KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — William McGirt is making a name for himself on the PGA Tour — but he prefers that it not be “Dirt.”
The Fairmont native, fresh off back-to-back top-5 finishes that added about $568,000 to his bank account and assured his place on the PGA Tour during 2013, doesn’t much like the moniker that Charlie Rymer, an analyst and personality on The Golf Channel, tagged him with.
“I despise it,” said McGirt, a sentiment he shared with Rymer through a text message.
He prefers William, the name father Curtis McGirt and mother Anne gave him when he was born on June 21, 1979.
McGirt would embrace another name — PGA Tour winner, and he thinks that time is just around the dogleg. The balance in his game was demonstrated during the True South Classic, where he led the field in greens in regulation, and the RBC Canadian Open, where he led the field in putting.
“I think it shows me No. 1 that things are starting to come together, and the work is paying off,” said McGirt, now the 200th ranked player in the world. “It shows me that I can compete out here on regular basis and I can win on this tour.”
That almost happened in Canada, when McGirt led the tournament by 2 strokes with four holes to go. But a 3-putt bogey on No. 15 and a wayward second shot on No. 18 meant victory would have to come another day. McGirt is sure that the experience will be a 15th club in the bag next time his name sits atop the leaderboard.
“The first three holes I was pretty jittery,” said McGirt, whose final-round scoring average of 70.00 ranks him 15th best on the tour. “But once I birdied No. 3, honest to goodness, it was almost scary, when the putt went it, the nerves went away.”
Although he had a 2-stroke lead heading to No. 15, McGirt didn’t know it.
“I never looked at the leaderboard all day on Sunday,” he said. “I told my caddy, you let me know if we need to stomp on the gas or ease off it.”
But as McGirt teed off on No. 18, that plan fell apart.
“Someone in the gallery yelled ‘birdie win, par ties, come on McGirt,’” he said.
There was plenty of consolation in the tie for second place — the $457,000 that elevates his status for 2013, making him eligible for some limited-field events, including the tour’s “fifth major,” the Players Championship, FedEx points that qualify him not only for the playoffs, but at 63rd on the list, positions him for a deep run, and other perks, including a badly needed week off.
“I can set my schedule now and don’t have to worry about a reshuffle,” said McGirt, who has won $986,000 this year, placing him 70th on the money list, and almost $1.52 million during his two-year career.
He will also get preferred tee times, and play with more established players, beginning at the Wyndham Classic in Greensboro that begins on Aug. 16.
“I will be playing with different people,” he said. “That’s a good thing. I have noticed when I play with top-50 players I tend to elevate my game.”
McGirt rejects the notion that his play of late — 34 under par for his last eight rounds — was lightning in a bottle, saying he had been within inches of higher finishes and bigger paydays all year long.
“It’s not like I went to Mississippi and someone switched a switch on,” said McGirt, whose nine missed cuts this year are by a total of 13 strokes. “The difference was the putts started catching the lips and going in.”
Another difference is McGirt won’t have to fight for his playing rights for a second straight year, and on Thursday his career takes a major step, when he tees off in the PGA Championship, one of golf’s elite events, along with the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He had missed making the PGA field by a mere $11, but was first alternate, and when Keegan Bradley, the defending PGA champion, won the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, the door opened for McGirt.
But he was already preparing.
While being interviewed for this story on Thursday, he and wife Sarah were driving from his Boiling Springs, S.C., home to Kiawah Island, where he spent his weekend off getting in work on the Ocean Course, introduced to the world during the 1991 Ryder Cup as being a penal venue. The first three times he played the course this past week, the wind came from different directions.
Before that, he had played the Ocean Course just once, as a freshman at Wofford College, but in some ways it will feel like home. He is an honorary member of the club, and his longtime coach, Danny Stewart, is head pro at the Country Club of South Carolina at nearby Charleston. McGirt expects there will be plenty of familiar faces in the gallery.
“I can’t think of a better place other than Pinehurst for to play my first major,” said McGirt, who tees off on No. 1 at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday and on No. 10 at 9:20 a.m. on Friday. “I am very excited. It will be close to home, and a ton of people there that I know.”
While his life on the course has changed for the better, so will his life at home. He and Sarah are expecting their first child in January. Although Sarah has been his Girl Friday on the tour, taking care of all the other things while he tends to his golf game, McGirt believes being a father will just make him a better player.
“We are both excited …,” he said. “It should be good for me on the course, make me focus more and spend better time practicing as I am going to be eager to get home to spend time with her and the baby.”