PINEHURST, N.C. — You never know what you might hear out of William Holcomb V, the most extroverted—and entertaining—of the four semifinalists at the 119th U.S. Amateur.
“He’s a talker,” warned his wife, Graycie, as she followed him into his press conference on Friday after Holcomb defeated Australia’s Karl Vilips, 4 and 3, in their quarterfinal match at Pinehurst No. 2. Indeed, in the 12-minute session, the 21-year-old from Crockett, Texas touched on an assortment of topics.
On his mental strategy: “I learned if things are going bad, I have to lie to myself. I have to tell myself, I’m fine, I’m the best driver of the golf ball. When you’re in competition, there’s no time to be [negative] … at the very least, just tell yourself you’re the best and lie to yourself so that way maybe you come through.”
On hitting golf balls hours ahead of his quarterfinal match: “It’s like mowing the lawn. It’s like therapy. It just kind of mellowed me out.”
On his game: “I’m the world’s greatest top-10er in college golf. I mean, that’s just what I do. … Even when I’m not playing good, I’m still having chances to win. That’s what I expect.”
On playing Pinehurst: “You have to have trash to play this golf course. You’ve got to have a trashy short game, and that’s what I have. I grew up in east Texas hitting all kinds of crazy, wristy shots and stuff. So that’s this golf course. You’ve got to be able to feel it and see it. My 62-degree is my favorite club. Not many people say that at Pinehurst.”
OK, Graycie, we believe you.
Holcomb isn’t just a talker, though. The rising senior at Sam Houston State is quickly becoming a fan-favorite, thanks to his bubbly personality.
Randy Acres lives off the first fairway at No. 2 and is hosting Holcomb this week. Before the start of the championship, he was willing to bet anyone $20 that Holcomb would meet at least 275 new people. Suffice it to say, Acres knew what he was talking about. “I probably met that many in the first two days,” Holcomb said, having become a bit of a pied piper around Pinehurst.
There isn’t much conventional about Holcomb. For starters, he just recently celebrated his second wedding anniversary to Graycie, his high school sweetheart and a fellow senior at Sam Houston State. “We went to a marriage conference while we were dating,” Graycie said, “and we kind of just decided, you know, we were going to do it eventually.” (The August wedding also fit nicely around Holcomb’s golf schedule.)
On the night of his wedding, at the reception, Holcomb was dancing when he felt a pain in his right foot. It turned out he had suffered a non-displaced fracture. Doctors told him to wear a walking boot during a month-long recovery.
What they didn’t tell him was that he couldn’t play golf, and so after his honeymoon Holcomb went out to see what kind of swing he could make in the boot. Putting all his weight on the left side, he found something that worked in practice and proceeded to play four fall college tournaments, posting a sub-72 stroke average. He would have played more, too, except that the boot broke and, as he tells it, “the doctors wouldn’t give me another.”
“This is just who this kid is,” his college coach, Brandt Kieschnick, told Golfweek at the time. “He just has a Navy SEAL mentality. He was going to play golf, broken foot or not. He was going to figure it out.”
Ranked 328th in World Amateur Golf Ranking, Holcomb does indeed have a good number of top-10s to show for himself in college, including four of his last seven starts last spring as he posted a 71.74 stroke average on the season. (He also won the Southland Conference’s golf student-athlete award for a second straight year.) Yet he’s still trying to get the hang of match play, having only played it a handful of tournaments.
One of them was the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst earlier this summer. It was a frustrating experience as Holcomb made it to match play, but lost in the first round to the eventual winner, Cooper Dossey.
Honestly, it had been part of a frustrating summer, his game not performing the way he’d like. In early July, Holcomb turned to Kieschnick for advice, and got a surprising response given how normally positive his coach is.
“He told me, ‘What you’re doing with your swing makes me depressed. I don’t know what you’re trying to do.’ ” Kieschnick then explained that Holcomb needed to adjust his stance and keep his arms from getting too high in his swing. The fix brought instant improvement to his game.
That he’s gotten to the semifinals of the biggest amateur tournament in the world speaks to the fact that he’s got talent and determination.
“He’ll practice all the way into the evening, put on lights around the green so he can work on his putting,” Graycie. “Golf means a lot to him.”
Saturday’s semifinal test will be a challenge. Holcomb faces Vanderbilt senior John Augenstein, who has gone 16-3-1 in match play since spring 2017. Making it even more difficult: there’s an expected invite to the Masters and U.S. Open on the line.
Holcomb insists he’s not going to think about that. “If I do, I'm not going to win,” Holcomb said. “If I think about the result, I will not win. Neither will the guy I’m playing. So I hope he doesn’t watch this interview.”
What will he be thinking about?
“I’m just going to try to make it fun,” Holcomb said. “Just trying to be me and enjoy the moment.”
So far, that strategy has worked pretty well.