt, an incredible Cinderella story, came out of nowhere to lead the pack at Muirfield Village.
McGirt, then ranked No. 102 in the world, defeated one of the best fields in golf, leading many to ask, "Who is this guy?"
It was a fair inquiry after one glance at the journeyman's bio. He spent the better part of a decade playing mini-tours, some of which sound fake -- Tar Heel Tour, Hooters Tour, Gateway Tour, U.S. Pro Golf Tour, All-Star Tour, Carolina Mountain Tour -- before reaching the holy grail in 2011 and securing his PGA Tour card.
It would take 165 starts before he won his first tour event at last year's Memorial. The $1.53 million check was almost 100 times more than McGirt's previous career-best tournament-winning check -- $16,000 from the 2007 Cabarrus Classic on the Tar Heel Tour.
So, yes, life has changed for the 37-year-old who resides in Boiling Springs, S.C. Ramen noodles no longer are on the dinner menu and a lack of confidence that once left McGirt pondering his future in golf has vanished.
"It's been a huge change," he said. "But it's been such a good change. Having the opportunity to play in some of these events that you've always dreamed about -- Augusta, the Open Championship. It's been so much fun. To be announced as the Memorial Tournament champion has been the biggest honor. Honestly, the first time I was announced as the Memorial Tournament champion, I almost lost it on the first tee."
The affable McGirt is back on the Muirfield Village grounds this week to defend his title, shake Jack Nicklaus' hand, and share pleasantries with club employees and volunteers. Since 2012, when McGirt first saw the course, he's had a fondness for the 7,392-yard tract of land.
"This is such a special place," McGirt said. "Coming back as the defending champion, it's still kind of hard to comprehend. They really embrace you here as a champion. I can't wait to hear the welcome on the first tee Thursday."
In the 26 events since last year's Memorial, McGirt has five top 10s and seven top 20s. He's currently 48th in the world, 60th in the FedEx Cup standings, and 67th on the money list. McGirt contended in the past two majors, finishing tied for 10th in the PGA Championship and tied for 22nd in the Masters.
"The biggest thing I took away from last year was that I can win," he said. "Now that I know how to do it, I've put myself in position more and more. I haven't gotten it done since, but I've been much closer, and I know what to expect when I get in that position. I think that's half the battle -- knowing how your body is going to react."
A Honda Passport was McGirt's preferred mode of transportation during the wearying days of minitours, which offers a dose of irony since he now needs an actual passport to play all around the globe. McGirt put more than 200,000 miles on that vehicle traversing small communities in the south and along the east coast.
He wasn't so much chasing a dream as he was searching for nominal amounts of money. Two-star hotels and fast-food were a staple of his weekly regimen.
McGirt's stocky 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame resembles a mini-tour player more than a PGA Tour bomber as the sport has morphed into a fitness and physique bonanza. In a recent Sports Illustrated poll, voted on by anonymous tour pros, McGirt was voted as the player who does the most with the least.
"He's average Joeish, relatable," said tour veteran Ricky Barnes, who was eager to talk about McGirt's popularity. "Some of these young kids out here have success immediately, as opposed to a guy who's in his mid-to-late 30s then finds success and looks like someone in the gallery."
An individual with a healthy ego might take the SI poll as a slight, but McGirt opts to hold his head high and realize his colleagues view him as among the hardest workers that seized an opportunity.
His everyman persona makes him popular inside and outside the ropes. McGirt has enjoyed a cult following from fans and suddenly is an in-demand player at tour stops.
"I get asked for interviews a whole lot more," he said. "But I think the biggest reason is because I'm honest with everybody. I'm not out here trying to put on a show. My friends would tell you that the guy they see on TV is the guy they see at home. I am who I am. I'm stubborn, I'm not going to change. My wife has tried for 13 years to change me. You're either going to like me or you're not, and I'm not going to change just to make you like me.
"A lot of the golf writers enjoy someone who's not giving standard cliche answers. If you're going to take the time to ask me a question and want to know my opinion, then I need to give my opinion. We might not agree, but I don't need to stand up here and float you the standard [expletive] lines and hope you don't barbeque me later for dodging your question. We have a lot of guys who will dodge questions. If you ask me a question, I'll tell you what I think."
The life of a PGA Tour wife is a hectic mix of crisscrossing the country -- and the world, on occasion -- and keeping tabs on the homebase. Tour life is often referred to as a "traveling circus," but there also are many luxurious. The same is not true for a mini-tour wife, which is what McGirt's wife, Sarah, experienced from 2004-10.
During that time, she worked for adidas. After McGirt qualified for the PGA Tour, he asked her to quit and travel with him. She did, and now the road show numbers four -- McGirt, Sarah, and their two children, Miles and Cameron.
"She is the glue that holds this whole operation together," McGirt said. "She handles our taxes, all of our travel, manages me, and two kids. She's a lot like [Mrs.] Barbara [Nicklaus] in the fact that she handles everything and makes it easy on me. I can't say enough about everything she does. There's nothing like having a wife that's supportive, and some days when you need to have your rear end chewed out, she'll say, 'OK, enough of the sob stories. I want you to get back out there and get back to practicing.' "
Seven years and $9.6 million away from rural outposts such as Ninety Six, S.C., Dickson, Tenn., and Browns Summit, N.C., McGirt holds his mini-tour days near and dear to his heart. He uses those long drives and grueling summers to fuel a continued desire to enjoy the glamour of the PGA Tour, akin to a Triple-A baseball player who doesn't want life in the big leagues to end.
"Golly, I played in several mini-tour events that are one-day events where you honestly didn't know if you were playing a golf tournament," McGirt said. "You just kind of show up and they would hand you a scorecard and you would have to walk inside and get a cart key. You really felt like you were just showing up and playing in the gangsome. It was fun times. I wouldn't trade any of those experiences."
This article is written by Kyle Rowland from The Blade and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.