In his dreams Dave Williams was always Coach. Coach Dave Williams from the little blackland farm town of Randolph, Texas, who went away to find sweet success at the big university. His real name was Glenwood Williams but his uncle said that was no kind of name to load on a child and made them change it to David G., and in time people dropped the Glenwood. Dave Williams saw himself as the raw material for another Dana X. Bible. Or a Bear Bryant. He would have loved to have been Bear Bryant. He had played all the sports. He was even a star of medium dimension in some of them, and he told his brothers Noble and Clovis—uncle had not rescued them—that he was straight out going to be a coach. But it did not happen that way. David Williams got sidetracked early in life by commonplace needs, and he wound up teaching engineering. He was 28 years old and he was settled in the business of ramming thermodynamics into the heads of students at the University of Houston when he and Noble set about looking for something athletic to do, something to keep the abdomen hard and the arteries soft.
"I said to Noble, 'Noble, we can't play football or basketball anymore, but we've been in athletics all our lives, we gotta find something,' and we found a set of old golf clubs out in Clovis' garage. Golf was one sport I'd never tried. Never had a club in my hand. We didn't even know where to get balls. We went to this auto supply store and they had some. Two dollars a dozen. No telling what kind they were. And the place we picked to play was Glenbrook. Of all places to play, we picked Glenbrook."
The Glenbrook Municipal Golf Course is the Venice of Houston. They should hold regattas on it instead of golf tournaments. Canals and creeks run all through it. Before noon they had lost two dozen balls, and those they had not lost they had grievously wounded.
"I said to Noble, 'I don't believe we can afford this game.' Noble looks after his money pretty good. That's why he's got some now and I haven't. But we got more balls and went out again after lunch.
June 19, 1967
"We got around to the 6th hole, a dogleg right at Glenbrook, and we only had a few balls left. Noble hooked one in the water. 'Dadgummit, I'm going to hit another,' he said, and he hit another in the water, and another. 'I got one ball left. What's my score?' I said about 10. He put the ball down and got out his putter and began punching the ball up the fairway and counting, '11...12...13....' I got down on the ground and rolled in the grass laughing. He took 24 shots, and when he got it in the cup he said, That's it. Goodby. That's all I'm going to play,' and he hasn't played since."
Dave Williams kept playing. He was on the course at 7 every morning and he played until his first class at 11. He tried every grip he saw—one finger over, two fingers over, three fingers, the baseball grip. He had learned to play the guitar watching other people make chords, and now he watched golfers. He got so he could shoot a 95. Then he started playing with the Houston athletic director, a man named Harry Fouke, who liked him and was amazed at how much he knew about athletics. Fouke is a friendly man. He introduced Dave to "robins," a system of friendly golf-wagering for friendly golfers. Harry Fouke and the two other coaches that played in the group could shoot 75s, and when Dave arrived home his wife Ginny would say, "What happened to all your money?" and Dave would say, "Well, greens fees are pretty steep and I had to buy some gas."
But one day Dave shot a 74 and he won, and the next day he shot another 74 and won some more, and Harry Fouke, who was a busy man and had been coaching the University of Houston golf team on the side, said, "Dave, old boy, how would you like to be the golf coach? The University of Houston golf coach?"
"What do I have to do?"
"Go out and pass out some balls and tell the boys to get after it. That's all."
"O.K. All right. Yes, I'll do it."
Boy, wait till Noble hears about this. I been wanting to coach all my life and when I finally make it, what do I wind up coaching? Golf.
This was in 1951 and the Houston golf coaching job was not a high-pay position. It did not pay anything. Volunteer work, like the Boy Scouts. The team, circumstantially, had lost 25 matches in a row. It had two scholarships. The football team had 50 or so. American universities do not get very reckless with their golf budgets. But Dave Williams did not care about the no money. He had a steady $350 a month coming in from his teaching job and no ambition to become a millionaire. To coach, that was the thing.
The team had one more match to play that season, against Lamar Tech, and Athletic Director Fouke took Golf Coach-elect Williams out for the match. He said, "Boys, this is your new coach." He told Dave to come along with him and they would play behind the team, which was the custom.
