J.B. Williams has gone all in.
From giving up other sports to overhauling his golf swing to playing tournaments at a time when most players’ clubs are in the closet, Williams has made a commitment to golf by making a series of moves over the last year or so that could change the rest of his life.
He couldn’t be happier with the results so far, as he has been rewarded with a run of success capped by a recent victory that punched his ticket to one of the biggest junior tournaments in the country.
And he can’t wait to see what lies ahead in the rest of his summer schedule, in his senior season at Danville and beyond after throwing himself into golf as never before.
“I kind of saw that point in my life, in my high school career, between my sophomore and junior year,” Williams said. “I knew that a year from (then) I’d have a year left, and I need to start working now so I’d be a lot better and have a chance to do bigger things.”
Williams has already done some big things this year, beginning in May when he won the Plantations Junior Golf Tour player of the year award in his division.
“That kick-started my summer, really,” he said. “Winning the player of the year showed me that I can hang with anybody, since it’s more of a national tour. ... It showed me that I can get on the national stage and play well. I want to have more awards like that at the end of the day. That’s what I play for and what others play for, so it gets me going for sure.”
And just last week, he won the Kentucky section of the Junior PGA Championship to qualify for the national tournament later this summer.
“It just moved me on to one of the junior majors. I was just so relieved after I won there. to get in such a prestigious event, it was really relieving,” he said.
Williams has done a number of things to put himself in this position, but two choices stand out: the decision just over a year ago to give up baseball in order to concentrate on golf, and the decision early this year to rebuild his swing.
Williams was a decent baseball player who was getting playing time as a sophomore, but it was soon after the 2011 season ended that he made the difficult call to give up that game.
He had finished second in Danville’s golf regional early in that school year, and he said that opened his eyes to what might be possible if he applied himself further in golf.
“I knew after finishing second in the region my sophomore year that I could be really good at this, and I started thinking about whether I wanted to keep playing baseball after that happened. And then I decided pretty soon after we got bounced out of the region my sophomore year that I wasn’t going to play baseball my junior year, and so far that’s been a solid decision for me,” he said.
Not an easy one, however.
“I’ve missed it terribly. I knew that I would miss it when I hung up the cleats. I miss the team aspect more than anything,” Williams said. “I’m happy that I made the decision, because it just had to happen for me to play in the spring tournaments and the early summer ones that I would not be able to do with baseball. It was a thing that had to happen if I wanted to go to college and play golf.”
Things weren’t going so well for Williams in February when he and Danville Country Club professional John Mesplay decided to make drastic changes in his swing.
“We changed the plane of my swing. I was really down in the dumps and not swinging well, so we totally changed the path that I take the club on,” Williams said. “It was a huge change. It was definitely scary going into it. I was skeptical at first like many people are, but I knew with time that results would show. I have faith in John that he’d take me in the right direction, and it’s paid out so far. We’re hoping that it’ll keep giving me good results.”
He first saw the swing change start to pay dividends in March in a PJGT event at Cherry Blossom at Georgetown. He didn’t win, but he played well enough to convince him he was on the right track.
“If I had just done awful there, then we wouldn’t have done all these changes that needed to happen,” he said.
Williams won his division in four of 10 events on the PJGT, which stages about 70 tournaments primarily in the Midwest and Southeast from Labor Day through Memorial Day.
He finished third in the season-ending tour championship on Memorial Day weekend, finishing the 54-hole tournament with a final-round 67 that was the lowest round of the tournament, where he also received the player of the year award.
This week played in in the Kentucky qualifier for the Big “I” National Championship in Lexington, which awards the top finishers berths in the national tournament Aug. 7-10 in Austin, Texas.
And he’s already looking forward to the Junior PGA Championship July 31-Aug. 3 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“It’ll be the best in the nation at one of the best places in the nation, and that’s all I need to say to get really fired up about it. I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
Williams said he’s also looking forward to his final high school season, which will start in just over a month. He has already played a practice round at Lincoln Homestead in Springfield, where Danville will play its regional, and he said he likes being part of a team, particularly one that he thinks can do well.
“I do like the team part. We’re all really close on the team. I think we have a solid chance of getting back to state again. We jell together as a team well, and we all have our eyes set on a state berth again,” he said.
Williams is also planning a future in college golf, probably at the Division I level, though he said he doesn’t know if he’ll go to a smaller school where he might have a better chance of playing right away or to a larger school with a more prestigious program, and he said he doesn’t expect to make a commitment until after the high school season.
He has the academic chops that will make him attractive to college recruiters, including a grade-point average that he said is between 3.5 and 3.8.
“If you have good academics, you can get a lot of money, and that looks so much better. If you have the same skill athletes and one has a lot better grades, then (a coach is) going to go with the one with better grades,” Williams said. “It could be a life-changing decision on where you go to college, and it bounces back to what you did in high school.”
Williams is putting in the work both in the classroom and on the practice range.
“I’ve worked a lot on my wedge game. I’d say that’s pretty solid, that 70- to 80- to 90- to 100-yard shot. I try to give myself as many one-putts from that range as I can. And I’m driving the ball really well right now. The putter, I’m trying to get that under wraps. It’s been a little shaky, but with practice I’m pretty confident I can get that down,” he said.
Williams said it was about three years ago that he truly began committing to practice as well as play, but he swung his first club at age 3, going out on the course with his father, Danville coach Marc Williams.
“I’d follow him out to the course or where he was hitting. I had a little set of plastic balls like all toddlers have, and I’d hit those until they busted. Then my mom went to the toy store and got me a little set of clubs, a driver, a 7-iron, an 8-iron and a putter,” he said.
Williams’ father is not only Danville’s golf coach but also the swimming coach, and the son said that made for an awkward moment when he decided to give up swimming a couple of years ago.
“I didn’t really feel pressure to stop swimming. He wanted me to do what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t crazy about swimming,” Williams said. “To stop doing the thing that he loved to do, It felt weird to stop, but it wasn’t my thing, I don’t think.”
However, Williams is considering adding a sport for his final high school year. He hasn’t played basketball above the rec league level since his freshman year, but he’s thinking about getting back in.
“I think I can play again,” he said. “I just miss watching the guys playing and having fun. I also don’t want it to be something that I regret (not) doing after I graduate.”
But he knows his future is in golf, and he continues to work to make that future brighter. He finished just five strokes short in a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier earlier this week, and afterward he lamented the five three-putts that he said cost him a shot at a playoff.
“There are still some little things that still need improving, obviously,” he said. “And it’s still hard, it’s still hard every time I go out there and try to win. But all you can ask is to play your best each time you show up, and most of the time it works out for you.”