Kragthorpe: Former coach beats Husky star in Public Links
When the pairings were published for Wednesday's first round of match play in the U.S. Amateur Public Links, Alex Williams experienced all kinds of emotions.
Who scripted this stuff? Two months after losing his job as the University of Washington's assistant golf coach, he drew Husky star Chris Williams, a first-team All-American and the world's No. 2-ranked amateur golfer.
No wonder Alex Williams described himself as "a little scared, a little uptight" and that was before he went from two holes ahead to two holes behind on the front nine of Soldier Hollow's Gold course.
In the end, he rallied for a 2-and-1 victory that left him tired, drained and trying to sort out everything that went into the match.
The clue that this was no ordinary pairing came every time Chris launched a drive or putted for a birdie. Alex refused to watch, simply because he was trying not to be intimidated by him, being "way too familiar" with his game.
There may be better matches and more compelling stories as this tournament continues through Saturday, but Williams vs. Williams will be tough to top.
The coach/player dynamic was one thing, but mix in the wounds associated with Alex's no longer working for the Huskies, and this was getting good. Washington coach Matt Thurmond, a former BYU player, hired him last year when ex-Utah golfer Garrett Clegg left UW to become Washington State's coach.
But because of what Williams labeled "some drama" and his own "bad choices," he did not last through the season, before being "pretty much" fired by Thurmond.
So let's just say there was not much chatting between the Williamses on Wednesday, although that had as much to do with Chris' usual demeanor and the stakes of the match as any other factor. Chris wore a Washington shirt and cap; Alex used a head cover from Oregon State, where he once played.
Making the long walk from the 17th green to the clubhouse after losing, Chris could only say he was "extremely disappointed" to be going home so early, after arriving in Midway with possibly the best credentials of anyone in the 156-player field. As for facing his former coach, Chris said, "I've played him a lot, beat him a lot, but tournament golf's a little different. He stepped up, and I didn't."
Chris certainly had his chances, often driving the ball 40 or 50 yards past his opponent. He fell behind when he made a bogey from a bunker at the par-4 No. 15, and then he could not birdie the par-5 No. 16, lipping out a short putt after reaching the green in two shots.
Alex won on the par-3 No. 17 by making a 12-foot birdie putt, before Chris missed a shorter attempt to conclude a match in which one player or the other won 10 of the 17 holes. They exchanged only a quick handshake and a couple of words.
"I feel for him," Alex said later.
Yet he certainly wanted to win, punctuating big putts with emphatic bobs of his head. Alex, 25, is an accomplished player himself, having won a first-round match in the Public Links last July in Oregon. But he has played little tournament golf lately, while working at a course near Portland.
Thinking about the mis-hit 9-iron shot that turned out perfectly on the par-4 No. 14, setting up a birdie that sent him ahead in the match, Alex said, "I wanted to apologize."
Otherwise, he had no misgivings about winning.