Good for William McGirt. Yesterday he won an impressive PGA TOUR trophy. He did it on the second hole of a playoff against another guy most golf fans had never heard of, John Curran. It was undoubtedly the best of times for the 13 year pro we affectionately called “Dirt McGirt” when he played the Nationwide Tour in 2010. It was arguably the worst of times for a PGA TOUR battling tooth and nail for every eyeball in the ever expanding sports universe.
Let me say it again, good for William McGirt. He’s a great guy, clearly an accomplished player, and now a PGA TOUR winner. But he is not Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson or Matt Kuchar. All of those guys are household golf names and all were at one time or another yesterday in Columbus at or near the top of the leaderboard. The beauty and the problem with professional golf is that at other times during the weather interrupted, tape delayed broadcast of the tournament that same leaderboard was populated by Emiliano Grillo, Robert Streb, Curran and the eventual winner, McGirt.
It’s what makes golf great in the minds of golfers. Nobody is entitled to a trophy. You have to play all 72 holes (and in McGirt’s case two more). Just because you are number one or three or six in the Official World Golf rankings ( www.owgr.com ) you don’t get a favorable tee time or pairing or ruling. You don’t get to play a larger percentage of your games on your home field. You don’t get to take a day off if you’re tired. They all played the same golf course, under the same conditions and a guy with zero wins in 164 previous starts beat everybody else. Yay golf!
But here’s the rub… William’s win may have reverberated throughout Team McGirt but to the general sports fan, the sports press and the “lead”, “headlines”, “breaking news” crawl world in which we now live it resonated with a resounding thud. Had McIlroy or Day or Johnson or maybe even Kuchar won on Sunday the headline, story and maybe even a picture would have shared the first page of the USA Today sports section with the Warriors, Novak Djokovic, and Muhammed Ali. Instead see page 6C. Digital golf magazines featured the obligatory trophy shot but some golf blogs didn’t even headline McGirt’s victory. If you can’t get the entire choir, you have to conclude that there is something wrong with the song.
I’ll say it a third time, good for William McGirt. He was always good to us (our Nationwide Tour TV crew) and he held it together when others faltered to earn this championship. Rory McIlroy (one of the guys that would have changed the Monday conversation) never, ever, ever, ever had a chance to win. Despite that TV teased us with the tried and true “if he could just birdie the last two and post a number…” narrative. He didn’t, he couldn’t but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact that “everybody knows who Rory is”. It’s not TV’s fault. It’s not even golf’s fault. This immediate gratification world has beaten the ability to appreciate the nuance out of everything, especially competitive sports.
Jack Nicklaus is considered by most golf’s greatest player. That argument is bolstered each passing day Tiger Woods stays on Injured Reserve. Jack’s image as a player sparkles as bright as ever but you could argue that his terrific tournament is starting to get an image problem. After decades of champs named Azinger, Norman, Singh, Couples, Furyk, Els and Woods, its last three victors were first time winners. Oh sure a look back in the history books also shows Bart Bryant, David Edwards and Keith Fergus won at Muirfield but names like those are few and far between. Until now. It’s true that the 2014 champ is Hideki Maruyama, the incredibly talented, young, Japanese player who always lands on pundit’s short list when major championships come around. Maruyama has already won again on the PGA TOUR and nobody expects him to stop. But those same “nobodys” won’t be surprised if 2015 winner David Lingmerth and McGirt never win another event.
You might say first time winners at Jack’s tournament is no longer an interesting quirk but instead a trend. The problem isn’t the tournament’s impressive history or the great golf course on which it is contested. The problem might be the first weekend in June has suddenly become prime thunderstorm season in that part of Ohio. These are not passing showers. These are downpours, drenching rains that take every bit of the “fire” out of the golf course making it, at least recently, easier for “anybody” to win. And Anybody has. I’ll say it one last time, good for William McGirt. I am a golf fan and I am happy for him and happy for golf that he won. But I am not blind to the fact that William McGirt winning yesterday was bad for golf too. Bad for golf in the sense that to get any buzz these days big names need to win big events and that’s too bad.