"I said, 'No, thank you, Mr. Fouke. If I'm going to be their coach I'm going to watch 'em play.' And I watched 'em real hard. I was interested. And they won. It was an accident. I didn't say a word the whole match. But I was there and they won. And I can tell you right now every shot those kids hit that day. They were my people.
"So we had this spring sports banquet, and they asked me to get up and say something, and I was choking and I didn't know what to say. They announced me, and I said, 'We're going to win the national championship.' Everybody laughed. Boy, that was the biggest joke of the year. The school was new in athletics then. We'd never gone for a national championship in anything. I was choking and I just blurted it out: 'We're going to win the national championship.' The golf team wasn't even playing in the NCAA. They started calling me National Championship Williams."
The University of Houston is a young school that did not compete in any intercollegiate athletics until 1946. It now has a trophy room in the athletic department offices, at the center, or heart, of the building, and the trophy room knocks the eye out. Small spotlights probe the cases and illuminate the contents. Great big silver trophies, and bigger ones still, and little gold ones and plaques and plates and loving cups. The great majority of them are golf trophies that have been won since 1955. Nine of them are national championship (NCAA) golf trophies, the mother lode of National Championship Williams. If it were not for the golf trophies, the Houston trophy room would be an immoderation, like having a big garage without owning a car.
At the athletic dormitory, called Baldwin House, which is right next door to the girls' dormitory and therefore a very popular place to spend an afternoon, the boys play cutthroat table tennis in a large room where the walls are covered with giant blowups of Houston's nine championship teams and its 16 All-America golfers, many of whom are now making big money on the professional tour—Homero Blancas, Jacky Cupit, Phil Rodgers, Kermit Zarley, Rex Baxter, Babe Hiskey. Those of this group who did not make the wall in the rec room are out in the lobby, hung with care, as if they were Tudor princes or football stars.
On each of his frequent trips to these archives of success, Coach Dave Williams, that enthusiastic man, seems to see them for the first time, or to spot some nugget previously overlooked. He snaps his fingers. Hey, did you see this? Isn't this something? The athletic director did not want him to put the pictures up, but Dave Williams is a pretty good talker. They are not objects of pride, he said, they are objects of incentive.
"Kermit Zarley went over there one day as a sophomore. He wasn't making the team and he was going to quit. He said he looked at those pictures for two hours, read all the captions. 'Someday,' he said, 'my picture is going to be up there,' and he didn't quit and last year he made $46,000 on the tour. Pretty good for an old country boy just out of college. I'd like to have it. Hey, see here, that's old Kermit. Attaboy, Kerm."
Dave said he remembered the first trophy the team won. It was 1955. The year before he had gone to the Houston Golf Association and talked them into donating a $250 trophy for the school championship, "and every body around here said that damn Williams can't win anything, so he has to have a great big trophy for his own team, and they were right, because I was looking for something to make the boys know that golf was a big thing, that it was big in their lives. Then in '55 we went out to the Border Olympics in Laredo and we beat North Texas State by two strokes and Oklahoma State. First time we'd ever beaten either one in a tournament. It was like beating the Yankees and Notre Dame. Then we went to Odessa for the West Texas Relays, and we had the lead on the final day. It came up 26° and we had to play the last nine holes in a dust storm. You couldn't see 30 yards, and finally the other teams conceded to us. We had to have that trophy. Boy, we had to have it."
Dave Williams' office is around toward the back of the athletic department building. He does not appear on the lobby directory as golf coach but as "Dave Williams, Cougar Club." The Cougar Club is a boosters' group ($10 membership) of the athletic department, and he is the ramrod. That's what he's paid for by the university—maybe $10,000 a year, maybe less—to be golf coach and Cougar Club chief. He does not appear to mind the slight to his golf that the directory in the lobby implies. On his way around he sticks his head in and out of offices to say hello or maybe introduce this coach or that one to a visitor. "I want you to meet Guy Lewis, the greatest basketball coach in America.... This is Ben Hurt, the greatest line coach in America." They respond cordially.
Williams is a big man who has gone portly and gray at 48. If he wants to see anything he wears glasses. One year his golfers refused to let him drive to tournaments unless he wore the glasses because he had stopped at an intersection in a little town in New Mexico to ask directions of a yellow wooden traffic policeman. As a young man he cut a handsome figure in his naval officer's uniform. Now he is jowly and more friendly-looking than handsome, like a St. Bernard. He is unfailingly courteous. He smiles a lot. He is incorrigibly enthusiastic.
