Notebook: U.S. Senior Open Competitor Recalls ‘Surreal’ Match

Doug Williams, making his U.S. Senior Open debut at Oak Tree National, squared off against an 11-year-old Michelle Wie in Hawaii's amateur match play championship. (USGA/Chris Keane)
By Scott Lipsky, USGA
July 7, 2014

EDMOND, Okla. – Doug Williams, who will make his U.S. Senior Open debut on Thursday, has lived in eight countries, once caddied for Jack Nicklaus in an exhibition in France and developed a golf course in Hong Kong with Gary Player.

His memorable experiences extend to his career as a top amateur golfer, including a match more than a decade ago that he is not likely to forget. In 2001, at age 43, Williams faced an 11-year-old prodigy named Michelle Wie in the first round of the Manoa Cup, the Hawaii State Amateur Match Play Championship.

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Williams won the match, closing out Wie on the 15th hole, but that’s not what he remembers most about the experience.

“At 11 years old, she had an unbelievable swing, she hit the ball farther than any woman I had ever seen, and almost as far as the guys,” said Williams of Wie, who had already won the state women’s stroke-play championship and had made her USGA championship debut a year earlier in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at age 10. “It was a bit of a circus, there were about 50 people watching. Her family was there, Hawaii press, national press.”

A career amateur, Williams has had his share of success on the golf course, including winning the 2013 Hong Kong Seniors Open Amateur Championship, where he currently resides. Generally, with victories come cheers from the accompanying gallery. Not in his match with the future U.S. Women’s Open champion, however.

“After I won, it was just stone silent and a bunch of sighs of disappointment. Nobody booed, but everyone was rooting for Michelle,” said Williams, who remembers his next opponent thanking him for not making him face the rising star. “Nobody would believe that an 11-year-old girl would be capable of beating anybody, but Michelle was easily better than half of the field. You could tell she was going to be something super special.”

Williams, 56, who medaled in the Honolulu sectional qualifier to earn a spot at Oak Tree National, is one of 59 competitors playing in the U.S. Senior Open for the first time. When asked if he felt more pressure heading into this week or playing against Wie, the answer was easy for the California native.

“That was something that was surreal; it was weird, but I didn’t feel any pressure,” said Williams of the 2001 match. “It was like a dream, really. It was like, what is going on here? You didn’t really believe it.”

Switching Things Up

For those familiar with Oak Tree National, things may seem a little backward during this week’s U.S. Senior Open. That’s because the inward and outward nines have been reversed for the championship.

“It’s purely operational,” said Matt Sawicki, director of championships for the USGA, of the decision to swap the nines.

According to Sawicki, three factors drove the decision: the flow of gallery traffic, available space for grandstands and the placement of hospitality areas. It was the championship staff’s consensus that Oak Tree National’s traditional outward nine was best suited to handle the infrastructure needed for the championship’s closing holes.

“From our perspective, gallery movement is one of the key components when setting up a course,” said Sawicki. “When we looked at it, we liked the three finishing holes, with 16, 17 and 18 coming back to the clubhouse. … No. 18 also gives us a great opportunity to feature the clubhouse directly behind the green.”

Even though some visitors to Oak Tree National this week will know it better as No. 9.

Honing Their Games at The Greenbrier

With no Champions Tour event last week, many competitors head into this week’s U.S. Senior Open at least one week removed from competition. However, five players in the field competed in the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic in preparation for their Senior Open debuts.

Although Scott Verplank and Vijay Singh missed the 36-hole cut, a trio of players who fans will see this week at Oak Tree National were still around for weekend play in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Woody Austin and Jeff Maggert made the 36-hole cut before falling victim to the PGA Tour’s “Made Cut Did Not Finish” rule, in which there is a second cut after 54 holes if 78 or more players make it to the third round (89 players made the halfway cut at Greenbrier).

The fifth Senior Open competitor in the field was Joe Durant, who made his presence felt all the way into Sunday afternoon. After opening with a 65 on Thursday, Durant added a 66 in Round 3 and entered the final round in a tie for fourth place, just four strokes behind leader Billy Hurley. A Sunday 70 left him in a tie for 11th and provided great momentum heading into this week.

His performance notwithstanding, Verplank was glad to have competed last week, and is confident it was the smart move.

“For me, personally, I just wanted to get some more tournament reps,” he said. “Unfortunately, I missed the cut, but at least I got to play under the gun.”

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Jonathan Wilhelm of the USGA contributed.

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