For the first time since 2005, I was able to attend the U.S. Open golf championship.
My previous two experiences were at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course (1999, 2005). This time around, I traveled to Oakmont Country Club in support of William McGirt as he participated in the event for the first time in his six seasons on the PGA Tour.
I only saw the Fairmont native two days, on Thursday as he practiced on the range for a round that never came because of inclement weather, and on Friday for 36 holes. He finished the tournament at 9-over par, missing the cut by three strokes.
But even after he left the famed course outside of Pittsburgh, McGirt’s name still was the topic of most of my conversations. Talking with fans and other media members, my southern accent stood out, providing me the opportunity to explain why I was there in the first place: to cover Robeson County’s man on the Tour.
Waiting outside the clubhouse on Sunday after Dustin Johnson — a South Carolina native who attended Coastal Carolina — claimed his first major championship, I chatted with a man who caddies at Oakmont during the week.
“You happy to see Johnson win?,” he said.
“At this point, yes,” I responded. “But I would’ve rather seen another guy that went to college in South Carolina hoisting that trophy.”
I proceeded to explain to him why I made the trip from North Carolina, to which he replied: “McGirt won Jack’s (Nicklaus tournament, right?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” I responded.
In the same vein, an older lady asked if McGirt was from Fairmont, W. Va. — roughly two hours from Oakmont.
It was great to be able to spotlight William even though he was no longer there. By the way, while he was, Keith McGirt — William’s younger brother — did a fantastic job offering his insight on William’s experience throughout the week.
William, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Tuesday, is currently 13th in the FedEx Cup standings and 46th in the official world ranking.
He’ll continue his new Tour schedule next week at his first World Golf Championship event in the Bridestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron.
Thinking about these new experiences for William takes me back to the Oakmont caddie and his last question.
“You think he can win again?,” he said.
“Oh yeah, no doubt,” I responded. “He’s just getting started.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.