PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Without any of the PGA Tour’s heavyweights at the top of the leaderboard this week at the Northern Trust Open, a theme began to emerge after Saturday’s third round.
The clubhouse leader, William McGirt, and two of the guys chasing him, Charlie Beljan and Jason Allred, are far from phenoms. They stood in front of the media Saturday afternoon recalling 14-hour drives to mini-tour tournaments, Q-School trips and the decisions each made to continue playing the game that they love despite the obstacles.
Here’s the story of how each of the three reached this point at Riviera Country Club this week, and what a win would mean.
McGirt – First place, 12-under (69-67-65, 201)
The North Carolina native has played on so many mini-tours he can’t even name all of them. The last time he won any meaningful tournament was in 2007 on the eGolf Tour.
He nearly won on the Canadian Tour in 2012 and 2013 but refused to even look at the leaderboard. A feat even Tiger Woods didn’t believe he achieved.
Jason Allred playing with nothing to lose, proving effective
In 2009, McGirt thought he had finally won something of value in a charity tournament in South Carolina but it didn’t turn out to be what he thought.
"We start on the third hole, we get to No. 4, 330-yard downhill par 3, (I) knock a wedge in the hole. Like, ‘Great, why couldn’t I have done this on the hole they were giving the car away?" McGirt said. "But they were giving away a $2,500 Bose surround sound system. I’m like, ‘OK, this is nice.’ So we get to No. 9, which happens to be the car hole and we don’t have a ball on the green. And I stand up, knock a 7-iron in the hole."
Right after he called his wife to inform her that he had won her a brand new Infinity, he was informed that the pro insurance was not paid on either the sound system or the car and would not get to keep either.
He did walk away with one prize.
"A week whacker," McGirt said. "But it’s a golf club weed whacker. It’s plastic. I’m like, ‘This is awesome, it’s a fair exchange for the car.’ Still have it in my garage. Still in plastic.’ "
A win this week would secure his status on Tour through next two years. No more Canadian or Hooters Tour events, just the big leagues.
Beljan – T2, 10-under (67-68-68, 203)
You might remember the former New Mexico Lobo from his dramatic win at the 2012 Walt Disney World event when he won to keep his Tour card for the next season and was immediately carted off the course in an ambulance as he suffered a panic attack.
Beljan is an anomaly: He rides Harley Davidson’s and loves high-speed, adrenaline-inducing activities. Yet he suffers from crippling anxiety and eating disorders and has become the face of depression and anxiety. It’s a role he’s embraced, he’s become comfortable talking openly and likes to interact with others who suffer as well.
"That was something I went through. Something millions and millions of Americans go through," Beljan said. "I shed a little light on it, no big deal… But hopefully after tomorrow they will be asking me different questions."
Last year, Beljan lost in a playoff to John Merrick. He narrowly lost out on a spot in the Master’s but he would earn that coveted entry should he win Sunday.
Allred got choked up talking about the support of his wife, also a Pepperdine alum, and two young kids after his Saturday round. His best friend and former teammate, Michael Beard, brought the team out to Riviera to root him on. Allred’s uncontainable enthusiasm is refreshing but it’s him that might need this win the most.
In a matter of days, he will have his third child. He will be 34 later this year and with a family to take care of, he has often wondered if he would be able to make enough as a golfer to take care of that family. He nearly left the game last summer, considered possibly going into coaching.
A win this week would secure the future of him and his family for the next few years.
"Last summer I was conditional on the Web.com (tour) and not getting any starts, and for the first time I really thought through and talked to my wife and talked to my dad about it," Allred said. "I love this game so much and I feel like I have it in me to do some special things in this game."