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Great golfers but better people

Golf coach Troy Williams, pictured with his wife, Nicole, stand on a golf course next to a tee in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Golf coach Troy Williams, pictured with his wife, Nicole, at the PGA Junior League National Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, where his team was the first from Pennsylvania to qualify for the championship.

A

s aspirations go, Troy Williams sees no reason to aim for anything mediocre. He wants to see youth golf blossom in this area, and he’s working his golf-gloved hands off to make that happen.

“I always joke around that my goal is to become the Nick Saban of junior golf,” Williams said, referencing the University of Alabama football coach whose resume drips with national championships and players who have matriculated to the NFL.

Williams, of Cedar Boulevard, is an assistant golf pro at Valley Brook Country Club in McMurray, running the junior golf program there. He also coaches a PGA Junior League program out of Westwood Golf Club in West Mifflin, and started the Hot Shot Golf Academy. [1]

Last year, Williams coached a postseason Westwood eight-player all-star team of 10- to 13-year-olds to a sectional title at Treesdale Golf & Country Club in Gibsonia; a regional championship in Westfield, Ohio; and then to an appearance in the PGA Junior League Championship in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It was the first time a team from Pennsylvania advanced to the national championships.

At Westwood, Williams oversees a Wednesday evening league of teams for boys and girls of all skill levels, ages 7 to 13, who practice and play matches. Registration is ongoing through around mid-May for 2022, and if the numbers grow, the number of teams could, too. (Check for announcements and a link on his Instagram @coachtroywilliams.)

The upper age limit is perfect for the golfers to move on to play in high school and, who knows, perhaps college and a chance at playing pro.

While golf is often thought of as an individual sport, Williams likes the team aspect of these junior golf events. The teams play two-person matches in a scramble format. He believes that produces better young golfers—and kids.

“I want to put together a program where not only am I teaching these kids about golf, but I want to teach them to be good kids and even better people,” Williams said.

“At the end of every practice I make sure they say thank you to their parents,” he added. “My parents were divorced growing up, and I didn’t have a ride to a lot of my practices, so my coaches had to pick me up. I always remind these kids of how lucky they are that their parents are so dedicated to getting them to these practices.”

That’s quite a commute in some cases. Williams’ Westwood league draws players from around Western Pennsylvania and from as far as Ohio and West Virginia. There are no young players from Mt. Lebanon. Yet. He would love to add some.

Mike Papson, head pro at Valley Brook, is perfectly happy to share Williams with Westwood. The only caveat—beyond Williams’ willingness to put in some very long days—is that Williams can’t directly coach Valley Brook’s PGA Junior League team.

“He has really helped support my dream of growing junior golf,” Papson said. “What he did with his PGA Junior League team, taking them to the national championship, 

“He really gets them to focus on being a part of a team. Golf doesn’t have plays, but I almost think sometimes he wishes that golf did have plays so he could call a few.”

You know, like Nick Saban. Or maybe like Tony La Russa.

Children kneeling in front of a sign on a golf course in matching tops.
The PGA Junior League has more than 63,000 golfers. Of that number, only 96 advance to the national championship. Williams’ team was ranked 11th in the country. From left, front row: Austin Glowacki, Dexter James, Derek Ulewicz and Rin Suvama; back row: Troy Williams, Aaron Didjunas, Alexander Eckstein, Jonah Schollaert and Mya Morgan.

“I grew up playing a lot of baseball, and I call (PGA Junior League) the Little League of golf,” Williams said. “It’s golf in a team format. It’s a great way for kids to get introduced to the game.”

And, under Williams, it could be a great way to get introduced to an exciting postseason run. Following the equivalent of a regular season, Williams forms a postseason all-star team. In 2019, Westwood won a section championship and finished third at regionals. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 postseason.

Then came last October, with a trip to Scottsdale for nationals, including what for some of the young golfers was their first time on a plane. Williams told them to “soak it all in.”

“There are 63,000 kids who signed up for PGA Junior League in 2021; 96 made it to the national championship,” Williams said. “It was a first-class experience.”

One that ended with an 11th-place finish out of 12 teams, but that was largely because arguably their top golfer, Carson Higgenbotham, of Clarksburg, West Virginia, tested positive for COVID-19 after he arrived in Arizona, so he could not compete.

Carson is one of the top youth players in the nation, having played all over the country, and he even has an equipment contract. He started playing in tournaments in the Pittsburgh area years ago, and some of his competitors from then play for Westwood.

“He wanted to play with his friends that he’s played since he was 5½,” Carson’s father, Jason, said. “And from the very first day we met Troy, we learned that he was all about the kids. And then the aspiration of taking the all-star team to Arizona.”

Carson is in his final year of PGA Junior League eligibility, and under Williams perhaps he will get a chance to go back to the nationals and compete.

“We’ll try to regroup, replenish and make another run at it,” Jason said.