It wasn’t so much the physical demands of seven specific tournaments — he has the game to be considered the best player in town. It was the mental grind that wore him out.
“Am I glad it’s over? That’s the understatement of the year,” he said Sunday after clinching the Calhoun County Insurance.com Best of the Best series title with a third-place finish in the Calhoun County Championship.
McGatha shot a final round 71 at Cane Creek and finished third in the tournament to Jaylon Ellison by four shots.
But he won the series points title by 17.5 points over his longtime Sunny King partner, who won his first Calhoun County title by one shot over defending champion and 2008 Player of the Year Garrett Burgess.
McGatha was the series’ most dominant player through the course of the year. He never finished worse than third in any of the seven events, winning two and finishing second in three others.
Still, with the way the series rules were established, throwing out your two worst finishes, there was a chance he could have been denied season-long prize with a bad finish in the County.
That’s what turned him into a basket case these past two weeks.
“I can’t describe to you the pressure that was on me this weekend,” McGatha said. “All I can tell you is ask my wife. I’ve apologized to her all week for the way I’ve acted. No joke. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t play. I couldn’t practice. It’s been bad.
“The rules were set forth before we started the year and I accepted them. I helped make them. I hope in the years to come I don’t put anybody in the position I was in for the past two weeks … knowing if I finish fourth I lose.”
McGatha was hovering dangerously close to that eventuality during the round. A tie for third and an Ellison victory would have left him short by 7.5 points. He had to finish outright third or better.
He was fourth with three holes to play, but was able to surge ahead when playing partner Ott Chandler went bogey-bogey on 16 and 17.
But it still wasn’t a done deal when he left his long birdie putt on 18 one roll short of the cup. Had Chandler made his birdie putt, all McGatha had done during the season would have been lost.
“For me, it was like two tournaments in one,” McGatha said. “I wanted to win the County, but I wanted to be Player of the Year.
“Since I started golf a little bit better, this is the first tournament that I’ve ever played defensively. And it was harder.”
McGatha offered his congratulations to Ellison for winning the County Championship, and Ellison graciously returned the favor to McGatha.
“My hat’s off to Jeremy,” Ellison said. “He was top three all seven events. He deserves applause. That’s good playing.
“Entering (Sunday) I thought I had a chance to win the Best of the Best, and I did what I had to do, and he did what he had to do to close the deal.”