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May 30, 2017
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome William McGirt here in the interview room at the Memorial tournament presented by Nationwide. William our defending champion. You won last year in a playoff for your first PGA Tour victory. You will look this year to become the first player since Tiger Woods to successfully defend here at Muirfield Village. Talk about being back here to defend.
WILLIAM McGIRT: This place is such a special place. We were here a few weeks ago for Media Day, and it was fun to come back and look back on the memories from last year. I looked out at 18 and I still can't believe I got that ball up and down. It's borderline impossible there, but somehow made it look relatively easy.
But it's great to be back here. This is such a fun place. The first time I came here was 2012. I was second alternate, decided to ride up and play practice rounds just in case. And fell in love with the place as soon as the guard opened the gate. It's one of those places -- it's kind of like Augusta to me, I get giddy when I come here. It's such a cool spot. And they take great care of us here.
And the golf course is pretty impeccable. I think Chad has done a great job stepping in after Paul left. I don't think they've missed a beat at all here. The golf course is absolutely pristine here. Hopefully the rain will hold off this week, and it will be another great tournament.
Q. What did the win do for you? Can you even articulate emotionally, mentally, in your game, confidence, all that?
WILLIAM McGIRT: The biggest thing was confidence, knowing that I could get the job done out here now, especially against the best players in the world.
If you look at the leaderboard on Sunday last year, I mean it was top-10 players in the world, it seemed like every one of them were up there. It was just nice to get that done. Got me in a lot of really cool tournaments, obviously the Masters being the biggest one, but Kapalua, as well. It's just been huge in many, many ways. So much of it you just can't put into words.
Q. When you pulled into this place knowing you were a champion, the defending champion for the first time, what was that like?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, it was kind of funny when we came for Media Day, Mike McKee, one of the guys here at the club picked us up at the airport, and we were driving in and normally they just go ahead and open the gate. And it was kind of funny, the guard didn't open the gate until Mike rolled the window down and he had a chance to welcome me back, himself.
It's nice being here and being recognized as a champion. To win Mr. Nicklaus' tournament is something -- it's kinds of like winning a green jacket. It's something you dream about your whole life, to walk off 18 and get to shake his hand. It's been a fun 52 weeks, and it's hard to believe it's been 52 weeks.
Q. How are you today? I do a lot of radio out of Phoenix, NBC Sports radio. And I always try to describe players. If you had to describe yourself, how would you, to us?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Just -- well, short, stocky, scrappy, just kind of the guy you'd meet on the street. I try to be the same every day, whether I'm on the course or not. Just kind of a scrappy guy.
I'm one of those competitors, if I can shoot 74, I'd rather shoot 74 than 75. It's never say die and never give anything less than your best. That's always been my motto. But, I don't know, it's kind of hard to describe, I'm pretty boring.
Q. If you could, first, talk about what it's like coming back here year after year with Jack, getting to see him. And what was it like shaking his hand as the championship versus just walking off the green?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, anytime you get to shake his hand, it's a pretty special moment. In fact, when we were coming over here, I had Mac, my son, we walked through the locker room. And as we were coming down the stairs he was standing in front of us. And he said, "Hey, welcome back," and stuck his hand out for Mac to give him a high five. It's really neat to have those experiences.
But coming back here to his place, he's put so much time and effort into making this place his own Augusta National, and to come back here as defending champion it's honestly a dream come true.
It was kind of funny when Dan Sullivan asked me about coming to Media Day. I know it's Tuesday of PLAYERS, it's a big week. I said, "Dan, I've waited 38 years to do this, I'm not skipping."
It's something that I wanted to do and I'm glad I did. I'd do it every single year. Anytime you win a golf tournament I think you should go back and do whatever they ask you to do. And I've tried to do as much as I can this week.
Q. I remember you mentioned -- Media Day you mentioned what Mr. and Mrs. Nicklaus had done for you over the last year. What are some of the things they've done and that relationship?
WILLIAM McGIRT: One of the big things, we asked them to sign a few things, some for us personally and some for charity, and he never questioned it. He signed everything we asked him to sign. And Ms. Barbara sent us maybe a dozen or so pictures that one of her friends had taken and she had gotten Mr. Nicklaus to sign one of them and she framed it for us. That one sits prominently in my office.
