Hong Kong's Doug Williams on cusp of biggest moment in career

Amateur who has developed golf courses throughout the region will tee off in US Senior Open

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 11:25am

Hong Kong golfer Doug Williams is no stranger to flight mishaps before major tournaments, having unwittingly hopped on the wrong plane and ended up in the Canary Islands when he should have been in Mallorca for the Spanish Amateur Championship in 1982.

Thirty-two years on, Williams has once again found himself at the mercy of airlines after his clubs disappeared on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles two weeks ago as he focuses on the biggest moment in his 44-year golfing career - this week's US Senior Open in Oklahoma.

Armed with his late father's clubs, Williams finished joint second at the Southern California Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship last week - another notable achievement for the 56-year-old American.

Life has never been better for the amateur golfer, who now manages real estate part-time after developing golf courses in Southeast Asia, including the "Kau Sai Chau Project".

If I started winning every major amateur tournament by 10 strokes, then I might rethink turning pro. But the US Senior Tour is almost impossible to get on, so that would probably be a non-starter.
Doug Williams

Qualifying for the US Senior Open - after beating Hawaiian legend David Ishii in a play-off - is the pinnacle of Williams' career, which includes multiple victories in amateur events in Hong Kong, Asia, Europe and America.

"It is definitely the biggest tournament [the US Senior Open] I have ever played in. The first time I will be given a Lexus courtesy car for a week," Williams said of the event, which starts at Oak Tree National today.

He will go up against the likes of three-time US Open champion Hale Irwin and two-time major winner Mark O'Meara.

Williams said he would not be overawed because he had been in plenty of pressure-packed situations in the past, including the time when - using his Mexican-accented Spanish - he mispronounced "La Palma", while booking a flight with Iberia Airlines to Mallorca for the Spanish Amateur Championship in 1982, and ended up in La Palmas in the Canary Islands.

Finally arriving in Mallorca on the eve of the tournament, Williams was determined to win to have any chance of getting a refund on his ticket.

"When I heard that King Juan Carlos of Spain would be presenting the trophy … I became obsessed with winning the tournament, so I could press the king to get Iberia [Airlines] to give me a refund on my ticket," he said.

Having made his first foray into competitive golf a year earlier in the British Amateur Open at St Andrews, a pent-up Williams went on to clinch the title, beating some of the best golfers in Europe, but the king never showed up and Iberia never came to the party.

Williams tried to mix it in the pro ranks briefly in 1983, playing in 10 countries in 10 consecutive weeks on the Asian Tour and some events in Europe, but realised that the "likelihood of me making good money from playing golf is realistically low".

"Plus when you play for a living it removes a lot of the joy.

"If I started winning every major amateur tournament by 10 strokes, then I might rethink turning pro. But the US Senior Tour is almost impossible to get on, so that would probably be a non-starter."

Suffering from continuous back pain and with his pro career short-lived, Williams decided to "hang up" his clubs and went to graduate school at UCLA in Los Angeles. He was hired by Exxon as an operational auditor - with a posting to Hong Kong - in 1986.

Regarding the former British colony as home, he later joined a Hong Kong-based club management company called Club Corporation and found his way back to the sport through his engagement in the golf course development business. He joined the Hong Kong Golf club in 1987.

In 1992, he became a member of the Gary Player Group and, leveraging the great South African, joined the Hong Kong Golf Association and Hong Kong Jockey Club in covincing the government to build a public course at Kau Sai Chau.

"I made a major contribution to the establishment of this hugely popular public golf facility, certainly the best in Asia and one of the most amazing golf properties in the world," he said.

The auditor-turned-golfer represented Hong Kong in many tournaments, making his international debut in the 1997 Nomura Cup and becoming the first golfer to hit a shot representing the city under Chinese rule.

As an amateur, Williams has faced some of the world's best-known protégés - including the 2001 Manoa Cup, where he encountered an 11-year-old Korean-American named Michelle Wie.

"Yes, I beat her, but she was nearly as big as me. The TV and press had a field day with this."

His own game has continued to blossom, "probably due more to some changes in my swing [self taught] and improvements to my short game, than anything else", and he is hopeful he has golfing longevity in his genes.

"[My mother] is 84, had a hip replacement in January, and is golfing again and hitting the ball better than before," he says.

Having played the Hong Kong Open close to 10 times and represented the city all over the map, his allegiances are clear - but the game's future here is worrying, he says, pointing to a significant lack of courses and warning that the government's drive to boost land supply for housing will make the problem more acute.

"My biggest fear is that with the influx of mainlanders into Hong Kong swelling the population, the government will start thinking that golf courses are merely taking up valuable land for housing," he says.

Few, it must be said, have done more than Williams to create a golfing heritage worth saving in the first place.