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
“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
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
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
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