And it's just been -- they've been so wonderful to us and even Jackie, I talked to Jackie earlier this year, I had a project that I wanted to do at our club at home and called him to bounce some ideas off of him, and he offered up services to design the whole thing for us. Just little things like that that add up. It's not like I'm begging for a favor, but they've graciously done anything we've asked of them.
Q. Along with that, obviously for years Mr. Nicklaus played in this tournament and then for a while after that, most of the guys still playing here he had played with. Now a lot of the winners are guys that he never played with. Have you seen -- what's his relationship with the players? How has that evolved over the years?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, I think he knows a lot of the mid-40s guys a whole lot better than he knows some of the younger guys, although I'll be 38 in a couple of weeks. I'm not young by Tour standards anymore.
It's interesting to watch him work the locker room this week. He'll walk up and introduce himself. It was funny that last year on Thursday, I introduced myself to him, we were in the locker room, and he said, "Oh, okay. How did it go today?"
I said, "I shot 2-under the first round."
He said, "Well, you didn't hurt yourself."
And three days later he's handing me the trophy. It was interesting how it played out. So it's funny to watch him walk around because he'll spend a lot of time with guys that have played here a bunch, some former champions, guys like Rickie and Morgan Hoffmann and those guys he knows from West Palm. But he tries to walk around and introduce himself to everybody.
Q. Jack always gives credit to Barbara, says that marriage balanced him, gave him an advocate. Just wondering for you what has marriage done, if you can remember before and after? Does it give you that person at home who is sort of always on your side? What has it done for you?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, she is the glue that holds this whole operation together. She handles all of our taxes, all of our travel, manages me and two kids. She is -- she's a lot like Ms. Barbara in the fact that she takes care of everything and makes it easy on me, just like miss Barbara did for Jack.
I can't say enough about everything that she does for me. Yesterday was our anniversary.
WILLIAM McGIRT: Thank you. We could have done a better job of trying to get a baby-sitter so we could have gone out last night, but I kind of dropped the ball on that.
Everything she does for me, there's nothing like having a wife that is so supportive and will come home and let you vent after a bad day. And some days you have to do it. It's nice to have somebody that would let you do that. And some days when you need to have your rear end chewed out, okay, enough of the sob stories, get out there and get back to practicing.
Q. Got to love that?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Yeah.
Q. Coming off the win at the Memorial last year, I don't know if you're a big performance-setting person or goal-setting, but you are on a launching pad, you come off The Memorial, did you expect a lot more out of yourself for the rest of the season?
WILLIAM McGIRT: I did. I played really well for a couple of months thereafter. I didn't play great at Oakmont. But, I mean, it is Oakmont, define "great" up there. I had a chance in Akron and played well at the PGA.
I think the biggest thing was coming away from here was I felt like that I could do it and could play well pretty much every week on any style golf course. Because I remember coming here the first time and Brandon telling me this golf course is perfect for me.
I said, "It's like 7,500 yards, how can it be perfect for me?"
And he said, "You've got to trust me."
We go around here and all the lines, the holes fit my eye, everything was just perfect. You really don't have to fire at a lot of pins out here to get it close. You can use some of the slopes and kind of shape shots in.
The big thing, finishing up the year last year, I wanted to win again and I felt like I gave myself a couple of opportunities and that was huge. To make The TOUR Championship at the end of the year, that's always been a goal. And to finally do that was a lot of fun and very rewarding, anyways.
Q. The finishing stretch here, 16, 17 and 18, rank as the three hardest holes on the course. You have more experience on those holes last year with the exception of John Kern. Could you give me your thoughts on that stretch?
WILLIAM McGIRT: You know, with the pin -- I was kind of surprised the pin wasn't back left on Sunday, they used that one earlier in the week. But it was blowing so hard straight down on Sunday, you couldn't have gotten close to that left-hand, anyway.
16, it looks like a nothing hole but you can't just say, I'm going to bail-out and hit it in the middle of the green, because you've got tough 2-putts everywhere. I never played the old hole, so I have nothing to compare it to. A lot of guys said it was kind of whatever. But I think it's a great hole now. It's a little like 16 at Augusta, but with a much calmer green. Anytime you get away with three there, I think you've done well.
