By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio — The putt measured just over 6 feet, a minuscule distance compared with how long William McGirt traveled to get to this point.
The original destination was a PGA Tour card.
He reached the ultimate destination Sunday at the Memorial by pouring in the par putt on the 18th hole, with tournament host Jack Nicklaus watching and waiting to celebrate the big moment at Muirfield Village.
“Surprisingly, I felt no nerves standing over that putt,” McGirt said.
His putt allowed him to beat Jon Curran on the second playoff hole and win the Memorial in his 165th start on the PGA Tour, a goal that began when McGirt left tiny Wofford College in South Carolina in 2001, turned pro three years later and began grinding away on more mini-tours than he can count.
He remembers winning the Cabarrus Classic on the old Tar Heel Tour, which paid him a whopping $16,000, the second-largest prize on the tour.
“I thought I hit it big,” McGirt said.
The victory at the Memorial was worth $1.53 million.
He would try to Monday qualify for PGA Tour or Web.com Tour events, and if he didn’t get in — “which I never did” — he would drive back to whatever mini-tour event he could find and play for enough money to keep his dream going. His wife, Sarah, worked as a senior project manager for Adidas, which paid the bills. There was a four-month stretch when they saw each other for a total of eight days.
It all felt worth it Sunday evening, when the storm clouds that halted the final round for 90 minutes cleared and McGirt was the winner.
He posed with Nicklaus and the Memorial trophy on the 18th green. Moments later, Nicklaus and wife Barbara asked McGirt and his wife, plus their two children, for a group photo. The oldest child, Mac, was busy playing with golf tees on the side of the green. Mrs. Nicklaus called him over as if Mac was one of her two dozen grandchildren, and he ran over and smiled on the front row.
Yes, it was worth it all.
“It’s a pretty darn cool feeling right now to get win No. 1, and for it to be here at the Memorial in front of Mr. Nicklaus,” McGirt said.
McGirt earned it.
The leaderboard was filled with possibilities — 20 players separated by four shots — and big-time players, including world No. 1 Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. But it was McGirt and Curran, a member at the Bear’s Club that Nicklaus built in South Florida, who held steady.
Curran closed with a 70, hitting a 7-iron out of a bunker on the 17th hole to 7 feet for birdie to tie McGirt, and holding his nerve on the 18th for a par to be the first to sign for 15-under 273. McGirt was battling his swing all day, and he went into a bunker right of the 17th green. But he blasted out to 3 feet for par, and then played his 20th consecutive hole without a bogey by two-putting from 65 feet for par and a 71.
On the first extra hole, with Curran facing a 25-foot birdie putt, McGirt blasted out of another bunker and let the steep slope behind the flag take the ball down the hill to a few feet for a clutch par. Curran narrowly missed his birdie putt, so they went back to the 18th again. Both went long — McGirt in thick grass behind the green, Curran out of a bunker and into the gallery, leaving an impossible pitch down toward the green.
Curran’s shot went down the ridge. He did well to lag it to inches for a bogey. McGirt hit a flop shot, helped by the wind in his face, to 6 feet to set up his winning par putt.
“It will all sink in at some point,” McGirt said.
There was a lot to think about. McGirt has played in only one major — the 2012 PGA Championship — in his 12 years as a pro. The original plan was to get some sleep and tee it up Monday morning in U.S. Open qualifying. McGirt is 36 and has never played in a U.S. Open.
Now he will.
His victory moved him from No. 102 to No. 44 in the world rankings, assuring that he will be among the top 60 after next week and get into the U.S. Open.
He also is in the PGA Championship at the end of July. Two weeks after the U.S. Open, he gets to play his first World Golf Championship at Firestone. And next year, he’ll make his debut in the Masters. He looked at his phone that had more text messages, and he was sure one of them was from Rob Chapman, a friend from South Carolina and Augusta National member.
“Rob told me a couple years ago he can’t wait until I qualify for that tournament so I can come down there and play, and he can teach me the golf course,” McGirt said.
He was still sitting next to a six-time Masters champion, and someone suggested he could probably pick up a few tips from Nicklaus.
“I was going to ask him later, if he could play a practice round,” McGirt said.
For McGirt, it was all starting to sink in.