You know it’s getting close to USDGC time, when you see longtime Championship competitor Johne McCray practicing the course.
For the last several years, it’s been common to see the Florida resident arrive several weeks before the Championship to get reacquainted with the Winthrop Gold Course. But this year he arrived even earlier, more than a month ahead of time.
“As a professional you always got to keep practicing. Every one of us is out there practicing everyday pretty much. So yeah, I want the practice here for sure. This is one of the biggest tournaments of the year,” said McCray after working on some forehands during practice.
Arriving early is convenient for the 2016 Masters World Champ because his mother lives here. This year he arrived even earlier not only to practice, but to get his wife some medical treatment because her health has recently been in decline.
More often than not, the early practice pays off. In his incredible 18 USDGC appearances, he has placed 15th or better more than half of the time. He said playing Winthrop brings out your “A” game.
In 2014, McCray came as close as he ever has, to winning the USDGC. However, he lost his final round lead after the treacherous island-hole 17, and was unable to beat out eventual winner Will Schusterick and Paul McBeth in the ensuing playoff. He said he does think about how close he came.
“Yeah. Absolutely. You know, things happen for a reason. It was tough to take. Took me a couple of days to get some sleep after that. But what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” said McCray.
For the last few years, McCray has also joined the Rock Hill Disc Golf Club for some of their weekly events. It’s a treat for the local players. Rock Hill Club President Stuart Neal said club members enjoy seeing “what a true pro does on our normal course rotation.”
This year, McCray actually broke the course record for the club’s modified Winthrop Gold layout (shorter version) when he shot (-10).
McCray will be going into this year’s USDGC (his 19th appearance at the Championship) at the age of 47. Though he’s one of the older players competing in the Open division, McCray still has what it takes to win. But he admits, he’s running out of time.
“I’m 47 years old now. I know I don’t have that many years left to try to compete at the top. I’d still like to. But, let’s be realistic. It’s getting tougher and tougher every year. I feel like this year has been a real struggle for me. So, I’m trying to buckle down and get some practice in and try to finish this year strong,” said McCray.