U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Retired NFL Lineman Williams Tackling Competitive Golf May 25, 2019 | Bandon, Ore. By David Shefter, USGA

Retired Bills lineman Kyle Williams is tackling elite amateur golf the way he did quarterbacks and running backs. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Home

As he played Pacific Dunes on Thursday, Kyle Williams pulled out his phone and took a photo of the picturesque layout that abuts the Oregon coastline. Then he texted the image to Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane.

“How are OTAs going?” said Williams, referring to offseason team activities that are currently ongoing. “He loves to play golf. I had some fun with that.”

Nearly three months removed from playing the final game of a 13-year NFL career – all with the Bills – Williams and longtime golf partner Greg Berthelot carded a 64 to earn medalist honors at The Country Club of Louisiana in Baton Rouge to earn a spot in this week’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Yes, the same Kyle Williams who was a six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle. The same guy whose playing weight was 300-plus pounds and who constantly battled what legendary ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson referred to as the “big uglies.”

Since his last game on Dec. 30 against the Miami Dolphins, a Buffalo victory that saw him catch a 9-yard pass from Josh Allen and receive a standing-ovation curtain call from the fans at New Era Field, Williams has dropped 20 pounds. The offseason preparation required to play against behemoth offensive lineman and chase down quarterbacks is in the rearview mirror.

Practice now revolves around his golf game, not weightlifting, wind sprints or film sessions, and it’s something Williams, 35, of Ruston, La., is relishing.

Few, if any, of this week’s competitors recognize him. Williams was on the practice green early Friday morning when a group of guys 15 feet away were in a heated debate about the AFC East, criticizing teams and players. Internally, Williams chuckled. Sports always provide a forum for chatter except those competitors didn’t realize a defensive tackle who toiled in the division was within earshot. In typical Williams fashion, he didn’t intervene in the conversation.

But that’s Williams. Humble to a “T.” That’s what endeared him to fans, media members and community leaders in Buffalo. And it’s a reason his final game in a Bills uniform brought so much emotion to the city and team.

Like so many ex-athletes, golf keeps Williams competitive without the physical contact. He’s not the first to excel in the game. Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz qualified for last year’s U.S. Senior Open. Former No. 1 draft pick Dale Tallon played in the 2010 U.S. Senior Open.

Williams isn’t even the only ex-pro athlete in the Four-Ball field this week. Erik Hanson, who pitched for four Major League teams and was an All-Star in 1995 with the Boston Red Sox, is competing in his 14th USGA championship. 

Now that football isn’t a full-time job, Williams has more time to devote to golf. Qualifying for the Four-Ball is just the first step in the process to become more competitive.

During his playing days, Williams rarely had time – even on off-days – to play. And when the season did end, it often took him a couple of months to break free from the aches and pains to be comfortable swinging a club.

Kyle Williams (left) met Greg Berthelot at LSU's University Club and the two have formed a formidable golf partnership. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

“I’m looking forward to my first full year [of retirement],” he said prior to Friday’s practice round on Old Macdonald. “Typically, my game would get strong in late June, early July and then I would have to go to training camp.”

The same blue-collar work ethic that made him a fan favorite in Buffalo has carried over to golf. Williams had dabbled in the game as a youth, but it wasn’t until his college days at Louisiana State University that Williams caught the golf bug. When his wallet took a beating at the University Club against ex-college players, he was determined to improve.

“I was opening up my wallet every time we played,” said Williams. “I told myself this is not going to work well for me. I was peeling out at least $100 every time. I [needed] to figure this out. I invested myself in the game, fell in love with it and got a little better over time.”

Williams, a member at three-time U.S. Open venue Oak Hills Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., and Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La., site of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, now owns a +0.4 Handicap Index®. The first time he met Berthelot, the 30-year-old from Baton Rouge, La., was shocked at how well Williams played, especially for a defensive tackle. The two became friends playing at the University Club and later four-ball partners. They claimed the 2011 Louisiana Four-Ball title, the same year Berthelot won the Louisiana Amateur. He briefly turned professional before regaining his amateur status in 2017.

