William McGirt a hometown favorite at PGA Championship
KIAWAH ISLAND — No one watched the World Golf Championship’s Bridgestone Invitational last week with more interest than William McGirt.
When the final round began Sunday morning, the former Wofford College golfer was the No. 1 alternate to play in this week’s PGA Championship. And when Keegan Bradley sealed the deal with a clutch par putt on the 72nd hole, McGirt knew he was in the PGA Championship. A spot in the PGA was being held for the Bridgestone winner and Bradley already had his ticket to the Ocean Course.
“I can’t even put into words what it means. Your first major is always special, and to have it in my adopted home state makes it even more fun,” said McGirt, who grew up in eastern North Carolina but decided to stay in South Carolina after graduating from Wofford.
McGirt lives in Boiling Springs, but he also spends a lot of time in Charleston. Nine years ago during the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston, he met teaching professional Danny Stewart and has been working with him ever since.
McGirt comes into the PGA Championship off a pair of top-five finishes, at Mississippi where he tied for fifth and at the Canadian Open where he tied for second. He is 70th on the money list with $986,045.
McGirt said he has been playing well, but had missed three out of four cuts before going to Mississippi.
“Everything was a quarter-inch off. I was burning the edges, lipping out,” McGirt said. “I talked to Danny (Stewart) and he asked what we needed to work on. I told him nothing, that I was hitting it good, putting good, chipping good. Things were not going in. But the last two weeks they started going in and it was a lot of fun.”
Stewart said the only focus right now for McGirt is his rhythm.
“He’s ready to play. Luckily, we’re not in a situation where we’re trying to find a swing,” said Stewart, who canceled all of his lessons in order to be on hand for McGirt.
McGirt said he knows it will be a big challenge because of the Ocean Course’s length.
“I will be hitting a lot more 3-, 4-, 5-irons. If you miss greens you’re really in trouble,” he said.
And, McGirt is well aware that a longshot alternate can win the PGA Championship. John Daly was the ninth alternate when he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, another Pete Dye-designed course outside Indianapolis.
“The difference between me and him,” McGirt said. “No. 1, I don’t smoke. And No. 2, there’s about 75 or 80 yards between his tee shot and mine. We’re both the same kind of person, out here enjoying golf and having fun.”
But it’s a major championship, McGirt said, and the unexpected occasionally happens.