ORLANDO, Fla. — It won’t be just another week for William McGirt when he tees it up Thursday in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
There’s a notable absence this year at Bay Hill Golf Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida. It’s a void that can only be filled by Arnold Palmer, the every-man “King” of golf who passed away last fall.
“It will be a tough week for everyone because we are so used to Mr. Palmer being here to greet us, pump us up, kick us in the rear, or simply show us how to handle it all,” McGirt told The Robesonian. “He was simply the best.”
For the Fairmont native, who had the opportunity to spend some time in Palmer’s office on Wednesday afternoon, the chance to take part in the tournament is an honor. And each year, it was Palmer who made the players feel special.
“He did everything to make us feel welcome at his event and would do just about anything we asked of him,” McGirt said.
“He was always there to greet us as we walked off (the 18th) green on Sunday to thank us for coming to play in his event. It’s a bit disappointing that more guys didn’t come to support his event this year for whatever the reason may be. It will still be a great tournament regardless.”
One of the enduring images when it comes to Palmer is his umbrella logo. The red, white, yellow and green logo will be widespread at Bay Hill this week with several golfers featuring it on their clothing or equipment.
That logo will be visible on McGirt’s golf bag this week as he tees off at 1:44 p.m. Thursday from the opening hole with James Hahn and Branden Grace.
McGirt has only missed the cut once in six appearances at the event. He earned a top-10 finish in 2013, claiming a tie for eighth, and finished 73rd last season.
With a new bronze statue of Palmer positioned to overlook the first and 10th tees this week, McGirt hopes to use the opportunity to honor the legend’s legacy.
“I’d love to honor him by playing well this week,” he said. “It would be a huge honor to win this tournament.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.