CHARLOTTE — William McGirt couldn’t hit a golf ball last week.
After withdrawing from the RBC Canadian Open, the 38-year-old Fairmont native was in a position where he “couldn’t get in a putting stance either” because of back pain.
But this week, all systems are go as he prepares for the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
“My back is feeling much better,” McGirt told The Robesonian on Tuesday. “I got a good bit of treatment on it last week and I am close to 100 percent again. The swing is feeling good and so is the putter.”
There’s also the added motivation of playing a major championship in the Tar Heel state for the first time during his seven seasons on the PGA Tour. McGirt is one of seven players in the field with ties to North Carolina, joining Bill Haas, Mackenzie Hughes, Jason Kokrak, Davis Love III, Grayson Murray and Webb Simpson.
“It’s great playing a major championship in North Carolina,” said McGirt, who is currently 90th in the FedEx Cup standings and 62nd in the official world golf rankings.
“Growing up here and living just down I-85, I know I will have a lot of support. I’ve already seen quite a few people from Robeson County and from Upstate of South Carolina. I just hope I can give them something to cheer for this week.”
After missing the cut in his first three appearances at Quail Hollow competing in the Wells Fargo Championship, McGirt has fared well in his last two events in Charlotte.
He tied for 28th in 2015 and followed with a tie for 17th last season, capping his tournaments with some memorable moments in the final round.
In 2016, McGirt made history as the last player to card a hole-in-one at Quail Hollow on the former 187-yard, par-3 second hole, which was blended following the tournament with the first hole to form a 524-yard par 4.
In the year prior, he played the final round by himself, in two hours and 40 minutes, posting a 5-under 67.
Quail Hollow unveils a new look this year for its first step into the major spotlight. The latest upgrade to the course created three new holes, including the 524-yard opener made by merging the old first and second holes. Nos. 4 and 5 also are new, made from the previous par-5 fifth hole. There also are four new greens on the 7,600-yard, par-71 track, but all have been regrassed with Champion G-12 Ultradwarf Bermuda.
Holes six through 18 — including the Green Mile finish of Nos. 16, 17 and 18 — will have a familiar look, aside from a 34-yard lengthening of No. 11.
While some players have raved about the new look, McGirt said “the changes to the course are not my favorite.”
“The new first hole is brutal (with) not much fairway for me to drive it into,” he said. “I couldn’t get to the green (on Monday) with a driver and 3-wood. I may play it as a par 5 all week and just try to get up and down from in front of the green.
“The bunkers are very tough to get up and down from. The new fourth hole isn’t a good hole, in my opinion. The green doesn’t fit the golf course and it’s so firm that it’s nearly impossible to hold the green with a 7-iron. … it’s a brick.”
An added frustration for McGirt, who isn’t known for his length off the tee, is the soggy weather that has made its way to the Charlotte area throughout the week leading up to the event.
The extended forecast calls for at least a 30- percent chance of thunderstorms each day — which is not uncommon for North Carolina at this time of year. The highest probability for thunderstorms is on Friday, with a 60 percent chance.
Temperatures should hover in the low- to mid-80s before approaching 90 degrees during the weekend.
“The course is absolutely soaked right now. I only played two holes (on Tuesday) because there was nowhere to hit a shot from semi-dry grass,” McGirt said. “I didn’t think much good could come from sloshing around out there. I spent the day working on my game.
“The course is already long, but playing super long by being soaked. I know I will be hitting a lot of fairway woods and long irons into the greens this week. I will need to be on top of my short game and that’s why I decided to spend the day working on it.”
Last year’s PGA Championship was plagued by rain, as well, forcing players to navigate 36 holes on the final day.
Jimmy Walker won the event at Baltusrol, where McGirt made the weekend at a major for the first time in his career en route to earning a top-10 finish in New Jersey.
He will be making his third appearance in the PGA Championship this week and is attempting to make the cut for the fourth time in his last five appearances in a major championship.
Grouped with Francesco Molinari and Jim Herman, McGirt tees off Thursday at 8 a.m. on No. 1. The trio will go off at 1:10 p.m. on Friday from the 10th tee box.
The weather and course renovations don’t suit McGirt, but he praised the PGA of America, which for the first time is allowing players to wear shorts during practice rounds at its events.
The rule change was announced in February and McGirt has joined a slew of other pros in taking advantage of the new opportunity to find relief in the humid August weather.
“I love it. It’s been different this week seeing everyone in shorts, but I’m glad the PGA of America took the initiative and beat the other major golf organizations in the USA in joining the 21st century,” McGirt said.
“I think all of the guys appreciate the opportunity and would like to see us be able to wear them on a regular basis, even if it’s only in practice rounds. I’ve heard many of the golf pundits say how bad it looks. … Times have changed and it’s time for our game to change. I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.