"This is the greatest athletic program in America," he says, "and it is the greatest university. If a student doesn't think so he shouldn't be here. And, listen, there isn't a better city to live in than Houston."
On his office wall there is a small plaque, "Mr. College Golf," and a framed copy of a story in Golf Digest written by one of his former golfers, Jim Hiskey, telling how much his players adore Coach Dave Williams. The walls groan with their burden: more pictures, framed clippings, an ectype of Romans 12 ("Positively the greatest chapter in the Bible. Tells you exactly how to live") and a prayer that begins, "Oh, God, in the game of life you know that though most of us are duffers we all aspire to be champions with plenty of birdies and eagles...."
"My wife doesn't like pictures on the walls, but I do," Williams explains. "I keep scrapbooks. I have a stack of scrapbooks. I keep everything in there, letters and little clippings and things. I'm just that way. Hey, look at this." It is a cartoon of Homero Blancas from Ripley's Believe It or Not. Dave Williams adjusts his glasses. "Did I tell you about this? A lot of the team was playing at the Premier Invitation in Longview in 1962. Fred Marti was leading by six strokes on the last day. What a team we had that year! Homero and Fred and Kermit and Wright Garrett and Mark Hopkins. Anyway, Fred had this six-stroke lead with 18 to go, and his dad called to find out how the tournament ended. 'I lost by five strokes,' Fred said. 'You lost by five strokes? What did you shoot, 100?' 'No sir, a 66.' 'A six-ty-six?' 'Yessir, a 66. Homero shot a fif-ty-five!' And there it is, believe it or not. A record round of golf. A 55. I didn't see it myself. Didn't have the money to go."
In his office Dave Williams is a man of action. The telephone grows to his ear. He does all his own publicity, pounding through the paper with emphatic blows on the typewriter. Last April he put out a 36-page brochure for his golf tournament, the All-America Intercollegiate Invitation. Technically it is the university's tournament, but it is really Dave Williams'. It is, he admits, the most exciting tournament in America. Lots of trophies, a beauty queen, bunting and banners and cheering students and a big, fancy banquet with Morris Frank of the Houston Chronicle telling all of the latest ethnic jokes. He pounds out letters to magazine editors suggesting stories that might be done about the program—("It will be the best or nearly the best ever. In fact, it will be the best"). He wrote a book, How to Coach and Play Championship Golf, which is the text on the subject at Arizona State University. A friend of his saw the book in a New York airport selling for $5.65 next to books by Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Cary Middlecoff going for "about $2.75." He says his friends tell him it's the best book they ever read on golf.
He thinks up ways to give more trophies and prizes; recently he gave a third-place trophy in a three-team tournament. "Those boys had to come all the way from Florida. They oughta get something." He gives plaques to sympathetic fathers and patrons and friends of his program, to accommodating country clubs and TV stations and to rival coaches and sportswriters. He names tournaments after people. He is always honoring somebody.
"All my life," says Dave Williams, "since I was 17 years old, I've lived with the feeling that this year would be my last. So I try to get things done." On weekends he teaches a Sunday school group, and he is a faculty adviser to a young people's group called The Spirits. For awhile after he left the university's engineering department to go into athletics full time, he recruited for the Houston football team. "I helped recruit the freshman team that beat Bear Bryant's freshmen at Texas A&M 20-6 in 1956. Bear's team made three first downs." But Williams had to give up recruiting to administer the Cougar Club.
Marveling at all this as she tries to keep up is his secretary, Mrs. Doris Kuhne. She is a retired schoolteacher with blue-gray hair and a charitable disposition, and she thinks there is nobody like Coach Williams. She tells him he missed his calling. "You should have been a salesman. You would have been the greatest salesman of all time."
"Ah, Mizz Kuhne, you're a wonderful lady," says Dave Williams.
Alas, Coach Dave Williams found that the road from Randolph, Texas to Sweet Success is sprinkled with sour grapes. Not all the gentlemen who play the gentleman's game are cursing the rough and beating their putters against a tree. Some of them are coaching college golf, and they have created an amazing fiction about Dave Williams:
He passes out scholarships like they were handbills (15 to 30 a year). He has a $70,000 budget. His players do not have to be smart because they do not have to be students; they take courses in club-wrapping and a little agriculture to learn about grasses and the only courses they pass are golf courses. Williams is a politician. He is a two-faced four-flushing rule-breaking smooth-talking politician who can quote Holy Scripture but can't break 80. This last is the thing that really zings them. That he is not a good golfer. He does not have a picture swing.
Dave Williams closed a scrapbook he had been showing and slumped back in his chair. "I think there are only four or five that say these things," he said, "and I can understand it, because they want to win and they've been close, a few of them, and if they're competitors I guess it's natural to say something. Nobody likes to admit he's flat getting beat.
"I never want to hurt anybody. I want to help college golf, that's all, but I remember when I got started and Fred Cobb, who's dead now, was at North Texas State and he'd won four NCAA championships and the other coaches were running him down. They're saying he's a sorry this and a sorry that. I thought, boy, that's all right, he's what I want to be. I idolized Fred Cobb. I didn't realize what they were talking about until I started winning myself. If you lose you're a dog, if you win too much you're a hog. I can tell you we made some friends in 1961 and 1963 when we didn't win the national championship.
"We've been accused of everything, really. They said we had excess money. They didn't know we were riding to tournaments seven in a car, in that old blue station wagon that was around here for years. We called it the Blue Goose. The speedometer had gone around twice. We had a mattress in the back to sleep on and play cards, and I remember in 1953 when we went to Colorado Springs for the nationals we broke down five times before we got out of Texas. Once we slept seven in a room in Athens, Ga., and one old boy snored so loud he kept half the guys awake and we finished sixth. We ate on $3 a day per boy. Mostly hamburgers. Football players would bring the boys apples from the training table. Jim Hiskey and Rex Baxter complained how tight I was. They thought I was using psychology. Trying to make them hungry.
"The NCAA finally investigated us in 1957. It was really funny when they saw our budget. Jack Rule had come down here from Waterloo, Iowa to play for us. Jack had been the national Jaycee junior champion. He's on the tour now. We've got 23 on the tour. We gave Jack Rule tuition, books and room, about one-third scholarship, and when I was at the NCAA that year someone said, 'Boy, that Jack Rule is hot.' What do you mean, hot? 'He's gettin' a lotta money.' I said I didn't know anything about it. Turned out somebody accused us of giving him a new car. I'm not kidding you. A new car for golf? Boy. This investigator from the NCAA asked Jack if he had a car and Jack said yessir, a new Oldsmobile, and the man said, 'Uh, what kind of car did you drive last year?' Jack says, 'A Cadillac.' The NCAA guy liked to flip. Well, it was a joke, really. His dad gave him both cars.
"Everybody thinks we've got all this money to throw away. Listen, I couldn't even go to the NCAA tournament in 1952 because we had to scrounge a ride from one of the parents and there wasn't room for me. Often I didn't travel with the team. We used to send a football coach who could tie it in with something else. I'll show you how things get exaggerated. In 1960 we didn't have a way to get to the Border Olympics. The old Blue Goose was gone, and I didn't know until 11 o'clock the night before if we would make it. Finally I called one more guy and I said I hate to call you but we're sweating. We can't go unless we get a car, and here we are the defending champions—hell, the national champions. He gave me a name of an auto dealer that was a friend of his, Bill McDavid, and I called him and he said, 'Look, I've got this big Cadillac out here you can use for the weekend,' and when we rode into Laredo in that big old Cadillac with the jump seats and everything you could see the eyebrows going up. We had money, see.
"When we started winning, even the people in Houston thought we were paying the players. We'd been down among the Roys—the rest-of-yous—so long they figured it was the only way possible." Williams said nobody would believe it but he had never made a recruiting trip in his life for golf, he had never flown a boy in for a campus visit. He never went to a junior tournament that was not right there in Houston. He said he had a pretty big phone bill, calling boys, but nine times out of 10 when a boy arrived he had never seen him hit a golf ball. "A good thing, too, because I wouldn't have picked some of them. That's how much I know."
