The driving range at Spring Creek Country Club, a nine-hole facility in Crockett, Texas, was practically at the end of Will Holcomb’s driveway as a kid. Holcomb can’t tell you how many times he found himself in an intense game at Spring Creek – often one in which he wouldn’t be allowed to use his driver, but would still have to give up strokes anyway. He was always welcome, and he was always challenged.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re 100 with one lung and one leg … or if you’re 14 or 15, just a good group of guys who play together and compete and anybody is invited,” Holcomb said. “There’s trash talk and I can’t tell you how many times somebody has said something while I was over a putt.”
It’s no wonder Holcomb craves that setting. As a fifth-year senior on the Sam Houston State roster, Holcomb recently found himself less than excited about going to golf practice as he helped a friend with a home project. But when he got to the golf course, he discovered head coach Brandt Kieschnick had planned an up-and-down competition.
Holcomb’s switch flipped – instant engagement.
“I love it – that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I want to just beat somebody. I don’t know where I got that from.”
The switch will flip again on Friday as Holcomb tees it up among the world’s best amateurs at the Jones Cup, a 54-hole event at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Georgia. The objective is simple: Holcomb wants to play his way onto the U.S. Walker Cup team.
No one else like him
As Kieschnick likes to say, there’s a Navy SEAL-style discipline to the way Holcomb goes about business, and the killer instinct figures in. Holcomb thinks he’s such a good match-play player because he hates to lose more than he likes to win.
“He wants to win more than anyone out there,” Kieschnick said.
Discipline is maybe the unseen layer to Holcomb’s success – or at the least the one that gets overlooked. Holcomb is a quick talker and a cut-up, and those qualities come through first. Personality was arguably the biggest takeaway from Holcomb’s break-out performance at the 2019 U.S. Amateur, when he played his way to the semifinals after entering the week ranked No. 328 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“He proved to himself that his good golf is as good as anybody’s good golf in the country,” Kieshnick said of that week. “He’s continued to prove that.”
Will Holcomb with Sam Houston State coach Brandt Kieschnick. (Photo: Sam Houston State Athletics)
Kieschnick saw a kid with the whole package on the recruiting trail in the summer of 2015. Sam Houston State had finished the previous season as a top-50 team in the nation, and Kieschnick really wanted the fast-talking player from Crockett with serious game. Keischnick secured the commitment over dinner at the Holcomb family’s table.
There are no boring moments with Holcomb on the roster.
“He would hit shots – he’d be trying to hook this 3-iron, he’d yell hook and he would spin on his feet three three times round for that ball to hook,” Kieschnick said. “That’s how much he talked to the ball. He’s spinning his body three full circles for that thing to hook.”
“When he hits a shot and he gets a good bounce he says, ‘The good lord takes care of the needy boy,” and he just keeps going.”
The Holcomb file is equal parts one-liners and statistics. It speaks of faith and character. Holcomb has steadily improved on the golf course because of a single-minded commitment, but Keischnick also remembers Holcomb coming to his office the summer after his freshman year to talk about proposing to his girlfriend. Holcomb and Graycie were ultimately married in August. Holcomb broke his foot at the wedding, but told his coach he’d play through it – and did.
“He played the whole semester in a boot, was our No. 1 player, almost won a couple times,” Kieschnick said. “… It was just the most amazing thing you ever saw.”
One box left to check
With a transition approaching, Holcomb would like to close this chapter as a Walker Cupper.
“I wouldn’t have gone to the South Beach (International Amateur) and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Walker Cup,” Holcomb said flatly. “I’ll get to play plenty of golf in this life, I didn’t really necessarily have to play any more.”
Realistically, Holcomb, as a U.S. Amateur semifinalist, was one match away from serious consideration for the last U.S. Walker Cup team. Ultimately, however, it took two more years and a head-turning stroke-play performance at the inaugural Maridoe Amateur in December to lift him into the conversation for the squad that will compete at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida, on May 8-9.
“I’ve wanted to be on the team,” said Holcomb. “I want to play against the Europeans. I want to compete in match play with the best amateurs in the country and so I’ve always wanted to play it.”
Only one position on the 10-man team is spoken for – it went to Tyler Strafaci as winner of the 2020 U.S. Amateur. The USGA’s International Team Selection Committee will select three more players (the top three players in the WAGR) at the conclusion of the Jones Cup. Holcomb currently is ranked No. 71.
Will Holcomb with his trophy as Maridoe Amateur medalist.
It’s safe to assume the winner of the Jones Cup, if he is American, will get serious consideration. Holcomb knows what he has to do.
A 16-man practice squad invited was selected the week before Holcomb’s run at the Maridoe Amateur or he would conceivably have been in that elite group. After he wrapped up the stroke-play medal, Holcomb was introduced to Walker Cup captain Nathanial Crosby. He relished the face time.
“It’s kind of like, you’re not going to want to go on a date with somebody unless you’ve probably met them, even if everybody says great things about them, you don’t know them,” Holcomb reasoned.
The Maridoe medal amounted to a major feather in Holcomb’s cap. It goes along with a runner-up at the North & South Amateur, the Trinity Forest Amateur title and a top-10 finish at the Azalea Invitational.
“He truly believes he’s one of the best in the country and he’s not afraid to play anybody,” Kieschnick said. “He definitely respects his competition, he knows he has to play well. He wants the moment and he’s kind of the guy who wants the ball. I think the bigger the scenario, the better he is.”
This moment is big, and as he always does before major amateur events, Holcomb has spent three days at Ocean Forest getting lines and committing to spots. He’s already noted the small greens there, which will work in his favor. After all, some of his crowning achievements have come at Pinehurst No. 2, where he deftly navigated tricky green complexes. That’s not to say it’s the only place he’s a factor.
As Holcomb noted, “Cup’s the same width at Pinehurst as it is here, I think.”
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