Dublin, OH — William McGirt could not help but admire his surroundings nearly a year after his win at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
As defending champion, McGirt has been making the rounds thanking those who help make the tournament run smoothly and going beyond the golf course on visits as well.
Still, there was plenty of time for McGirt to reflect on the win, his first on the PGA TOUR.
“This place is such a special place,” he said. “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. It’s great to be back here, this is such a fun place.”
McGirt represents one of seven past winners that will play in this week’s tournament.
One of the others is Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama won the 2014 edition of the event and backed it up with a tie for fifth place in 2015. Though he missed the cut last year, Matsuyama’s game suits the course well as evidenced by a 69.80 scoring average at Muirfield Village Golf Club, the best of anyone who has played 10 or more rounds at the Memorial Tournament. Matsuyama hopes this week will break what has been a roller coaster year for him.
“It has been an up-and-down year,” admitted Matsuyama through interpreter Bob Turner. “Hopefully I’m on the upswing, but to be honest, my swing isn’t where I’d like it to be and I’m not putting very well. Coming back to Muirfield Village, there are some special vibes here and hopefully that will encourage my game to play much better than I have been the last couple of months.”
The Memorial Tournament has a field of 120 players this year, as was the case last year and many use this tournament as their final tune up to the US Open, while others combine this tournament with the nearby Columbus sectional qualifying for the US Open which occurs Monday.
This is more than just a so-called tune up though, but rather a tournament in its 42nd year with Jack Nicklaus as the face of the event.
Not only does the winner earn money, a trophy and FedEx Cup points, but also a handshake from Nicklaus on the 18th hole immediately following the tournament’s conclusion.
At the tournament, Nicklaus ensures that everyone in the field enjoys their experience and also gets a friendly hello. Every Masters Thursday prior to the first group teeing off, Nicklaus tees off with Gary Player. While some players slept in or practiced on their own games, McGirt stood on the tee box to pay his respects to both and honor Arnold Palmer’s memory.
For McGirt, his relationship with Nicklaus has extended beyond the course.
“We asked them to sign a few things, some for us personally and some for charity, and he never questioned it,” McGirt said. “He signed everything we asked him to sign. 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. They’ve been so wonderful to us.”
The biggest change with the course this year is its superintendent. Paul Latshaw is now the director of grounds operation at Merion Golf Club and Chad Mark has taken his place. Mark came to Muirfield Village Golf Club from Inverness Club of Toledo, OH.
From a course perspective, there was an effort put into the reduction of poa annua. Nicklaus stated that the 18th green looked like it had “small pox”, The efforts have paid off according to Nicklaus.
“It looks better, and most of the greens of the golf course look good,” said Nicklaus. “We had most of the fringes, we couldn’t get all of them, but got 14 of the fringes, stripped the grass, had a lot of poa annua, and put that back in bent. The golf course is in terrific condition.”
And the winner is…
Chris Dazen– Jon Rahm is my pick for this year to win the 2017 Memorial Tournament. Rahm last year at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide was asking host Jack Nicklaus for his autograph on his Jack Nicklaus Award, which is given out each year to five of golf’s top collegiate players. Fast forward one year and Rahm is a superstar in the making, having made it inside the Top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is fourth in the FedEx Cup point standings and enters the event with a legitimate shot at winning.
Rahm is coming off a narrow defeat, finishing (T2) at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, but has to be carrying so much confidence right now. He has eight top-5 finishes on the PGA Tour since turning pro and his style of play has him able to control the course from pretty much any point. While Muirfield Village Golf Club favors those who can play a tight course, some holes tend to favor those who are long off the tee. Rahm has both those checked off with his game. He has the ability to hit 340 yard drives, but can also play tight and narrow and his approach shot ability is one of the best in the game. Jack Nicklaus designed this course to punishes players who are not hitting the ball well with strategic bunkers, tree placement and water holes that affect approach shots. Rahm has the ability to prevail in all these situations.
If Rahm has a complete round going, and the early career pedigree says he will, then there is a good chance that Jon Rahm could be looking at his second career victory on Tour. Maybe this time, it’s Nicklaus asking Rahm for his autograph.
