U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
UNC's Williams Shares Passion for Game with Competitors
August 23, 2019 | Durham, N.C.
By David Shefter, USGA
When Roy Williams ventures to Durham, N.C., it is usually for two things – a game against heated rival Duke University at Cameron Indoor Stadium or dinner at Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue. But on Thursday night, the University of North Carolina hall-of-fame men’s basketball coach came to “enemy” territory as the guest speaker for the 65th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship players’ reception at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club.
If there’s anything three-time national champion Williams loves more than coaching basketball, it’s golf.
“The golf course is the only place I can go where I can get away from which phone call I need to be making,” said Williams, 69. “There is no way I could coach as long as I have if I didn’t have that release and that escape.”
This was the third time in the last 11 years Williams, who also coached at Kansas for 15 seasons, has spoken at a USGA players’ reception. He did so before the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst and last year’s U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. But it was the first time talking in front of competitors of his own demographic.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win three NCAA championships and those are really nice, but Jeff, I’d trade one of them for yours,” said Williams, looking at defending champion Jeff Wilson, who was seated not far from the podium. “There is a great correlation between golf and basketball because every golf pro wants to be a basketball coach and every basketball coach would really like to be a golf pro.”
At one time, Williams got his Handicap Index down to a 3, but that was before he started coaching in the collegiate ranks. When he became an assistant at North Carolina, it rose to a 7 and by the time he landed the Kansas job, his handicap jumped to a 10. That hasn’t detracted from his passion for the game, and through various connections, Williams has been blessed to play at some of the world’s finest courses – places such as Pine Valley, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills and Pebble Beach.
Five times, he’s managed to shoot a 69, and he carded a 70 once at Pine Valley. But he has yet to shoot his age.
That love for the game can be traced to his high school basketball coach at T.C. Roberson High in Asheville, N.C. To this day, Williams lauds Buddy Baldwin as the most influential man in his life. Baldwin, now 79, qualified for a pair of U.S. Senior Amateurs (1998 and 2002), reaching the Round of 64 in the former at Skokie (Ill.) Country Club.
“He gave me confidence and made me know I could do something,” said Williams. “He talked me into going to college and nobody in my family had ever gone to college. He was the first person who made me feel like I was going to be a coach. He got me involved in golf. He would pay me $3 to caddie for him for 18 holes. He didn’t have to do that, but it was a way of him giving me $3. And that was in 1967.”
Williams later became a golf coach himself during a five-year stint at Charles D. Owen High School in Black Mountain, N.C. He landed his first basketball coaching job there in1973, but the school principal also needed a ninth-grade football coach and someone to coach a sport in the spring. The two options were baseball or golf. Williams didn’t hesitate to choose golf, which brought a quizzical reaction from his boss.
“Every baseball coach has to line the baselines and the batter’s box [with chalk],” Williams told the principal. “But I’ve never seen a golf coach mow a fricking green. That was the best job I ever had.”
Williams, always a great storyteller, also offered up a few funny anecdotes to the assembled audience of competitors, USGA officials, Old Chatham Golf Club members and invited guests. At a recent North Carolina basketball game, he encountered an eccentric individual who is well known in the entertainment industry. The individual, who was decked out in gold and in long dreadlocks, introduced himself as 2 Chainz. Williams, not as familiar with the genre as some of his players, shook his hand and started his preparations for the game. A few seconds later, he realized an opportunity was missed.
“It was the dumbest moment I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “Five seconds after he left, I realized after he introduced himself as 2 Chainz, I should have said, ‘three rings.’”
Everyone in the presidential ballroom erupted with laughter.
Williams also couldn’t venture into Duke territory without a playful jab at Blue Devils hall-of-fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. When writers asked Williams before a Duke-UNC game at Cameron Indoor Stadium if he socializes with Krzyzewski outside of basketball, the UNC coach countered that with work and families, it was difficult. Then Williams added a quick zinger: “How can you trust anybody who doesn’t play golf?” The Duke coach is one of the few in the business who doesn’t play.
When word got back to Coach K about Williams’ comments, he approached him before the game. “How could you say that?” Coach K asked Williams. “So, I told him, it’s bad enough that you don’t play golf, but you didn’t understand that it was a joke.”
Williams loves the game so much that he leaves six seats behind the scorer’s table for what he calls his PGA Row. He’ll gladly trade great seats for golf at a high-profile facility. “The barter system is alive and well.”
Then Williams looked over at Old Chatham superintendent Brian Powell and offered up another correlation between coaches and those who take care of the golf course.
“The two most difficult jobs in the world are being a college basketball coach and a golf course superintendent, because everyone knows how to do your job,” said Williams. “After I said that [to a bunch of writers], within two or three weeks I got like 20-plus letters from golf course superintendents all over America to come and play golf.
“When I eventually retire, which I do hope is a few years away, just remember when I come across your area, I do love to play golf.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.