Today marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Dave Williams, the legendary UH golf coach known as the father of college golf. Coach Williams won 16 national titles at UH and literally wrote the book on coaching major college golf.
He lived such a monumental life that his obituary was featured in the New York Times, a rarity for a little-followed sport like college golf.
Beyond the 16 national titles, Coach Williams’ teams finished 2nd in the country five times and 3rd four more times. In 37 years leading the Cougar golf program, 25 of his teams finished in the top three.
Due to his unparalleled success, the Golf Coaches Association of America named their coach of the year award after Dave Williams. But the GCAA went even further: the Dave Williams Award is given to coaches in each of the 6 levels of collegiate golf (Division I, II, III, NAIA, NJCAA, and NJCAA Division II). No other sport has ever named an award at every level after one person.
Dave Williams was born in east Texas and went to East Texas State before going on to get masters degrees in both chemistry and chemical engineering. He served in the Navy during WW2 and reached the rank of lieutenant. After the war, Williams joined the faculty of the UH engineering school.
In his spare time, he was known to hang around the athletics offices. Dave Williams loved talking about sports and had played every sport growing up and through college – all of them except golf. While a UH professor, he took up golf and finally asked AD Harry Fouke if he could join in on his next round (Fouke also coached the golf team).
Not long after, Fouke asked Williams if he’d like to be the golf coach. Dave jumped at the chance to invigorate a program that had lost over 30-straight matches by that point. The new coach started dreaming about turning his golf program into something special.
Early on, Williams decided he wanted his team to play the best. He called Fred Cobb, who had just won four-straight national titles at North Texas State (now UNT). Coach Williams asked if NTSU would play a match against his Cougars and Cobb agreed.
When the Cougars arrived in Denton, they found that Coach Cobb had forgotten about the agreement. So he went around the dorms rounding up some guys to play the Cougars. UH was beaten soundly by the guys that Cobb rustled up. That didn’t sit well with Dave.
Because of that day, Coach decided he wanted to change how the sport was played. He didn’t like match play events where one school faced another. If he ever got enough pull, Dave thought, he would change tournaments to medal play and have 10 or more playing at each tournament.
The change he sought eventually happened and revolutionized high school and college golf. Now virtually every major tournament is stroke play in college using his five-keep-four format (five players compete and the best four scores are counted each round).
Dave always believed that his program should be treated as an equal to other teams on campus. “If football can have it so can we” was his mantra. So when he decided to host a golf tournament in Houston, he wanted it to be big.
By never taking no for an answer, Dave Williams began the All America Intercollegiate Invitational (AAII). In just a few short years, he grew the AAII into a monster.
Months before each AAII, Dave pored over various country club directories. He began cold calling members, selling 3 tickets to the AAII for $10. He’d do this every night from 7-10 pm, figuring if people didn’t have to buy a ticket they wouldn’t come.
The result was that the AAII became the best tournament in the country and thousands of people attended each day. The tourney was carried on local TV and featured a pageant, appearances by the UH band, and even the live Shasta attended.
Coach Williams often told a story from the 1953 spring sports banquet. Williams got up to speak and told the crowd that his team was going to win the national championship. Everyone laughed and started calling him “National Champion Williams.”
After sixteen national championships,coaching 8 individual champions and 30 First-Team All Americans, it was Dave Williams that had the last laugh. Williams is a UH legend and deserves recognition as one of the men that built UH athletics.
Special thanks to Peggy Williams Grote for her help on this story.
Dave Williams – A Life In Pictures
Click through the gallery to learn more about Coach Dave Williams and the UH golf program he built.
Next Up: AAII Photo Gallery