by Lindsey Burket
Time. In today's world it's often thought of as the enemy, something people always try to beat. But to Kansas State golfer Matt Williams, time has been an ally. And combined with a lot of hard work and the right attitude, time has allowed him to go from a walk-on to one of Kansas State's most decorated golfers ever.
Williams' first experience with the K-State golf team came 1997 when he made the team as a walk-on. He had racked up several honors playing for his Holton (Kan.) High School, which included two regional championships, a top-five finish at the state meet, and sinking a putt on the 18th hole to claim the 4-A state title for his team.
After a year of practicing with the Wildcats as a redshirt, Williams became a scholarship player the following year, competing in his first collegiate tournament, the Wildcat Invitational, where finished tied for 36th. Williams increased his playing time considerably his sophomore year, playing in six tournaments and tallying the first top-10 finish of his career when he tied for seventh in the Northern Invasion Intercollegiate in Orlando, Fla.
"Matt's improvement didn't happen overnight," said Tim Norris, Kansas State's head coach who has been with Williams throughout his entire collegiate career. "He really has a desire to play, has put in his time, and it's really paid off."
By his junior year, Williams had firmly established himself as one of the team's leaders, and was named team co-captain along with Scott McNeely and Bryan Milberger. His season highlight came at the Branson Creek Invitational, the team's last tournament of the regular season, Williams fired a 7-under-par 64 in the second round that shattered the KSU school record of 67, and also led the Wildcats to a second-place finish in the tournament with a second-round score of 273, the best team score to that date by a K-State team.
However, the Branson tournament would just be a preview of the great summer that was to follow. Williams found a spot in the history books, as he became the first Wildcat champion in the Kansas Amateur since Jim Colbert won the event in 1965. Not only did he add his name to the long list of notables on the giant trophy, he did it in record style. Williams defeated his final match-play opponent with a 10-and-8 victory, the greatest margin of victory ever in the Kansas Amateur's title match.
There wouldn't be a lot of time to savor his victory though. The very next day Williams played a regional-qualifying tournament for the United States Amateur Championship. His wave of success continued as he placed third at the event to qualify and became third golfer in Wildcat history to play in the U.S. Amateur.
"That was a great week of golf," Williams said. "All together it was probably my greatest accomplishment on the golf course."
The role of the student-athlete is a challenging one that requires time management and discipline, especially to excel in both the academic and athletic areas. William has fit into the role perfectly, earning the honors of Golf Coaches Association of America Academic All-American and Academic All-Big 12 all while climbing his ladder of success on the golf course.
Williams took school one step further in the fall of 2001, when he entered graduate school at K-State in pursuit of his masters in business. Higher expectations have come with the higher level of school, but he has found a way to handle it all.
"We've had to go to Kinko's on trips and I've had to e-mail assignments back to teachers," Williams said. "The expectations are a lot higher, failing in graduate school is a 3.0. You've got to do a little bit better."
While one might tend to think that building a successful college athletic career and excelling in the classroom at the same time would take an extremely serious person, Williams' light-hearted personality has been a factor in his success. Norris said Williams always comes to the course extremely focused, but when comes time to get away from the game he is able to that as well.
"I started off five years ago just wanting to have fun, and I'd like to keep it that way," Williams said.
Williams is also known for his sense of humor, and has put on a small exhibition at the annual Colbert/Fogler benefit tournament.
"I do a really bad impression of Jim Colbert," Williams said. "I also do something called the 'special swing' and some various different things. They always make me do some goofy stuff because they know I'll do it."
As the time on his senior season begins to wind down, Williams has high post season hopes for his team.
"Hopefully our team will get a bid for the NCAA regional," Williams said. "That's what I'd really like to see us do. I'd love to play in the national-championship competition before I leave."
When Williams leaves the K-State golf team, he is sure to leave behind a lot of knowledge in younger team members. Williams said he's always tried to help out the younger guys, not necessarily by doing things, but just by letting them know what happens at different levels of tournaments and letting them know what to expect.
"I hope that they say that I worked hard to help the team," Williams commented on how he hopes to be remembered. "I hope they would say I was a good player and it was definitely worth their while to play golf with me."
Williams plans to extend his golf career through the summer and play in a few invitational events that he qualified for courtesy of his Kansas Amateur victory. Williams said he just plans see how the competitive game goes this summer and go where it takes him. But, his main goal will be to finish up his master's degree next year and go out and take on the real world.
"I don't know for certain what I want to do once I get out of school," Williams said. "I wouldn't mind incorporating golf into it, but I wouldn't mind getting away from it either once I get out of school."
And there is no need for hurry in his decision. After all, time is on his side.