“Mulligans suggest a redo after messing something up,” McGirt said.
McGirt makes no apologies for his 2011 season on the PGA Tour, a rookie year during which he earned $532,933, a lot of coin for a kid who grew up chasing golf balls at Flag Tree Golf Course in Fairmont after being introduced to the game by his aunt. But a half million dollars and some change was not enough to retain full status on the tour. Instead, McGirt won that full status — and the benefit of knowing where he will tee it up and when — with a 13th place finish at PGA Qualifying School in late November.
McGirt spoke recently about last year, and his expectations for this year, while driving for a lunch date with his old college coach at Wofford. Shortly afterward, he packed and headed for the warm weather of California to work out any cold-weather kinks, and this past weekend he touched down in Hawaii for his first event, the Sony Open, which begins Thursday.
The 32-year-old recalled 2011 not as a missed opportunity, although there were plenty of opportunities missed, but as the year a longtime dream was fulfilled, even if not completely, a year of lessons he believes will pay off during his sophomore season.
He feels rejuvenated after logging about 50,000 Frequent Flyer miles during 2011.
“I didn’t realize just how tired I was at the end of the year,” he said. “It wasn’t so much physically as mentally. Mentally I was spent, couldn’t grind like I want to … . My body feels a lot better.”
This year, McGirt says, offers “more of an opportunity to prove to myself and to everyone else I belong out here, and to make a career out of it.”
One person who doesn’t need convincing is David Duval, the former No. 1 golfer in the world. Looking for a watershed moment during 2011 when he knew with certainty that he could play with the big boys on the PGA Tour, McGirt spoke generally, about his confidence growing incrementally with every cut made and each check cashed — and then he talked of Duval.
“He got to be a friend,” McGirt said. “He made a couple of comments to a couple of writers and to Golf Channel about me that I heard. This guy was the No. 1 player in the world. If he talks about how much game I have, and how successful I will be, maybe I need to start believing more in myself.
“He sent me a bunch of texts right before and during Q School, even though he was competing there himself, kind of pumping me up, and that meant an awful lot to me.”
What McGirt won at Q School was a chance to compete in more than the “eight to 20 starts” partial status would have provided and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to craft his schedule. After the Sony Open, he knows he will play at the Farmers Insurance Open that begins Jan. 26 and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Feb. 9, while next weekend’s Humana Challenge is iffy and the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Feb. 2 is a long shot.
After missing the cut in his first three events of 2011, including a single-shot miss at the Humana, McGirt cashed his first check, almost $55,000, at the Phoenix Open. But his spotty play continued, and after 15 tournaments, he had made just six cuts. But he played the weekend during 13 of the final 17 tournaments, and was the last man to make the FedEx Cup playoffs — an accomplishment that familiarized the golf fans with McGirt as he became a coveted interview.
Although McGirt made the final eight cuts on the tour last year, what he didn’t manage was to break out of the middle of the pack for a top 15 finish and a six-figure check.
“All of last year I thought I was one putt away from being off to the races,” he said. “Saturday was the day I struggled.”
McGirt had conversations about his inability to “break through” with his golf teacher and his golf psychologist.
“We all sat down and talked about it and none of us has been able to pinpoint why,” he said. “I just didn’t make as many birdies as I needed to …
“It just seemed like when I hit a marginal shot, it ended up in the worst possible place.”
All the while, his game was evolving, especially his short game.
“I can’t tell you how much better mine got over the year,” he said. “I don’t worry about missing the greens; I believe I will get it up and down every time.”
McGirt finished the year ranked 25th in greens in regulation, and his 70.73 stroke average was 107th best on the tour.
McGirt believes he is positioned to cash in on last year’s near-misses. Everything, he said, will be more familiar this year.
“The biggest thing to my advantage is I will have played all the golf courses,” he said, “so I am not seeing a new golf course every week."
And there will be less uncertainty with travel, finding the best places to sleep and eat. Those duties will fall again to McGirt’s wife of eight years, Sarah, who “handles everything from travel to doing all odds and ends that you don’t think about.”
McGirt outlined his goals for this year.
“No. 1 is to keep my card, finish in the top 125,” he said. “I also want to make the top 70 in the Fed Ex standings, which gets me in all the invitationals in 2013.”
McGirt grew up in a golfing family. Besides his aunt, Bev Marks, who was a top female player in the county during the 1980s, his uncle James Marks won the county golf championship, and his grandfather, the late Bill Marks, won the county’s senior title. His parents, Shooter and Anne, also play golf, and his brother, Keith, is a scratch player.
But McGirt was not always hooked on golf. He had a possible future in baseball, having college opportunities after catching for Fairmont High’s team. His decision to give up the cleats for the spikes has been affirmed by a single season on the PGA Tour.
“It was everything I thought and some,” he said. “I’m playing the best courses in the world, playing with the best players in the world. It was truly the experience of a lifetime.”
And he gets to tee it up again.