Californian Jim Williams won the San Francisco City Senior Championship, better known as The City, a few weeks back. This may not mean a lot to you, and it didn't get much notice in San Francisco media or in Global Golf Post for that matter. But here's why you might be interested: Williams is in his third year of service on the Executive Committee of the USGA. In other words, he helps run golf in America.
Another reason is that his win, on one of the great public golf courses (TPC Harding Park) in one of the great golf cities in America, demonstrates that the Executive Committee isn't, as some would believe, made up of guys (or gals) who only play private clubs. Williams is a member at a few private courses, but he has had a lifelong love affair with public golf.
Williams is an interesting guy, with a fascinating story. He grew up in a gritty section of Los Angeles and learned the game on public courses. He grew proficient enough to play for the University of Southern California, where he was named to the All Pac-8 Conference team and won USC's Outstanding Scholar-Athlete award. He graduated in 1978, and stuck around for an MBA before entering the business world.
Williams is a partner of TPG Capital, one of the world's largest private equity firms, which owns more than 90 large-scale companies. He serves on the board of directors of several public and private companies, primarily in the technology, health care, business services and consumer/retail sectors. Prior to TPG, Williams was the CEO of a large health care company and managing partner of a worldwide management consulting firm.
Williams eventually settled in the San Francisco area, and shortly thereafter met Sandy Tatum, the former president of the USGA and the godfather of San Francisco golf. They became the closest of friends, although Tatum did not have any direct involvement in introducing Williams to USGA national affairs. They have played together a lot, socially and in competition, and Williams has aided Tatum with three of his pet projects in San Francisco: the establishment of The First Tee, restoration of Harding Park, and the effort to save the Sharpe Park Golf Club from the extinction sought by various environmental groups.
Williams is a member of the Honourable Society of San Francisco Golfers, which sounds much more elitist than it really is. This group, set up by a core group of San Francisco golfers who love the game, has the feel of a British golf society. And although there is a process to join, it is a very egalitarian group. There are 100 members, women included, from all walks of life -captains of industry, caddies, public and private players, pros, golf writers, even the assistant greens superintendent at Lincoln Park municipal golf course.
The group has taken on some public golf advocacy initiatives, but mostly they meet and talk golf, frequently with guest speakers. The USGA's Mike Davis spoke recently, and Johnny Miller is among past speakers.
Golf is a family affair in the Williams house. His older son, Bryant, played at the University of Pennsylvania, and his son Scotty is at Penn now, the captain of the golf team and a three-time All-Ivy League player who was recently awarded a Ful-bright Scholarship. Scotty's sister, Kelsey, is a freshman on the Penn women's team.
When the Penn men's and women's teams traveled to San Francisco this winter for a spring break golf trip, Williams hosted all 19 players, and invited Tatum to speak to them at a lunch. Tatum, 91, connected with the youngsters in a very powerful way, regaling them with tales of his times at Stanford and the lessons he learned.
The Tatum connections are deep in the Williams family. At that lunch, Williams told the story about how Tatum's Stanford team struggled financially to go to the NCAA Championships. They made it, and Tatum won the 1942 individual title back when that meant something. Tatum called his dad, tears in his eyes, and all he could say was, “Dad, I did it.” Years later, when Scott won the San Francisco City Junior, he called his father with the same teary message and added this: “Guess who presented me the trophy? Sandy Tatum.”
Despite circling the globe on business and raising a family, Williams has maintained a high-level golf game. Which is what brought him to the final hole of The City just a few weeks ago, 1 up and trying to win a title that has eluded him for 20 years. Just before he struck his tee shot, he looked around and saw Tatum in a golf cart, giving Williams the thumbs up. Relaxed, Williams hit a good drive, flagged his second shot, and made a routine two-putt for par and the win.
“It was like my angel showed up and guided me home,” said Williams afterward. “Really, it was a case that Sandy helped bring me home. I went up to him afterwards, he gave me a big hug, and with tears in my eyes, I said, ‘Sandy, I did it. Thank you.’ “
Seems to me this is what the game is all about.