Several years before William McGirt got his breakthrough win at Jack Nicklaus’ carefully curated Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, he fell in love with Muirfield Village.
McGirt knew the place was special the first time he set foot on the property in 2012. He was the first alternate and didn’t get into the field, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“Long before I had the best-of-all-time hand me a trophy, I was in love with Muirfield Village,” says McGirt, the 2016 Memorial champ. “The people up there, and the way we’re treated, and the golf course, the conditions on the golf course, everything about it. The city of Columbus, city of Dublin, it’s about as good as it gets.”
That’s why it was so hard to miss the Memorial Tournament last year when McGirt was still recovering from hip surgery. And even though he’s still trying to find his competitive footing after a second procedure last year, McGirt is thrilled to be back in action at a place he “absolutely loves.”
When he tees off at 8:28 a.m. on Thursday with Jason Day and J.T. Poston, it will mark McGirt’s first start on the PGA TOUR since he missed the cut at THE NORTHERN TRUST in 2018. In case you’re wondering, that was 23 long months ago.
McGirt started having problems with his left hip during the TOUR’s Florida swing that year. Therapy didn’t relieve the tightness. Neither did rest and time off. The pain was so bad he had to miss his agent’s wedding the Saturday night of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
A month later, McGirt was playing with his kids after school before he left for the Valero Texas Open. He planted his foot and turned to his left and his hip popped. The pain shot up his left side and the 41-year-old hit the ground. He laid there for a while, first wiggling his toes, then gingerly bending his leg before finally feeling like he could stand up.
The pain subsided, though, so McGirt decided to fly to San Antonio. When he woke up on Thursday, he felt like his hip was in a vise. He played but he couldn’t swing through the ball like he normally would and missed the cut. After the round, he had a heart-to-heart with his physical therapist.
“I think it’s time I go get this thing looked at,” McGirt told him. “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. … But if it’s going to do this for a while, I know I can’t play golf. It’s hard enough to play out here when you’re 100%. And I’m nowhere close to 100%.’ ”
That night, McGirt’s physical therapist called a friend who works for Dr. Thomas Byrd at the Nashville (Tennessee) Hip Institute. How soon could McGirt get in to see the Tennessee Titans’ team doctor, he asked?
The reply: How does 6:30 Monday morning sound?
As soon as he saw McGirt’s x-rays, Byrd knew he had a torn labrum and an MRI confirmed the diagnosis. A cortisone shot gave some immediate relief, but the physician told his new patient that surgery would be needed if he wanted to keep playing long-term.
McGirt decided to finish out the season. The missed cut at THE NORTHERN TRUST eliminated him from the FedExCup Playoffs. So, while he was having lunch with his wife Sarah, McGirt pulled out his phone and texted Byrd’s office.
Ten days later, McGirt was on the operating room table. Byrd repaired the labrum, resurfaced two bones and removed a bone spur about the size of a jellybean.
McGirt doesn’t remember exactly how long he was on crutches, although he estimates it was probably six weeks. He does remember he couldn’t swing a golf club until the following January, and as he ramped up his practice in the months to come, the problems began anew.
By late May, McGirt knew something was still wasn’t right. Turns out, McGirt had another bone spur, one that Byrd compared to the size of a peanut M&M. Finding a spot in the surgeon’s busy schedule took until August and then the rehabilitation began again.
Adding to the wear and tear on McGirt’s hip was the decade or so he played baseball. McGirt was an all-conference catcher, and he had scholarship offers in baseball as well as golf. When he told Byrd about his athletic background, McGirt remembers the doctor saying, “No wonder.”
“He said they see it quite frequently with catchers, hockey goalies, golfers and tennis players,” McGirt recalls. “All the repetitive rotation on that hip that eventually it just starts to wear it out. And, I think a lot of it is, God knows how many golf swings I’ve made in my lifetime.
“It’s like opening a door. You keep opening and closing that door and those hinges are going to start to wear down, the latches are going to start to wear down and it’s just the way it is. And, that’s kind of a physics thing. And I’m just thankful he’s been able to kind of put me back together a couple of times.”
McGirt admits there were times when he wondered if he would ever be able to play again. The biggest challenge golf-wise was learning to trust his swing. He’s also changed the way he practices. He can’t stand on the range beating balls for hours like he used to do. Sometimes working on his swing – and short game — by hitting wedges is the way to go.
“The first couple of swings, it was like you’re waiting on the pain or the pinch or something like that,” he said. “And, then when you hit a couple and you’re like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t hurt.’ You’re still kind of waiting on that shooter that goes down your leg or up your side and you don’t get it. And you’re like, ‘Huh, this is kind of nice.’”
McGirt’s return to golf hasn’t been seamless. He had to withdraw prior to the start of the first two Korn Ferry Tour events he entered and missed the cut in the third. But he’s looking forward to seeing how his game stacks up this week at Muirfield Village.
And there have been some positives in his 23-month layoff. He got to teach his son Mac and daughter Carolina to ride bicycles without training wheels. He helped Mac, who is in first grade, learn his multiplication tables. Baseball practice and dance lessons were on the agenda, too.
“It was a blast,” McGirt says. “And it was nice to give (Sarah) a break from the soccer-mom life.”
Had he not been on crutches, McGirt says he would have driven to East Lake Golf Club to see Tiger Woods’ stunning win at the TOUR Championship two years ago. He did get to take Mac to Augusta National, though, where his son – who was too young to remember when McGirt played in the Masters in 2017 — got to see the ceremonial tee shots and watch the incomparable Woods play.
“It was a very refreshing time at home,” McGirt says. “Just being able to spend time with Sarah, and do stuff with the kids … I won’t say it was worth having to go through surgery to do that, but it was definitely a lot of fun.”
Now it’s time to get back to work, though – and McGirt can’t think of a better place to start than Muirfield Village.
Source: PGA tour