But the thing that really depresses him, Williams says, is whenever he proposes something for college golf the coaches figure he has an ulterior motive. "I wanted the coaches to start an All-America team in 1957. Every other sport has one. They said no, because it would be mostly Houston players. I told Sam Voinoff of Purdue, 'O.K., your Joe Campbell is on the Walker Cup team but he will never be an All-America.' The next year they voted the All-America team in, using the same selection plan I had proposed. They did not say a word to me, but that is all right as long as they did it.
"Why, players even have told me their coaches didn't want them to play in our All-America tournament because it would just be helping Houston. What about the boys? Ninety-nine percent of them will never play in a better tournament. Labron Harris [Oklahoma State golf coach] wrote me he was going to tell the NCAA they could learn something from our tournament. It's been televised the last three years. Next year we might get national TV. I'm working on that right now."
The All-America tournament owes its eminence to a fiscal crisis that the Houston athletic department experienced in 1959. It is a fable that Houston millionaires beat down the university doors trying to lay in the next endowment, and in 1959 the spring sports program was to be sacrificed for the general welfare. Golf is a spring sport. Dave Williams went into action.
"They agreed to try to hang on, but I knew I wasn't going to have any budget at all. None. So I said I'd try to raise money through our tournament. We had started it in 1955 because all we were playing was a lot of little dual matches that didn't mean a thing—if you win, what have you won? If you lose, you've lost. We had to have a tournament that meant something. Dave Marr, Tommy Tyson, Monte Bradley had turned pro on me because college golf wasn't big enough. So we got our tournament going pretty good, but we never charged admission. Well, we found out a funny thing: if you charge admission you get 7,000 people; free you get five mothers and daddies.
"We started selling buttons, three admission buttons and the brochure for $10. That made you a sponsor and entitled you to go to the banquet. We got this big trophy, The Spirit Award, to give the students. They cheer missed putts and shanked two-irons, they cheer everything, and some of them drive the boys to the tournament in golf carts. Last year one fraternity hired a helicopter. The tournament queen gets a Cougar sports car to drive for the remainder of the year. The 16 teams get golf shirts with their team name on the front. The first year we sold 334 sponsorships. Then 900, 1,100, 1,500. Last year 1,800, this year more than 2,000. That's $20,000. Someday we might sell $50,000 worth. It's the biggest thing in college golf."
The facts of Williams' program are these: his budget is $16,000 this year, the highest ever, but it is paid for entirely by the golf tournament, which grossed $20,000. The profit goes back into the athletic program, which means golf actually contributed to the school's football budget last year. No other golf program in America can make that statement. The golf team now flies to major tournaments, or rides in its new station wagon, the Green Hornet, and it eats on $4.50 per day per boy. Williams started with two scholarships a year; he now has a maximum of eight. Currently he is using six and two-thirds, cut into pieces so that 15 boys on a squad of about 30 get some kind of help. No one since Jacky Cupit in 1960 has received a full four-year scholarship. Usually it is one year, with renewals, but the scholarships are juggled around a bit.
"Babe Hiskey had a good scholarship but didn't do anything for two years. His junior year I said, 'Babe, I just can't help you this much next year. I'll get you a job over at the cafeteria scrubbin' those pots and pans.' Before long Babe started playing real good golf."
Ninety percent of Williams' players graduate, some—Wright Garrett, Kermit Zarley, Marty Fleckman, Joel Goldstrand—with honors. It is true that Phil Rodgers did not. Mrs. Williams, who has been known to walk 18 holes with Dave's more sensitive players to give them moral support, used to go over to the coach's office at night and sit Phil down and read history into his right ear as fast as it was going out the left. Phil heard different voices. He was off on the tour after one year of varsity competition. Last year he made $75,000.
As for his own game, Dave Williams concedes that his score has not helped his team win a championship yet, and is not likely to. He has not played in a couple of years. So how does an 80 shooter get to be such a successful golf coach? "By having 10 boys who can shoot a 70," says a rival coach. "By teaching you how to win, not how to play," says Zarley. "There's a difference."