17, you want to force it down that fairway, but if you hit at one of those fairway bunkers, the penalty is so severe that honestly you're almost going out sideways. So you really have to step up and hit a good tee shot there. And once you do, getting it on the proper level. It was so hard straight down last year, guys were having trouble holding that green. I knew if my ball was either a yard left or if it carries two more feet, I thought it would have been close, but who knows what that first bounce would have been like.
And at 18, I don't know, that's a hard tee shot for me. I'm not a guy that loves to stand up and cut it, especially under pressure. But just getting it in that fairway. And then it's easy to say, well, just hit it in the middle of the green there. There's not an easy two-putt on that green. I was very fortunate in the playoff that I drew a horrible lie on the first playoff hole and was able to get it in the front bunker.
And I had probably a 12 on a scale of 10 bunker shot that somebody said something about going out and trying to recreate it this week, and I said, "There's no recreating that bunker shot, trust me." That's one of those where you just, okay, hopefully it works, if not, you go shake his hand. And then the up-and-down to win was crazy.
The only salvation was in 2015. I hit it in basically the same spot, so I knew I could get it up and down because I actually hit it to about a foot and a half that time. So I knew it could be done, but maybe not under those circumstances.
Q. You fell in love with this place and it fits your eye immediately. I'm sure there's other places that fit your eye and some places you just don't like. Do you get frustrated ever at going to a place that you think you should really excel and don't, and then surprised at a place that doesn't fit you and you play well? Just curious?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Frustrated like Colonial last week? Because I absolutely love the place. It fits my eye. It fits my game really well. And I've never played it that well. I think I've made the cut five or six times there, but my best finish is probably 25th. And I love the place. I love the golf course. I think it's one of the best we play all year because you have to shape it. You can't just stand up there and hit it as hard as you want. You really have to think your way around there. But just one of those places that you walk away Sunday night and you're like, man, one of these years I'm going to get it.
And you walk in there of Monday of tournament week and you're like, all right, this is the year. And by Friday you're like, oh.
Quail Hollow is a place that I've played well the last two years there, but it's just kind of surprising because it's so long. Golf is a funny game. You play great at a place you shouldn't and play terrible at a place you should play great. It's just golf for you.
Q. Wonder if you could take time to reflect, when you've played the way you've played and cap it off with a win here and people talk about getting into the Masters and you get to East Lake, et cetera. There's been a number of times where that first weekend in June is reserved for U.S. Open qualifying, and just the feeling now of where you are and the status you have of not having to worry about stuff like that?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, it's nice not to have to go through that marathon day next Monday.
In the future I'm not sure what I'll do about that because it's not a very fun day of golf. You put yourself through that to go to the U.S. Open, and it's just a swift kick in the rear end for seven straight days. But it's nice to have the success that I had last year and get me exempt into all these tournaments so I can go play and not have to go through the qualifiers and stuff like that.
To be able to go play major championships against the best players in the world is something that growing up you're practicing and you're on the putting green as a kid and every putt -- for a kid in the south, at least, every putt is to win a green jacket. A lot of guys will tell you, oh, it's for a U.S. Open and this and that. But for us southern boys, it's all about a green jacket.
To have the opportunity to play in the Masters, and I think this will be my sixth major, I think, will be the U.S. Open. So it will be my second go-around at each and every one. It will be my third PGA this fall. It's a lot of fun and it's something that I've always dreamed about as a kid and to have this opportunity, I just try to take advantage of it but at the same time enjoy being there.
Q. You made mention earlier about the comment that Jack made to you when you said you shot 2-under, and he said you didn't hurt yourself. There's never been a wire-to-wire winner here, and only two players have shared or had the lead after the first day and ended up winning. What does that say about maybe what the goal is on Round 1 to go out there and give yourself a chance to win?
WILLIAM McGIRT: Well, the goal in Round 1 is to not shoot yourself out of the tournament. I didn't realize until somebody brought it up in the press conference last year, I had never broken 70 here until Friday last year. That thought never crossed my mind.
I knew I played some good rounds. There were some 70s that felt like 63s, but I never realized I had never shot a round in the 60s. It's the kind of round you have to pace yourself. You're going to have a rough day no matter what, whether it's conditions, you just hit it and have a horrible number all day long. You're going to have a tough day. It's very similar to how Augusta is. You're going to get a day where it blows and every shot's a dead tweener, so you kind of have to work your way through it.
MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, again, and best of luck defending this week.
WILLIAM McGIRT: Thank you, sir.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports