You’d be lying if you said William McGirt was on your list of Masters favorites entering the week.
McGirt had no experience at Augusta National. Missed three of his last four cuts. 600-1 odds. Statistically unimpressive. Not exactly the recipe for a guy you’d expect to hang around the top of the leaderboard in his first try at the season’s first major.
And yet, here he is. The first-timer has embraced the totality of the Masters experience, and the approach is paying dividends. As ESPN’s Jason Sobel reports, McGirt went on an AMEX spending spree at the merchandise shop and concession stands.
He made it to the course four hours ahead of his first-round tee time to watch Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player strike the opening tee shots. Indeed, he seems to be reveling in the sublime at golf’s most famous tournament.
“It’s kind of neat to hang around late in the afternoons and walk out on the porch outside the locker room and watch as everybody’s leaving,” McGirt said. “I think that’s one of the most beautiful sunsets. And same thing with the morning sunrise. To sit out there and watch the sun come up is pretty darn special.”
Dude is playing in his first Masters. Shouldn’t he be quaking with fear and throwing up on himself? What’s going on here?
First of all, McGirt lives only a couple of hours from Augusta National, and he’s made three trips to play practice rounds at the course since last December, so he’s acquired a level of comfort and done a good deal of preparation.
But even more than the particulars of his preparation, two critical pieces of advice from the two greatest golfers of all time have overhauled the journeyman’s mindset. If he manages to win this week, the input of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods will have been critical.
McGirt, who won Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament last year, ran into the Golden Bear earlier this week at Augusta National. The 18-time major champion had some powerful words for the Masters rookie.
“He just told me to play smart and play within myself,” McGirt said. “He said, ‘If you can win at my place, you can win here,’ because there’s a lot of similarities in the two golf courses. … He just kind of started talking and I just listened.”
And of course, there’s the other famous bit of advice McGirt revealed after his Memorial win last year. Tiger Woods overhead McGirt gabbing on the putting green five years ago. The gist of what McGirt was saying: He hadn’t looked at the leaderboard while he was in contention at the previous week’s event.
Needless to say, Woods didn’t agree with McGirt’s approach and told him as much.
“You think Kobe [Bryant] doesn’t look at the scoreboard with a minute to go in the game,” Woods famously asked McGirt.
So, while William McGirt may not become the first rookie to win the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, if he does don the green jacket, he’d be wise to extend a word of thanks to Misters Nicklaus and Woods.