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winter 2018

William McGirt Golf: Life on the PGA Tour

Celebrating one of the hardest workers on the PGA Tour

It’s the Wednesday after winning the 2016 Memorial Tournament, and William McGirt ’01 still has more than 300 congratulatory texts that he’s planning to return. That’s in addition to the hundreds of emails, Facebook messages, tweets and calls.

“It’s been a crazy 60 hours or so,” says McGirt. “It’s just now sinking in that I’ve finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of winning a PGA Tour event, and I did it in front of Jack Nicklaus, arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time.”

The win, on the second hole of a playoff against Jon Curran at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, means a $1.53 million payday, 500 FedExCup points and a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour. McGirt also qualifies for the 2016 U.S. Open (June 16-19), 2016 PGA Championship (July 28-31) and 2017 Masters Tournament (April 6-9).

“Knowing that I have job security for the next three years is huge, but probably the best thing is knowing that Mac and Caroline will get to be with me as part of the Par 3 Contest at the Masters next year,” McGirt says of his children. “The most special part of all of this is being able to share it with my family.”

While McGirt was finishing the final few holes at the Memorial, his wife, Sarah Bagwell McGirt ’03, was constantly updating the app on her phone that showed the scores. When she realized William had a good chance to win, she grabbed the children and made her way to the 18th green.

“Marshals escorted her right to Jack and Barbara Nicklaus. Barbara was awesome. She said, ‘Here, you and the children get in front so you can see,’” says McGirt. “It was pretty cool. I’m glad there are lots of photos, because it was a blur.”

As soon as McGirt’s ball dropped into the hole for the win, 3-year-old Mac made an end run around the press corps that closed in for photos and quotes.

“Mac was the star once the winning putt dropped,” says McGirt. “Sarah said if I would have had one more hole to play, I would have had to do it with Mac on the fairway with me. He was so excited. I could hear him yelling ‘Daddy, Daddy.’ That was the most special moment of the tournament.”

National journalists Craig Melvin ’01 and Wendi Nix ’96 both sent McGirt messages after his first PGA Tour win. 

“When I responded to Craig, I said, ‘Let’s be honest, neither of us ever dreamed of being where we are today when we left Wofford 15 years ago.’ It’s pretty unbelievable, but what’s even more unbelievable is how big this is not just for me. My family and friends, Wofford, my high school, the community — they’re celebrating with me, and this means a lot to them as well.”

When McGirt graduated from Wofford he didn’t have a backup plan. Playing professional golf was the only future he had in mind.

“It’s one of those things you want to come true, but I’m not sure you ever expect it,” says McGirt, who played seven years of Tarheel and Nationwide tours before earning his PGA Tour card.

While he was following his dream, Sarah was working a steady job with Adidas. She only made it to one tournament during those years, but looking back, both say the sacrifices were worth it. Now six years later, McGirt continues to be one of the hardest workers on the tour, currently ranked 10th in the FedExCup standings, and Sarah, Mac and Caroline (8 months) are with him almost everywhere he goes.

“Sarah handles my travel, does the bookkeeping and taxes, and manages my calendar and marketing — the whole nine. I get to play golf for a living, and she makes it as easy as possible for me while managing two little ones,” says McGirt. “This could last three years or 15, but regardless I didn’t want to do it by myself. I wanted Sarah and our children to experience it with me.”

While McGirt is playing some of the best courses in the country with some of the best golfers in the world, Mac and Caroline go to the PGA Tour-sponsored daycare and school that follows the tour events. Sarah has formed relationships with the spouses of other PGA Tour professionals who are in similar situations.

“The moms get to watch golf and support their husbands, and the children love going to school. They’re meeting children from lots of different countries, and most importantly we’re together as a family,” says Sarah.

McGirt had only been playing golf for a few years when Dan O’Connell, coach of the Wofford men’s golf team at the time, recruited him to play for the Terriers. O’Connell offered him a nice scholarship, which drew a bit of skepticism, something that McGirt has become accustomed to during his rise from baseball player to college golfer to PGA Tour professional. 

“William can give you a thousand reasons he shouldn’t have made it, but he works really, really hard,” says Sarah. “He works hard and plays smart.”

During the 2016 RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., the Wofford Alumni Office partnered with S.C. State Representative Doug Smith ’80 to throw an event for McGirt. McGirt’s Gallery of Terriers followed him around the tournament and cheered him on to a top 10 finish. 

“It was pretty awesome,” says McGirt. “While I was playing it was hard to look up and take it all in, but it was nice to know that I had such a big group supporting me. Wofford fans are so loyal. I can be in Boston or Arizona and someone will hold up a Wofford flag or be wearing a Wofford cap. I remember during my rookie year a man placed a Wofford sticker on an envelope and hung it over one of the ropes. By the end of the day I felt like we were best friends.”

Because William and Sarah appreciate the support from the Wofford community, they seek opportunities to give back. They are both faithful Terrier Club supporters, and Sarah is now serving on the Terrier Club board of directors. A few years ago they donated during the Terrier Ball an opportunity to caddy for McGirt during a practice round of a PGA Tour event. They’re continually expanding the opportunity so more and more Wofford supporters have the chance to be behind the ropes at a PGA event.

McGirt also remains a big supporter of the Shriners Hospitals.

“My dad was a Shriners patient when he was a child. He had bilateral club feet,” says McGirt, who has visited five different Shriners hospitals in the past 15 months. “It’s rewarding to walk in and put a smile on a kid’s face. Seeing children struggling to overcome burns or disabilities puts golf in perspective.”

The summer will be a busy one for the McGirt family. The PGA Tour season is in full swing, and McGirt now has several major tournaments on his schedule that he didn’t have earlier.

“All of a sudden all the doors have opened,” says McGirt. “It’s even looking like I’ll be going to the British Open.” 

McGirt’s Wofford family will be watching.

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89

Summer 2016