Following the Dream:
A Mid-Amateur's Diary

April 15, 2009

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of first-person articles about one man's quest to compete in a USGA national championship -- the U.S. Mid-Amateur

By Robert Williams

Chapter 1 - Deciding to Play

One-week-old twins Rhys and Flynn Williams have already been signed up as USGA Members, as has his 2-year-old adopted daughter Josephine. (John Mummert/USGA)
I am about to be 40 and like many other golfers my age, the dream of playing on the PGA Tour somehow never worked out. I played in mini-tour events and was an assistant pro at Callaway Gardens in Georgia in my college years, but came to realize two things:

First, I wasn't good enough. Second, the lifestyle would have required a lot of personal sacrifice I didn't want to make. So in 1988 I put my muscle-back irons and persimmon driver away and did not play golf again until 1999. My youthful logic being, if I can't play on tour I don't want to play.

I learned to play the game of golf working out of the bag room and caddieing at Ardsley Country Club in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., in the mid 1980s, typically playing and practicing in the twilight of late summer evenings. At Ardsley, I was lucky enough to meet Evan Schiller, a local pro, and become his caddie. Playing well, with me on his bag, he won the Metropolitan Golf Association's Westchester Open and Monday-qualified for several PGA Tour events in the northeast. It was during this time I was exposed first-hand to the thrill of a USGA championship, when Evan applied to play in the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. 

Robert Williams will have the challenge of balancing golf and his infant twins in trying to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)
The sites we went to for the 36-hole regional qualifier were Old Oaks and Century, two great old country-club courses in Westchester County, N.Y.  It was a dawn-to-dusk marathon, and I will never forget the electric atmosphere created by all the participants, friends and families and the USGA officials and volunteers. From the anticipation on the range to the nail-biting scoreboard watching at 8 p.m., it was a pageant of human emotion. When it became clear that Evan would qualify for the U.S. Open, there were tears and cheers from all around, even from strangers who had just seen this unknown local pro qualify to compete with the best players in the world in the toughest golf championship on the planet.

It was that memory that brought me back to the game, when my career as a consultant in the New York construction industry settled down in the late 1990s. I started playing here and there and caught up with the childhood friend who taught me the game. Living in New York City, not the best golf location, I joined the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers to practice. For those not familiar, Chelsea Piers is a multi-level practice range built on an old shipping pier that extends out into the Hudson River 250 yards, surrounded by a 200-foot-tall net.

Williams could not qualify in 2008 because he was in the process of adopting his daughter, Josephine, from Guatemala. (John Mummert/USGA)
My quest to play in the USGA Mid Amateur Championship came into being by happenstance and/or fate.  In 2002, I encouraged the capital construction consulting firm that I work for to pursue the management of the USGA's announced museum project - a major renovation of the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., and the construction of the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History. After my firm was awarded the project, I got to know Rand Jerris, the Director of the Museum, who encouraged me to regain my amateur status and attempt to play in the Mid-Amateur. He reminded me that if I won, I could still live my dream of playing in the Masters.

In January 2007, I filled out the application to regain my amateur status and was reinstated soon after. My immediate goal at the time was, as it is now, simply to qualify for the stroke-play rounds of the Mid-Amateur. I filled out the online application , carefully selecting a qualifying site that I thought would best suit my game. I practiced, played and tuned my pressure putting in member guests to prepare for my first competitive round of golf since 1988. The qualifying site was Olde Kinderhook Golf Club, near Albany. I started well with three pars, and then went on to shoot 90. Not bad for a 2.0 Handicap Index.

Last year, my wife and I were in the process of adopting a little girl from Guatemala, so I was unable to make the qualifying dates. This year we had twins - last week, in fact - but my wife has graciously given me permission to make another attempt. Somehow I don't think this summer I will get as much practice time in, so I will have to develop a plan to maximize the impact of the little time I will have. You just have to remember, it only takes one good round to get in.

Applications will be released later in April for the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, which will take place Oct. 3-8 at Kiawah Island Club's Cassique course. I look forward to filling out the form and giving it another shot.


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