Dave Williams believes he can help a boy as well as anybody. "I believe, I know I could have been successful in any sport. Football, basketball.... I don't have a reputation as a golfer, and that's a problem I wouldn't have if I were coaching football or basketball, because I played them all my life. This hurts me. But I've made up my mind to know more about golf than anybody. I've taken pictures of 39 of the best pros. I'm taking more. A lot of it is semantics. I tell a boy, 'Get your hands going toward the hole.' Somebody else says, 'Get the hands forward,' or, 'Follow through,' or, 'Kick off more with the right foot.' It's all the same. Listen, there's a million swings, but if a boy hits it good, you don't change him. You don't meddle. You got to take a boy where he is and add to it. Not try to teach him the Hogan Way, the Snead Way or the Nelson Way.
"I believe that coaching a team sport is 50% recruiting, 30% motivation, 15% luck—boy, we've had lots of that—and 5% mechanics. Listen, put this down. For a team to do well in any sport, it's got to be their team. It's got to be their project. If it's their team, they're going to try harder. A coach can mess it up.
"One of our boys was having trouble in sand traps. Hal Underwood and Mike Mitchell spent two and a half hours with him, just stayed right there in the trap, and the next day the boy was one of the only two players who shot par. The main thing is to achieve team spirit. Kermit used to say when he was hitting the ball bad and wanted to give up he would realize the team was depending on him. He couldn't give up. And Jimmy Hiskey. Jimmy was so cheap that if you ordered him a steak he would wish it was a hamburger. We called him 'Tightwaddy.' But he ruined a four-wood on some rocks to help the team win one day. 'I'm going to shatter this club,' he said, 'but I'm going to get it on the green,' and he did.
"I remember Jimmy played 18 holes in the nationals in 1958, then walked 18 with Bob Pratt, then nine more with Richard Dickson. Later on Pratt had a four-foot putt on the 18th hole. 'We don't need this to win, do we coach?" he asked. I told him we had it sewed up. So he missed by a foot, then putted back in. The stroke tied him with Frank Wharton for the fourth spot on our team, which meant Frank's name would go into the record book, too.
"Another thing that happens is the boys start disciplining themselves and working hard. We play harder and we practice harder than anybody. We might play a course seven, eight times before a tournament. We're out there at 6:30 in the morning, then we nap and play again. We talk about it at night. We compare notes. People watch us. I got one coach who copies every move I make in a tournament. Every move. What I do he does. He's going to have a great team. I'm scared of him.
"I get shook up at a tournament. The NCAA is the worst ordeal a man can go through. I play 36 holes just walking around the room the night before. Boy, you talk about psychology. There's so much psychology in golf people wouldn't believe it. At Colorado Springs in 1957 after the first day we were in 14th place. The kids were too cocky. I didn't know what to do. I was sick. I wouldn't go back to the motel. I told them to just go ahead and I went out and sat on the course. Just me. Pretty soon they all came out there to get me. Frank Wharton said, 'C'mon coach.' He was crying. 'I guarantee you we will win it tomorrow for you.' We sat out there until 8 o'clock. You see, they had not been serious enough. We won it the next day by one stroke. If I'd just jumped in the car afterward, like I was happy, no telling what we'da done."
But the place that Williams does his best coaching is in his own home. The Williams family lives in a small frame house two miles from the university. Giant ash and pine trees keep the front yard in perpetual purple shade. A large air conditioner, hammered into the wall next to the front door, drones through the summer. The china is not Spode and the carpet is not thick, but the hospitality is the best. Ginny Williams is a tall, handsome woman, and she serves a formidable crabmeat casserole. Their children, Joel, 20, and Peggy, 17, are bright, clean-cut and impeccably mannered. Joel forsook golf for basketball. He is in his second year at the university. And the team is part of the family. The boys gather and Ginny serves charcoal hamburgers as Dave plinks on his guitar and leads the charge in his pleasant, gravelly baritone: "Cooooool, cleeeeeer, wahturr," working his eyebrows and smiling and winking happily.
"We have these meetings," he says. "The boys call them prayer meetings. We sit around and we talk about how to live and the dreams I have for them and me. The boys catch on. I can get to them. I think when you worry about kids and are dedicated to them they know it. When I was teaching science in high school back in Mt. Pleasant I was always the one they brought the discipline problems to. It was the only wet town in East Texas. Roughest bunch of kids you ever saw. They had a dirty dozen, the boys, and a filthy five, the girls. One time when they called me up they had the principal hanging by his heels out the window. I got their confidence because I gave them mine, and I wasn't much more than 20 years old myself.