Zachary Weiss– It is easy to go chalk and pick Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth or Jon Rahm. Any of those players and several more could be picked for almost any tournament they play in. What is not necessarily the easy thing is not going with the automatic name. In fact the past three years have had one thing in common, each winner also had the victory as their first on the PGA TOUR.
My selection would not be a first time winner but someone who would have their first signature victory and that is Emiliano Grillo.
Grillo won the 2015 Frys.com Open on the second playoff hole over Kevin Na so he knows how to perform in the final round of a tournament closing with a birdie. Grillo is making his second appearance in the Memorial Tournament and finished T11 last year. Grillo was in contention during the weekend last year but was unable to finish what he started.
This year Grillo has had some good finishes in several tournaments. His best are a T7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and an 11th place finish at The PLAYERS Championship. This past weekend, Grillo shot 65 during his Saturday round at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, the low round of the day.
Putting is an important aspect of taming Muirfield Village, and Grillo’s efforts this past week improved his place by 18 to 117, meaning he is approaching these greens in good form. Grillo also improved 16 spots to T40 in proximity to the hole.
Grillo ranks 19th on the PGA TOUR in sand save percentage and is tied with Rory McIlroy for ninth place with 10 consecutive cuts made.
“My expectations were really high going into 2016, and I paid the price,” Grillo said to reporters during last year’s event. “Even though I told myself to enjoy it, I wanted to play even better. I wanted to play like I’m playing this week. I got to a point I was getting very frustrated because I couldn’t break the top 10 or something like that. I tell myself just be patient, and if you’re patient enough, then that win is going to come.”
The so called “Class of 2011” on the PGA TOUR is mostly known for Jordan Spieth and others, but Grillo has not received the same attention for his own play. That changes this week.
Notable tee times
Tony Finau, Steven Bowditch, Steve Stricker 8:26 off 1 Thursday/1:16 off 10 Friday– Finau is a lot of people’s dark horse to win and he has fared well here. Stricker won this event in 2011 and is coming off a T7 at last week’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational.
Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas 8:26 off 10 Thursday/1:16 off 1 Friday– This will be a crowded pairing as last week’s winner Kisner tees off with the pair of close friends. Spieth found his form over the past weekend as the U.S. Open approaches and Thomas has won three times this season. Thomas is coming off a T75 at The PLAYERS Championship.
Dustin Johnson, William McGirt, Phil Mickelson 8:37 off 10 Thursday/ 1:27 off 1 Friday– Johnson has been on an absolute tear and finished third here last year just a shot south of the playoff. McGirt has responded well following the victory at Muirfield Village last year contending in several major tournaments and Mickelson is always a draw. Seeing how Mickelson does on the par-3 16th hole alone is worth the follow.
Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm 1:16 off 1 Thursday/8:26 off 10 Friday– Fowler’s win at the Honda Classic earlier this year was his first of five consecutive top-16 finishes. Since then Fowler missed the cut at the Zurich Classic and was a T60 at The PLAYERS Championship. Matsuyama as described above is looking to find his form again and Rahm has been sensational all season long. He has tamed courses that may not be suited for his game. This week is another one of those weeks, which should make following him an enjoyable experience.
Si Woo Kim, Jason Day, Adam Scott 1:27 off 1 Thursday/8:37 off 10 Friday– Kim won The PLAYERS Championship and just missed the cut last week at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. Day will be making his first since losing in a playoff to Billy Horschel at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Scott has been a steady performer at Muirfield Village and tied for fourth in 2014.
The 19th hole
Playing well at the Memorial Tournament could serve as a launch pad for the U.S. Open as Dustin Johnson found out last year. His third place finish began a stretch that helped prepare to where he is now, the top ranked player in the world.
“Last year I think leaving here I played very well in pretty much every event I played in all year,” he said. “I was play really solid, really consistently from here and then leading into the U.S. Open. For me it was just a matter of time before I kind of put it all together.”
The PGA TOUR issued a press release Wednesday in which it revealed Arby’s as the official restaurant of the PGA TOUR. There will be an advertisement aired this weekend, and featured below which includes Andrew “Beef” Johnston.