UW Daily: Williams Not Your Typical Freshman

April 8, 2010

By Taylor Soper
UW Daily

He was struggling mid-winter and didn't even qualify for the first tournament of the spring in February. Putting and confidence issues were circling in his mind, and something just wasn't right.

Freshman Chris Williams had won the Idaho High School 4A State Championship four years in a row, but this college thing was something way, way different.

'The first couple tournaments I went to, I was a little intimidated just because it was such a big jump from high school to college,' Williams said. 'Now, I was playing against guys like [teammate and senior captain Nick Taylor] that you've seen on TV. I was scared and almost didn't really know what to expect.'

And now, to say things have changed is a complete understatement.

Williams regained some confidence after talking with Taylor and head coach Matt Thurmond. From there, Williams started to believe more in his game, and things just started to click.

'I don't know, in golf, you just kind of find a groove,' Williams said. 'I found it, and I haven't gotten out of it since.'

The native of Moscow, Idaho, has found the groove in a huge -- and historic -- way.

One week before failing even to qualify for the starting lineup, Williams had his own coming-out party in early February at the Battle of the Beach. He birdied two out of his final three holes in the final round of the three-day tournament to share medalist honors with Arkansas' David Lingmerth.

With the victory, he became the third UW freshman ever to win a tournament title.

'It was pretty unreal,' Williams said. 'I didn't really expect to win this, nor did I expect to win at all in college, and it was only my fourth tournament. It was pretty cool.'

His first win, Williams says, has been the best part of his freshman season thus far. Before the Battle of the Beach, he told Thurmond he felt he was playing well.

'He told me, `You never know, it could be your time to win,'' Williams said. 'I never really thought about it until a couple weeks [after I won]. It was a huge confidence booster to know that when I am playing my best, I can go out and win a college tournament.'

The success didn't stop there. Three tournaments later, at last week's ASU Thunderbird Invitational, the freshman and the rest of his teammates made sure that the rest of the Pac-10 knew how good the No. 4 Huskies can be.

Facing a 17-stroke deficit heading into the final round, the UW didn't have much to play for. But at the same time, it meant less pressure and fewer expectations.

Four Huskies shot in the 60s en route to a miraculous two-stroke team victory. Williams led the way, sinking eight birdies in his final round and finished with a scorching 64, losing in a playoff for the outright medalist honors. His 64 was just the fourth time in UW history that a player has shot 64 or better in the third round of an event.

Thurmond said his freshman's attitude after finding out he'd be in a playoff was just an example of the player Williams is.

'His attitude, it was hilarious,' the ninth-year head coach said. 'He was sarcastically like, `Why didn't I just make another birdie and not have to play this stupid playoff?' He was upset he didn't make another birdie. It shows the expectations he has for himself.'

It's no secret that Thurmond has played an influential role in helping Williams achieve the success he's had this season. A big part of why Williams chose the UW was Thurmond himself.

'Matt is a really cool guy, and he was the only coach that I really did like that I talked to,' Williams said. 'There's something about him; he seems to have more fun than everyone else. That's one reason that we do play so well.'

That 'fun' aspect is something that seems to keep Thurmond's players balanced and not taking the game too seriously, as many other college golf programs do. Whether it's going to tourist attractions or go-karting three times -- like they did after last week's incredible finish -- these Huskies know how to have fun while staying focused on the course.

It's something that Taylor knows other programs envy.

'We go to tourneys, and we want to do well and prepare, but at the same time, we want to get our mind off golf and have a good time,' the senior said. 'Other teams hear what we're doing, and they get jealous. They don't experience the things we do off the course, and it makes our team different.'

Taylor -- at one point the No. 1 amateur in the nation -- has served as a good mentor and teacher for Williams. The senior co-captain has been around and has experienced a lot of what Williams might see in the future; last year at the prestigious U.S. Open, Taylor made the cut and finished 36th, ahead of every other amateur in the field.

Thurmond actually sees parallels between Taylor's freshman year and Williams' freshman year. Taylor showed promise in practice but still struggled a bit in tournaments early in his first year as a collegiate golfer.

'There was a time when Chris was pretty frustrated and didn't play great in the fall, and Nick had the same experience,' Thurmond said. 'Everyone knew [Williams] was good, and I think Chris broke through a little earlier than Nick did. His year has been similar to Nick's freshman year, and Chris has been able to use Nick's experience to help him through.'

So will Williams ever be as good -- or even better -- than Taylor?

'That's hard to say,' said Thurmond, who has seen his share of outstanding golfers in his nine years at the helm of the UW program. 'Nick is really, really special. I do see Chris being a great player -- whatever that means, we'll just have to see over time. We have high goals, and he does too.'

Reach Sports Editor Taylor Soper at sports@dailyuw.com.

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