 “His short game is phenomenal,” said Berthelot of Williams. “He’s just an athlete.

“We feed off each other. We kind of have the same mentality [on the course]. Our games are kind of similar. We just get along with each other.”

KYLE WILLIAMS AT A GLANCE
   
College Louisiana State
Drafted Buffalo Bills, 5th round, 2006
Position Defensive tackle
Seasons Played 13 (All with Buffalo Bills)
Career tackles 610
Career sacks 48.5
Fumbles Forced/Recovered Four/Six
Honors Second-Team All-Pro (2010)
Pro Bowls 6 (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018) 

Williams was the consummate teammate in the NFL as well. Considering the Bills were struggling to win when they drafted him in the fifth round in 2006, it would have been easy for Williams to walk away when his contract expired. He never did, despite playing for seven head coaches.

When the team finally broke its 18-year playoff drought – the longest in the NFL – in 2017, Williams fittingly became the center of attention. After Buffalo defeated Miami in Hard Rock Stadium in Week 17, players gathered around TVs in the locker room to see if the Cincinnati Bengals could beat the Baltimore Ravens, which would give the Bills the final wild-card spot. When Andy Dalton fired a last-minute touchdown pass to pull out a come-from-behind win for the Bengals, the Bills players went nuts. Williams brought his two oldest boys, Reed (now 8) and Gray (now 6), into the locker room and video showed the exuberant lineman celebrating with his sons as chaos ensued. Some Bills players even started tossing the boys in the air.

“They had nothing but dread on their faces,” said Williams, recalling one of his greatest days as a Bill. “They wondered what the heck was going on. Then they were running around high-fiving everybody. I won’t ever forget it.”

He also won’t forget his last game as a player. Bills coach Sean McDermott told him before the game that he was going to be introduced separately before everyone else, something Williams begrudged. It’s just not in his nature to think about himself. What Williams didn’t know was the second-year coach had secretly planned to have his wife, Kim, and five children on the field during the introduction. Later in the game, Williams lined up in the backfield when quarterback Josh Allen scored a touchdown. To finish it off, he caught a 9-yard pass. The crowd cheered wildly.

But before the game ended, McDermott had Allen take a knee even though he knew it wouldn’t completely run all the time off the clock. Focused totally on a game that long had been decided, Williams wondered why the coach wouldn’t try to get a first down to not allow Miami to get the ball back. When Miami took over possession on downs, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier asked Williams if he was ready to return to the game. Williams trotted out on the field, only to be told by fellow lineman Star Lotulelei to return to the sideline.

Williams, however, refused to leave. After being prodded several times, Lotulelei finally had to tell him it was so the fans could give him one last ovation. “I had no idea,” said Williams. “I was so worried about the game.”

Afterward, Williams took a victory lap around the stadium to acknowledge the fans. His career included 48.5 sacks and 610 tackles, but more importantly, his professionalism and honesty trumped any statistical figures. Now he’s looking for a different kind of number. He’s scheduled to play in several upcoming tournaments, including the annual celebrity event in Lake Tahoe, the Louisiana Amateur and a charity Ryder Cup-style competition in Switzerland.

Even his kids are starting to enjoy golf. Oldest daughter Kate (12) is starting to show interest. The two recently spent 90 minutes on the practice green at Squire Creek and Kate didn’t say a word to her dad, focusing solely on improving her putting.

Outside of golf, Williams plans to do some studio work for NFL Network, which includes spending a few days at Bills training camp in Rochester. But he doesn’t see himself as a full-time game analyst. He might even do some coaching.

“I want to see what I like and don’t like,” said Williams. “I want to see what I’m passionate about, see what I can sink my teeth into. I don’t sit still very well.”

Golf, however, will always be part of his routine.

This week, he’s getting a taste of major amateur competition, an experience that surely will whet his appetite for more.

He might even get a chance to send a few more texts.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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