Cleat Geeks

The 19th Hole: Memorial

The prestige and riches of the PGA Tour represent the highest level of professional golf. It’s a world of big-money sponsors and high-profile attention, played in front of thousands of spectators in person and millions more watching on television.

However, the lower levels of professional golf – the mini-tours, they are affectionately called – house the dreams of many up-and-coming golfers trying to make their way to the bright lights and big bucks that go along with golf’s biggest stages, like the Memorial Tournament this weekend.

Golfers on those lower tours pay thousands of dollars to play tournaments where many times they need a top-10 or better finish just to cover entry fees and expenses for the week. It’s often long drives between events, sharing hotel rooms with several other players and eating on the cheap to make ends meet. Few if any are making much money and nobody is getting rich. But they are honing their skills and getting a good introduction to tournament golf.WilliamMcGirt

That’s what makes the Memorial Tournament story for 2016 so great, as a guy who spent years slugging it out on those tours wound up hoisting the trophy. William McGirt, a journeyman pro, picked up his first PGA Tour win in his 165th start on tour, besting Jon Curran in a playoff.

“We’re all nuts,” McGirt said of his golfing brethren. “We chase this little ball around the grass and we do it 18 times. I kept doing it because this was my ultimate dream, to get on the PGA Tour and try to win on the PGA Tour.”

McGirt turned pro in 2004 and last won professionally in 2007, then playing on the eGolf Professional Tour in the Carolinas. That win netted him $16,000, roughly the same amount golfers finishing in last place (a tie for 74th) received Sunday. Even after that triumph, it was another four years before he finally battled his way to a PGA Tour card in 2011.

Sunday’s triumph earned McGirt a check for $1.53 million and more importantly, a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour. (Most events only give a two-year exemption for winning, but a Memorial win provides for three, meaning McGirt has a home on golf’s top circuit through the end of this decade.)

He held off a challenge from many big names at Memorial. Former champion Matt Kuchar came to the final round tied for the lead with young Argentine Emiliano Grillo, but both faded on the back nine.

World No. 3 Rory McIlroy closed strong with a 68, getting to 13-under but ultimately fell two shots short of the playoff. And Dustin Johnson came even closer, shooting a final-round 71 but finishing at -14, solo third place.William-McGirt-celebrates-win

That left McGirt and Curran standing. And keeping with the mini-tour theme, Curran is just a few years removed from battling on those circuits himself – he was the leading money winner on the NGA Tour, now called the Swing Thought Tour, in 2013 – before getting to the Web.com Tour in 2014, playing his way up to the PGA Tour from there.

But the second playoff hole was Curran’s undoing, as he struggled to a bogey before McGirt rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt to clinch the victory and a celebratory handshake and trophy presentation from tournament host Jack Nicklaus.

It’s a far cry from those days on the mini-tours.

 

Picks

Our two-week winning streak came to an end, but not without some guys making a nice run at it.Gary+Woodland

McIlroy – He had a strong weekend, but a tough first round put him too far in the hole to catch all the way up. 13-under, tied for 4th.

Gary Woodland – Our longshot pick nearly came through, playing in the final group Sunday after a strong first three days. But things never materialized to make a winning push. 13-under, tied for 4th.

Charl Schwartzel – The former Masters champion hung around the top 15 much of the week but was ultimately hurt by a poor third round. 11-under, tied for 11th.

Rickie Fowler – The Oklahoma State product has been a bit off form of late, and a rough first round ended his chances early. Even par, missed the cut.

 

This Week

The PGA Tour heads to Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Preceding that event is Monday’s free-for-all of U.S. Open qualifying tournaments, where the bulk of the field for this month’s U.S. Open will be determined in 36-hole qualifying events across the country.

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