That ol' boy Dave Williams, lawdamercy, went out and coached his University of Houston Cougars to another NCAA golf championship last week—his 15th in 32 years—out there at the Bear Creek Golf World off State Highway 6 in West Houston. Course, the hometown advantage helped, what with the way the locals were hollerin' and all—even the badges the spectators wore on Saturday were Cougar red—but shoot, weren't but four of Williams' players from Texas anyhow. The fifth one, that Steve Elkington, came all the way from Australia. Coulda sworn that accent was from somewhere out in West Texas....
When the NCAA golf committee awarded the 1984 tournament to Houston two years ago, "we figured it would be a tribute to Dave," says Brigham Young coach Karl Tucker. Which is just what it turned out to be. Nearly everyone in the sport refers to Williams, who just turned 65, as "the father of college golf." Since taking over the Cougars in 1952, not long after hickory shafts became passé, Williams has won more national collegiate titles than any other coach in any sport in NCAA history. The 66 present or former PGA Tour members who played for Williams at Houston have won a total of 74 events and nearly $11 million.
Having Houston host the 1984 tournament also seemed like a good idea because Williams had been muttering about retiring, too—not that anyone believed him. "Dave used to get up at coaches' meetings and say, 'This is probably gon' be my last year,' and everybody would groan," says Stan Wood, who himself retired as golf coach at USC in 1980. "Another year Dave retired was 1977. Ed Fiori was his captain then. Fiori had a meeting of the players and said, 'We got to win this one for the old man.' And of course they won."
This time Houston trailed until Saturday's fourth round before overtaking third-round leader and defending champion Oklahoma State on the back nine. (In NCAA golf, each school fields five players for four rounds, with the highest round each day thrown out.) When OSU senior Tommy Moore's 12-foot birdie putt at 18 slid below the hole, Houston's Elkington followed with a three-footer for par, thus clinching Houston's victory by a single stroke—seven-under 1145 to six-under 1146 for the 288 holes.
June 3, 1984
While Bear Creek Golf World may sound like the name for some Putt-Putt operation, the NCAA tournament course—one of three at Bear Creek—was long (7,095 yards) and well bunkered. However, five inches of rain the week before had left the greens cuddly-soft, particularly for the first two rounds. North Carolina senior John Inman, brother of PGA Tour veteran Joe, took the greatest advantage, shooting 66-67-71-67—271. He not only won the individual title by four shots over Elkington, but he also broke by two shots the NCAA record set by Ben Crenshaw in 1971. Oklahoma sophomore Jim Begwin also established an NCAA record with his final-round 63, which shot the Sooners into third place, four strokes behind Houston.
Inman, like his brother, is a garrulous, slightly built fellow who makes up for a lack of power off the tee with sharp irons and a superb short game. He says he learned a valuable lesson during the third round of the 1981 PGA Championship, when he caddied for Joe, who was paired with Tom Weiskopf. "On the first hole, Weiskopf hit his drive about 380 yards," John says. "Then he birdied No. 2 and No. 4. Joe bogeyed two of the first four holes. I was going on about how long Weiskopf was, and Joe said, 'Number one. you're caddying for me. Number two. everybody makes mistakes. Let's make sure mine don't show. His will.' Joe shot 67 and Weiskopf shot 72."
It was just that kind of straight talk by Williams that changed Houston's fate. As each of his players walked off the sixth green on Saturday, the coach gave him a pep talk. "Coach told everybody to quit laying back and to rev it up, put it in high gear," says junior Billy Ray Brown. "We got out of that conservative play." A college golf coach's primary job isn't teaching golf—the good ones can already play when they get their scholarships—as much as it's motivating the players. Williams is considered a master at that. "I don't think Dave teaches golf," says Oklahoma State's Mike Holder, who has won four NCAA titles in his 12 years as coach of the Cowboys. "I'm sure he's probably got a good understanding of the fundamentals of the game. But he knows a whole lot more about human nature." Not to mention the power of persuasion.
"Bob Kepler [the late Ohio State coach] once said to me, 'If you'd called Jack Nicklaus one more time, he would've played for you instead of me,' " Williams says. "The thing is, I didn't need Nicklaus." Jay Sigel (the two-time defending U.S. Amateur champion) and pros Jim Simons, Bobby Wadkins and Fuzzy Zoeller dropped out of Houston largely because they couldn't break into the starting five or stay there. Bill Rogers, Bruce Lietzke, Fred Couples, John Mahaffey, Keith Fergus and Dave Marr stayed, and all went on to achieve varying degrees of fame and fortune on the tour. "Fifteen years ago Houston had the three best teams in the country," says Holder. "The five guys that made it and the ten that missed." It used to be that the toughest tournament any Cougar had to play was the weekly Tuesday qualifying to determine which five golfers would play in the upcoming match.
Williams can't hoard talent these days because increased interest in the sport has forced the competition to offer more scholarships and better coaching. Not long ago the golf coach was a guy in the athletic department who could drive a van and arrange matches. Williams chewed up those guys and spit them out. The new generation, coaches like Holder, 36, and David Yates, 35, of Oklahoma, not only stalk junior tournaments all over the U.S. to find players but they also pay attention to developing golfers abroad. Of the 165 players representing the 32 schools in the NCAA, 19 had crossed a border or an ocean to matriculate in the U.S.
"I've heard the argument that we're taking scholarships away from Americans," says Yates, "but I don't like it. America is supposed to be a melting pot. We're giving foreign kids opportunities. Of course, it's hit or miss for the kid. If he doesn't like it, he can go home." Or he can transfer. That's what England's Colin Montgomerie did after enrolling at what he thought was the University of New Mexico. Once his head had been shaved and he had marched in a few close-order drills, he discovered he was at New Mexico Military Academy instead. He now plays for Houston Baptist.
Houston's penchant for foreign athletes on the basketball court is well-known, but Akeem Abdul Olajuwon never carried his teammates as far as Elkington, a native of Wollongong, New South Wales, carried the Cougar golfers. Twice in the final two rounds, Elkington chipped in for birdies from off the green.
Williams grew up chopping cotton in Randolph, Texas for $1 a day. He claims he holds the Hunt County record for most cotton picked in one day: 579 pounds. "That always will be a record," he says. "Nobody picks cotton anymore." In 1939 he graduated from East Texas State and became a teacher because the salary looked like a fortune to him. "I made $1,100 my first year out of college," he says. "That was money. When I got that job, I went to Dallas and bought a car and the first three suits I ever owned. The local postman made $65-$70 a month. He could've married anybody in Hunt County."
After attending the U.S. Naval Academy during World War II and later earning master's degrees in both chemistry and engineering, Williams took a teaching job at Houston in 1946. He had just discovered some golf clubs in his brother's attic, and played every morning before his 11 a.m. class. Soon he got his handicap down from infinity to four. Once he began to beat then-Cougar athletic director Harry Fouke regularly, Fouke made him the Houston golf coach.
With championship No. 15 won, Williams now is talking about "Sweet Sixteen." As for all the retirement chatter, he says, "I don't see why anybody would retire, except if they hate to go to work in the morning. I don't hate it. I love it." Besides, his 6-year-old grandson Zachary won his first tournament last week. Shot a 91. Zachary should be a freshman in 1995.