Bob Gillespie



Wednesday at The Ocean Course: S.C. players excited about state’s first men’s major

Posted 8/8/2012 8:44:00 PM

William McGirt got the good news late Sunday afternoon. The former Wofford College star and second-year PGA Tour player was elevated from first-alternate status to a spot in the 156-player field at the 94th PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

For the Lumberton, N.C., native and resident of Boiling Springs, S.C., it was a double thrill. Not only will he be competing in his first major championship, he’s also one of eight contestants with South Carolina ties to play in the first men’s major held in South Carolina.


“Anytime you can play in a major championship, it’s special,” he said. “And you only get to do your first time once. And to have it here in my adopted home state makes it that much better for me.”

As excited as he is for himself, though, McGirt said he’s just as thrilled for his adopted home state.

“I think we’re all just pumped for the state, for the Charleston area,” he said during a break from practice at The Ocean Course, which on Wednesday was being pelted with rain. “It’s difficult to even quantify how much this is going to mean to the state economically; it’s immeasurable. You could figure out the immediate impact, sure, but (there’s also) the long-term impact – how many people are going to come back and vacation here in the future.

“I think the entire state is taking pride in hosting a major championship. This is one of the four best events we play all year. Being the first time that we’ve hosted it – yeah, we have the Heritage, but this is a different level; you have the best of the best here, and think everyone in the state wants to put his best foot forward.”

Other native sons also were reveling in their home state’s status this week. Jonathan Byrd, a former Columbia resident now living in Sea Island, Ga., said he’s enjoyed questions from other players about the place where he grew up as much as the excitement of playing in a major always brings him.

“I like playing in major championships, it’s fun to play in them because of the test,” Byrd said. “Being in South Carolina this year, it really feels like (being at) Hilton Head from a spectator standpoint, the support from the gallery” during the annual RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Byrd will have his own gallery of wife Amanda, her parents and Byrd’s mother, Jo, plus a loyal S.C. following. “It’s exciting to come to South Carolina, just to tell people you’re from the state, that you’re a native,” he said. “It just makes for a fun week. Obviously I want to play well every week, but coming here, you want to play extra well just because of the support on the golf course.”

That’s also the thought of Lucas Glover, whose victory at the 2009 U.S. Open is the lone major won by a South Carolina native. Glover has struggled in 2012 after an early-season injury – “I haven’t played well enough to feel like I owe myself anything” this week, he said – but said he’s still excited to have his home state play host this week.

“It means a lot. It’s great for our state,” he said. “Double that with Hilton Head (where the Heritage added new sponsors RBC and Boeing), and it should be a good sporting year for us. I think guys from here are pretty excited.”

For another native son, the arrival of the PGA is especially meaningful. Columbia native Dustin Johnson, an All-American at Coastal Carolina near Myrtle Beach and a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, contended for the 2010 PGA title until a penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the final hole at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits knocked him out of a playoff. That cost him a chance to become the second S.C. native to claim a major.

“Yeah, it’s great. It’s cool, especially playing so close to home,” Johnson said of this week. “I get a lot of fans coming out, and it’s always fun to play in front of your hometown fans.” His caddie, Bobby Brown, lives in Charleston and plays The Ocean Course regularly, which he says could be an advantage. “He’s obviously got a lot of (yardage) numbers on carries, good lines off the tees, so that helps a lot. And he’s got some good reads on the greens from playing out here so much.”

Johnson’s gaffe in 2010 was again a subject of media conversations after the PGA of America announced that all “sandy areas” on the Ocean Course will be played as through-the-green, rather than bunkers. Speculation was that the rule was to prevent a re-occurrence of 2010, but Johnson and others pointed out the rule for the Ocean Course is the same as for the 1991 Ryder Cup and all events since, including the 2007 Senior PGA.

Though he hasn’t played the Ocean Course often, Johnson liked what he’s seen this week. “It is a good course for me,” he said. “It sets up well for me; it’s fairly long, the fairways are generous, but if you miss the fairways you get in some trouble, but they’re fairly wide. I like the shots off the tees and I think I’ve got a pretty good game plan for the course.”

When it comes to state ties, none are more tenuous than those of Michael Hoey, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland who played his college golf at Clemson. Hoey plays the European Tour, but remains friends with former Tigers Glover and Byrd.

“I played a few holes (Tuesday) with Jonathan and Lucas,” he said. “This (for them) is probably like us Northern Ireland) having the Irish Open this year at (Royal) Portrush. This is big for a lot of people.”

Despite not spending much time in the U.S. since 2003, Hoey said The Ocean Course has a familiar feel for Europeans, and he expects the course to fare well as a major venue. “(It’s) really a great course for us, (because) there’s wind and it’s a little bit linksy,” he said. Hoey, Glover and D.J. Trahan “played the (2001) Walker Cup two hours south of here at Sea Island, so that was close to here, similar temperatures and conditions. So it’s sort of like that.”

References to the 1991 Ryder Cup have been commonplace this week, especially Wednesday when author Curt Sampson was on site to promote his new book, “The War By The Shore,” which chronicles that event. But McGirt, for one, sees this week as a new and important chapter in South Carolina’s golf history.

“Anytime you can get a new opportunity like this, it’s only going to be helpful,” he said of the PGA Championship. “A lot of people my age (he’s 33) probably don’t even remember the Ryder Cup. And the golf course was so new back then; there’s been a lot of changes to it, it’s completely different.

“People who played the course 10-15 years ago probably don’t remember anything other than how hard it was. So it’ll be good for them to see how we play it again. And it’s a different event, because the Ryder Cup is match play, you’re playing one person; I’m out there playing against 155 other guys, and the golf course, this week.”

His first major, and South Carolina’s, too. It all begins Thursday.