Sneak Peek: This article will appear in the June 3 issue of Global Golf Post.
BANDON, OREGON | Pity the poor defensive tackle in the National Football League. In addition to butting heads constantly with exceedingly big and strong men, he never seems to get credit for being athletic, even though he is skilled enough to play at the highest level of the game. It is even that way with his off-field pursuits, which is why people are surprised that a recently retired, 6-foot-2, 280-pound Buffalo Bill named Kyle Williams also happens to be a hell of a golfer, good enough to have qualified with partner Greg Berthelot for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and then made it to the round of 16 in match play earlier this week.
“Nobody is ever surprised about kickers and quarterbacks having low handicaps,” says the 35-year-old Williams, who played all 13 seasons of his NFL career for the Bills and was good enough to have recorded 48½ sacks and been selected for six Pro Bowls. “But they don’t usually think someone my size can play.”
Play he can, however, as his index of +0.4 indicates. “I played a lot of baseball as a kid and have pretty good hand-eye coordination,” says Williams, who has reddish-brown hair and flecks of gray in his mustache and beard. “And I really worked on my game when I decided I wanted to get good.”
Growing up in Louisiana, Williams “dabbled” in golf, which his father also played a bit. “I started teeing it more often when I went to college at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge,” says Williams, who was a member of the LSU football team that won a BCS national championship in 2003. Three years later, the Bills took him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
It was around that time that Williams started to take golf a bit more seriously. “I was one of those players who shot in the low 80s most of the time, and every now and then would post a score in the high 70s,” he recalls. “But then I started playing with a bunch of really good players in the Baton Rouge area. Guys who had played golf in college, and other sports. Guys who knew how to get the ball in the hole. And I found myself opening up my wallet each time, and peeling out $100 bills. So, I decided I had to get better. I could not afford not to.”
That meant going to the range and pounding balls, and Williams soon discovered that he really enjoyed doing that. “I could see I was getting better the more I practiced, and I stopped getting beat by the guys from Baton Rouge so much,” he says. “I also enjoyed the way that hitting golf balls allowed me to cool down after a workout.”
Williams moved to Buffalo after he was drafted, and once he started playing in the NFL, he became very much a part-time golfer. “Training camp started in mid-July, and I would put away my clubs until the following March, when the football season was over,” he explains. “Then, I’d start playing again.”
The team gave Williams a proper sendoff in his last home game as a Bill in 2018, introducing him separately at the start and then putting him in as a running back.
The father of five children, he became a member of Oak Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., and played there regularly. He also teed it up when he could back home in Louisiana, where Williams is a member at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant. He and Berthelot won the Louisiana Four-Ball title in 2011, the same year that Berthelot, a 30-year-old reinstated amateur, captured the Louisiana Amateur.
Williams walked away from the NFL at the end of last season, and the good news is that he was walking pretty well when he did so. “My health is good,” he says. “I have some aches and pains, but my health is good.” He also had the good fortune of finally getting to the playoffs following the 2017 season, when the Bills ended an 18-year drought of no postseason play. And the team gave Williams a proper sendoff in his last home game as a Bill in 2018, introducing him separately at the start of the game and then putting him in the game as a running back and letting him catch a pass from that position for what turned out to be a 9-yard gain.
Later on, with the Buffalo defense on the field and time about to run out, head coach Sean McDermott took Williams out of the game, so fans could properly acknowledge the 13-year veteran. And when the game was done, Williams took a victory lap around the field at New Era Field, soaking up the cheers of the Buffalo faithful and reflecting on what had been a long and illustrious career.
Now that he is done with football, Williams will have much more time for golf. The Four-Ball was his first USGA championship, and he no doubt hopes there will be more of them in his future.
As he demonstrated at Bandon Dunes, the man can play. And better than most quarterbacks and kickers, too.
Kyle Williams during the round of 32 at the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes on Monday. Photo: Steve Gibbons, Copyright USGA
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