"Our players have three requirements: be a good citizen, maintain high standards as a student and want to be the greatest golfer in the world. We talk about being a great kid morally. We got no choice. It's not because I'm a goody-goody. We're winning, and you can't have a guy running around doing things, because somebody is going to know about it. And when you're raising money for your program you're depending on people and they're not going to support 'kids that aren't the best.
"Our boys can play most any course in Houston, and they're welcomed. When we first started we could play one course, the Houston Country Club, on Mondays only. We had to pay everywhere else. I've had pros tell me, 'Dave, you've got the greatest kids that ever came in here.' My boys always call to make sure they can play. They don't hang around the clubhouse, they get in and get out. They let members play through. They spend 10 minutes raking a sand trap if it's needed. They always replace their divots. If they don't make a divot, I tell 'em to pick up some grass. Might be a member two holes over watching you and he might think you made a divot."
Dave Williams says that the seemingly unlimited supply of good golfers he gets to come to Houston is due to 1) good golf courses there, 2) year-round playing weather and 3) his ability as a "pretty good talker."
"Put it any way that you want, I've coached more national champions than anybody," he says. A lot of his prospects write—he gets letters from 100 serious applicants a year—or just walk in.
Other coaches do not like it, but their own players tell boys to go to Houston. Marion Hiskey was at North Texas State when he recommended that his brothers, Babe and Jimmy, try Houston. Jimmy Hiskey told Bob Pratt, "You're a great prospect, but you're not going to be a great golfer unless you come to Houston." And so it has gone, though Dave Williams now feels he does not get the very top boys anymore. They go to such places as LSU and Texas and Brigham Young and Florida. He has not been able to recruit a national junior champion in years. "But we win because we have a better program," he says.
Nine national championships. That's more than anybody. Nine national championships since Rex Baxter....
In the spring of 1953 Dave Williams received three letters from a young golfer in Amarillo named Rex Baxter. Baxter wanted to come to Houston. "I didn't want him. He hadn't won anything. But one of the boys I'd lost told me to watch out for this Baxter. At Colorado Springs in 1953 I overheard two coaches talking, Labron Harris and the fellow from the University of New Mexico, John Dear. One of them was saying, 'Who's going to get Rex Baxter?' Baxter! That's the guy who's been writing me those letters. I could tell by the tone of their voices he's a stud, see. You get that inflection. That's how you know about a guy, the inflection.
"That summer I saw Rex play here qualifying for the USGA Junior Amateur, and I never saw anybody hit a ball better, never in my whole life. Straight, never left or right. Wham, like that. I ran to Mr. Fouke. I said, 'I got to have Rex Baxter.' He'd already sent his application to Oklahoma State and we had already used our three scholarships. I said, 'If he wins the national junior will you give him a scholarship?' 'The national junior? Well, yes, sure.' Fouke didn't think we'd ever get a national junior champion, which is why he said sure. Nobody from Texas ever won it, but old Rex went through those matches like they were child's play, and he came to Houston. That was the start.
"Rex thought everything he touched was best, and it rubbed off. He thought Amarillo had the best steaks, the best weather, the best girls. Before a match he'd tell our guys, 'These clowns can't play like we can. They're not much.' Boy, I'd look at 'em and they sure looked good to me. He'd say, 'We'll bring them to their knees.'
"At Ohio State in 1956 he came to the last hole needing a par to tie us for our first championship. He was 40 feet from the cup on his second shot, in the frog hair. He got out his putter and hit the ball. It looked like it was going to be four feet short. But it kept going. It musta been the spin off the grass. It plopped right in the cup for a birdie, and we'd won. A national championship for Houston. I'm telling you, everything broke loose. Richard Parvino jumped all over me. He put spike marks on Jim Hiskey's feet. John Brodie, the quarterback, was there. He just turned and walked away. 'Those lucky damn Texans,' he said. Jim Hiskey says to me, 'It couldn't be an accident. You were praying and I was praying and one of us must have got through.'
"That night we ate chicken-fried steak. No more hamburgers for us."