DUBLIN, Ohio — William McGirt won a bunch on Sunday with his first PGA Tour win, including a day off on Monday.
The 36-year-old Fairmont native originally planned to tee it up at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club at 8:20 a.m. in hopes of qualifying for next week’s U.S. Open in Oakmont, but suddenly found himself exempt from qualifying.
The victory at Jack Nicklaus’ signature event, The Memorial, had McGirt rethinking what’s next.
“… I think it may be time to reassess and adjust the goals a bit higher,” he said. “With that, a lot more hard work will be required. I’ve never shied away from hard work.”
After 165 career starts in six seasons, McGirt earned his elusive victory on Sunday by draining a 6-foot putt to beat Jon Curran on the second playoff hole at Muirfield Village, vaulting him from No. 102 to No. 44 in the world to assure himself a spot in his first major since the 2012 PGA Championship.
With tournament host Nicklaus seated a few feet away, McGirt calmly addressed his par putt on the 18th green, and as the ball tracked toward the hole, raised his arm for a celebratory fist pump. A handshake with Nicklaus followed, along with a photograph featuring McGirt holding the trophy with his wife Sarah, plus their two children, Mac and Caroline, by his side.
“After a week or so, maybe it’ll set in, but it’s a pretty darn cool feeling right now to get win No. 1,” McGirt said after the win.
The victory was the culmination of a long and sometimes difficult journey from Fairmont, to Wofford College, to several years grinding it out on the mini-tours before earning full-time status on the PGA Tour before the 2011 season. Although McGirt had made almost $5 million entering this year, victory had eluded him until Sunday, although three times he had finished second.
“I can’t even put into words what it means to finally make some lifelong dreams come true,” McGirt said in a Facebook post on Monday night. “Six years ago, I was crazy excited about simply possessing a PGA Tour card. Over the last 18 months or so I have become obsessed with hoisting a trophy.”
He picked a good venue for his first one, beating an elite field that included the world’s top three players, who were all coming off an individual win.
The win was worth $1.53 million, and opened up a bunch of doors. McGirt vaulted to 10th in the FedEx Cup and 15th in points for the Ryder Cup, which is played later this year.
In addition to a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour, the win earns him a spot in the PGA Championship at the end of July and an invitation to Augusta National for The Masters in April. He’s also eligible to play in his first World Golf Championship at Firestone later this month.
“I’ve always hoped to fulfill each dream/goal I’ve set for myself,” McGirt said. “Playing in The Masters has always been the ultimate goal. Now that I know I will get to play in The Masters . ….”
McGirt is having the best of his six PGA Tour seasons, having earned a career season-high $2.84 million in 18 starts to move to 11th on the money list.
Only Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed have more top-10 finishes this year than McGirt, who now has five.
McGirt showed that consistency throughout the day, rolling in par after par while his competitors faltered. He played the final 22 holes at Muirfield Village without a bogey, and got up-and-down all seven times he missed a green over the final two rounds. His final par in regulation proved to be the most important, a two-putt from 63 feet for a 1-under 71 that allowed him to join Curran in a playoff at 15-under par.
Curran closed with a 70, hitting a 7-iron out of a bunker on the 17th hole to within 7 feet for a birdie to tie McGirt.
On the first playoff hole, with Curran facing a 25-foot birdie putt, McGirt blasted out of a bunker and let the steep slope behind the flag take the ball down the hill to a few feet for a clutch par. Curran narrowly missed his birdie putt, sending the playoff back to the 18th again. Both went long on their approaches to the green — McGirt in thick grass behind the green, Curran out of a bunker and into the gallery, leaving a tough pitch down toward the green.
Curran’s shot traveled down the ridge, where he two-putted for a bogey. McGirt hit a flop shot to 6 feet to set up his winning par putt.
“It was a hard day,” he said. “I never felt comfortable with my golf swing, but I putted really, really well.”
The Memorial was the latest in a growing number of opportunities for McGirt to claim his first PGA Tour title. He’s had three runner-up finishes, including one at the Sanderson Farms Championship earlier this season. His only win as a pro came on the eGolf Tour in 2007 at the Cabarrus Classic on the old Tar Heel Tour. He used the $16,000 check to pay of credit card debt.
Bad weather near the tournament site in Ohio meant that CBS aired tape-delayed coverage of the final round, forcing McGirt’s father, Curtis, to follow online as his son came down the stretch.
But what ensued was a feeling of “relief and exaltation” as the longtime Fairmont resident was able to enjoy watching the coverage unfold, knowing William was the eventual winner.
“It’s a process and I don’t think it’s done yet,” Curtis said of his son’s first win. “But he sure took a big step (on Sunday).”
Reflecting on William’s journey, Curtis said his son’s “desire to reach his goal” stands out most.
“He always knew from the time he was 15 years old that (playing golf) was what he wanted to do for a living,” he said. “Moving toward that goal, facing the difficulties he faced, most people would’ve quit before getting to that point of success.”
Curtis called William late Sunday night to briefly congratulate him before resuming “family talk” as his son prepared to fly back home to South Carolina.
“I’m happy for my son and there’s a big burden lifted off of him now,” he said. “I think he’ll be better from here forward. It would not surprise me to see him put himself in contention more often. I know how hard he’s worked. He’s earned it.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley. The Associated Press contributed to this report.