USGA MEN'S STATE TEAM
McWilliams, Louisiana Want to Bring Title to Rain-Savaged Region
September 28, 2016 | Birmingham, Ala.
By David Shefter, USGA
Robby McWilliams, like many of his fellow Louisianans, is a resilient man. On the golf course, he persevered to finally win the Louisiana Mid-Amateur this year after four runner-up finishes.
It’s the kind of intestinal fortitude that is a hallmark of the people of his state, who have endured quite a bit over the past 11 years. Two major hurricanes followed by the recent catastrophic rains that took 13 lives and flooded thousands of homes and businesses are enough to test even the heartiest of souls. “It is something that is on the news every night,” said McWilliams, 48, of Benton, La., a town in the northern part of the state that received heavy rain, but not the flooding that occurred in other places. “My heart goes out to them. There are friends of mine who have lost their homes. Us Louisianans, we’re tough people.”
McWilliams seeks to channel that attitude as he represents the Pelican State for a fourth time in this week’s USGA Men’s State Team Championship at the Country Club of Birmingham. He will be joined by two New Orleans-area golfers: Patrick Christovich, 38, and Brandon Aydlett, 34, of Metairie.
“I don’t think their houses were flooded, but they’ve dealt with [the situation],” added McWilliams. “Everyone has family down there who has gone through it.”
A strong showing at the Men’s State Team would be in keeping with some recent performances by Louisiana golfers. Last month, three Louisiana State University players advanced to match play in the 116th U.S. Amateur, with Luis Gagne reaching the quarterfinals. Sam Burns, of Shreveport, and Brandon Pierce, of Covington, were both ousted in the Round of 32.
Aydlett and Christovich competed in the Men’s State Team two years ago at the Dye Course at French Lick (Ind.) Resort when the state tied for fifth, its best finish in the history of the biennial competition. Aydlett was the individual low scorer in the championship.
McWilliams, a quarterfinalist in the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur, did not make that team. He’s a seven-time club champion at 2020 U.S. Women’s Open host Champions Golf Club in Houston, where he used to live before returning to his native Louisiana. He played collegiately at Bossier Parish Community College before transferring to Northeast Louisiana University, now known as the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Realizing he would never play the game for a living, McWilliams remained an amateur andsaw his game blossom in the late 1990s. Playing regularly at Champions, which is owned by 1956 Masters and PGA champion Jackie Burke Jr. and his wife, Robin, the 2016 USA Curtis Cup captain, significantly improved his game.
“I still have friends of mine down there,” said McWilliams, who has qualified for 10 U.S. Mid-Amateurs he missed the cut two weeks ago at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa. “It makes you a better golfer when you go play at that golf course day in and day out. Anybody in your group can shoot four under par.”
Now McWilliams spends a lot of time at David Toms’ Academy 265 in Shreveport, where Burns and 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Philip Barbaree practice and play.
“It’s the best place for somebody like me who enjoys practicing but doesn’t necessarily play a whole lot,” said McWilliams, who works in sales for Southern Soil Environmental. “I prefer to practice. It puts me in the right frame of mind.”
Mental strength is what carried McWilliams to his first Louisiana Mid-Amateur title this summer at Southern Trace Country Club. McWilliams had been the runner-up in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010, one of those coming in a playoff.
“You have all these runner-up finishes and you get mad,” said McWilliams. “You get inside your car after it’s over and you tell yourself, ‘Oh man, one shot.’ It’s always one shot here or there.”
This year, McWilliams was tied for the lead after 36 holes. He then went out and carded his third consecutive 68 to win by four strokes over Christovich. The disappointment of the past turned to elation.
“I just went out there and had a good time,” said McWilliams. “I told my wife I was going to have fun, and I did. Even when I hit a bad shot, I still had a smile on my face.”
He would like to have a similar experience in Alabama. Given all that’s happened recently, bringing the State Team trophy back home would be special.
“Our [executive] director of the Louisiana Golf Association [Carr McCalla] and the guys from south Louisiana have said this is our year,” said McWilliams. “We’ve been through a lot. I promise you it will mean more to us if we were able to do it than I think anyone else.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.