Chris Williams leads Washington golfers into NCAA regional
Washington junior golfer Chris Williams remains unassuming despite record-setting success.
Seattle Times staff
NCAA men's golf regionalWhen: Thursday-Saturday.
Where: Southwest Regional at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla.
What's at stake: Washington is the third seed among 14 teams in the regional, one of six around the nation. Five teams and the low individual not on one of the top five teams advance to the NCAA championships, May 29 to June 3 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Chris Williams file
Age: 20, born June 21, 1991, in Moscow, Idaho.
Class: Junior. High School: Moscow (Idaho).
UW highlights: Williams won his school-record fifth title this spring, surpassing Nick Taylor and Brock Mackenzie, who each had four wins. His 19 top-10 finishes is third in school history (Mackenzie had 32). Won the Phil Mickelson award in 2010 as the nation's top freshman, the first Husky to win that honor. His 70.24 scoring average this season is best in school history.
Notes: Holds the course record at nine courses. ... He was 2-0-2 in his Palmer Cup matches last summer and 2-1 in the Walker Cup. ... Won the Sahalee Players Championship and the Pacific Coast Amateur last summer, leading to his selection on the Walker Cup team. ... Won U.S. Sectional qualifying at Gold Mountain in Bremerton to earn a spot in last year's U.S. Open.
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Chris Williams was bummed out.
It was two years ago, and the Washington men's golf team was headed to Hawaii. But Williams had not been picked to play, and he was staying home.
The morning the team left, Williams got a call. It was Huskies star Nick Taylor, the world's top-ranked amateur at the time.
"Nick said, 'You should be on this trip,' and he told me to keep working hard because I was going to be an important part of the team," Williams recalled.
Taylor was right. Williams went on to win two events that spring and was named national freshman of the year. Now a junior and a team captain, Williams is ranked No. 8 in the world amateur rankings. He leads the Huskies into an NCAA regional in Norman, Okla., which begins Thursday.
While his teammates were in Hawaii, Williams hit balls at Washington National in Auburn until it was too dark to see.
The success since has been almost nonstop.
But even after a summer when he played in the U.S. Open and represented his country in the prestigious Walker and Palmer cups, Williams remains unassuming. His coach, Matt Thurmond, has asked him to speak up more.
Thurmond told Williams, whose five career victories at UW is a school record, that he could have the same effect on younger players as Taylor had on Williams.
"He was like, 'Are you kidding me?' " Thurmond said. "He has a confidence on the course that has been earned from hard work, yet he has retained his humility. And that is a great combination to have."
In the beginning
Williams was never pressured to play golf, but it was in his genes. Brother Pete, who is 10 years older, played at Idaho and a couple of years on mini-tours, while father Varnel carries a 2-handicap, according to Chris.
"I got a putter when I was 4, and just swung that around," he said. "On my seventh birthday, I got my first club, a 7-iron."
Each birthday after that, Williams got clubs to add to his collection. By the time he was about 11 or 12 and had a full set, he was already an accomplished player.
"I just tried to emulate what my dad and my brother did," Williams said. "I don't want to say I was exactly self-taught, but I never had a lesson. I never liked my mom or my dad telling me what to do. I have always figured I could figure it out on my own."
Thurmond said any expert would say, "Chris has a beautiful swing," although he uses a somewhat unconventional 10-finger grip.
It was a swing that produced four straight high-school championships in Idaho, including the last three years by 11, 16 and 11 shots.
"A lot of the guys I was beating had their own swing coaches," Williams said. "It seemed kind of ridiculous."
A star is born
Thurmond expected big things from Williams, but says, "I am not sure I expected one of the top few players in the country."
Williams cemented his status as one of golf's rising stars last summer when he qualified for the U.S. Open, won the Pacific Coast Amateur and the Sahalee Players Championship, was the medalist in the Western Amateur and won his singles match in the Walker Cup.
For Williams, the highlight was playing in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club outside Washington D.C., where he missed the cut by two shots. He said teeing off on Monday's first practice round was the most nervous he had ever been on a golf course.
"I am just not used to playing in front of that many people," he said. "I was shaking."
Williams, who is 6 feet tall with a slender build, is not a long hitter, but he plays quickly and decisively. He is deadly accurate and holds nine course records.
"I think he gets the same insecurities any golfer has, but he works so hard, they don't last long," said Thurmond, who said Williams is one of the most coachable players he has had. "He stays on the range until he makes sure he's feeling good."
It's a testament to Williams' ability that he hasn't been thrilled with his college season, despite two wins and six top-10 finishes. He said earlier in the season he was thinking too much about winning, "and not enough about the process of winning, and concentrating on each shot and making birdies."
Of course, the year can become great with a strong finish. Washington is coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Pac-12 championships, but the 13th-ranked Huskies are capable of rebounding with Williams and freshman Cheng-Tsung Pan, the world's 13th-ranked amateur, leading the way.
Williams will be one of the top contenders for an NCAA individual title, but he has a team title in mind.
"Winning a (team) national title would mean everything," Williams said.
He says he loves college golf and "it's almost etched in stone" that he will return for his senior season. "It would be the highlight of my time here."
Expect Williams to encourage his teammates along the way.
"A few words of encouragement can mean a lot," he said. "I know what it meant to me when Nick talked to me, so I have been trying to do that. It can really help."
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or email@example.com