Chris Williams was back home in Moscow earlier this week, hoping to relax and recharge his competitive batteries following a hectic and wildly successful summer run in which he won four prestigious tournaments and established himself as one of the finest amateur golfers on the planet.
Instead of idling away the hours on the couch in his parents’ home, however, the 20-year-old Williams found himself scrambling to secure a passport so he can make his first trip overseas and represent the United States in the biennial Walker Cup competition Sept. 10-11 at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Aberdeen, Scotland.
But prior to making the eight-hour flight to Scotland, the junior-to-be at the University of Washington, will head to Milwaukee next week to meet up with his nine Walker Cup teammates for a weeklong practice session during which they will familiarize themselves with the best-ball and alternate-shot formats used during the first day of the all-amateur Ryder Cup-style event.
That practice session, Williams said, will lead directly into the United States Amateur, which will be held Aug. 22-28 at Erin Hills and Blue Mound Golf and Country Club in nearby Wauwatosa, Wis.
“It’s already been a hectic summer, but a very satisfying one, too,” said Williams, who earlier this year won his U.S. Open sectional qualifier to earn a berth in the 111th U.S. Open Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where he missed the cut.
Earlier this summer, Williams also tied for sixth in the medalist portion of the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Bandon, Ore., played on the United States team that beat Europe 13-11 in the Palmer Cup in Greenwich, Conn., won the Sahalee Players Championship at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., captured the Pacific Coast Amateur title in Truckee, Calif., and finished first in the stroke-play portion of the Western Amateur in Glenview, Ill.
“It’s been a fascinating run, because I hadn’t played well in many big amateur events before,” said Williams, a four-time Idaho 4A state champion for Moscow and the 2010 Phil Mickelson Award winner, who is the only UW player to have been honored as the nation’s top collegiate freshman golfer. “I’d had decent finishes, but I had never really won anything, nor was I supposed to win any of those big tournaments.”
Williams started his amazing run at the U.S. Sectional qualifier at Gold Mountain, a course he knows and plays very well.
“I love that course,” he said. “So I went into the qualifier figuring four guys in the field were going to the U.S. Open, and there was no reason why one of them couldn’t be me.”
Williams didn’t play particularly well at the Open in shooting a 36-hole total of 7-over-par 149, and said he was a bit intimidated by the big crowds, the media coverage and playing alongside some of the sport’s biggest names.
But he returned to form at Sahalee and used that as a “springboard” into the West Coast and Western Amateurs, where his two wins vaulted into a tie for 20th on Golfweek’s world amateur rankings and earned him a spot on the Walker Cup team.
His recent good play, Williams explained, is the result of his improved putting, which is characteristically the worst part of his game.
“My ball striking has always been really good,” he said. “I’ve always hit 15, 16, maybe 17 greens a round, but the putts just weren’t dropping. It reached a point where how many greens I hit was usually how many pars I would make.
“It seemed like every hole I would hit the green and then two-putt for par. But awhile back, I got the putter rolling, and that’s when the really good rounds started coming.”
When asked to pick the biggest moment of his big summer, Williams balked, perhaps hoping it hasn’t yet arrived.
“Playing in the U.S. Open was, for a guy like me, the biggest tournament I could play in,” he said. “So that had the feel of ‘Hey, this is the top of the totem pole,’ and it was a totally difference experience than I had ever been able to have.
“Just playing against all those great golfers was an awesome experience.”
But Williams added it was also a thrill to win in his “home” state at Sahalee, as well as on the difficult 7,800-yard Martis Camp club that hosted the Pacific Coast Amateur, and at the Western Am, where eight of the top 10 ranked amateurs in the world were in the field.
“It’s weird,” he said, “because each one had a different feel. In the past, those were tournaments I didn’t think I could even get in, let alone win.”
And there are still a couple of big events on the horizon – especially the Walker Cup.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said of the international competition in Scotland. “That’s where golf started, and we’re going to play St. Andrews, the old course, while we’re over there.
“Obviously it’s a big event, and there’s going to be a lot of pressure, because people expect you do to well. They don’t pick you for the team to go 0-3, so I’ll definitely be out of my comfort zone – which is good. The way you get better is to experience all conditions, and this one will be another new one for me.
“It’s definitely going to be something I’ll never forget.”
Just like the rest of this “fascinating” summer of golf.