Riding the bench no more, Vandy's Wells Williams finally arrives with Cabo win
After failing to qualify for yet another fall tournament, Vanderbilt freshman Wells Williams headed back home to West Point, Mississippi, to spend some time with his instructor, V.J. Trolio.
Williams was almost part of the Commodores’ season-opening lineup for the Frederica Cup, but he missed qualifying by a shot. Then for the team’s fall finale, the East Lake Cup, he again nearly made his case to travel before losing in a playoff to fifth-year senior Reid Davenport.
Vanderbilt competed four times in the fall, winning twice while also capturing the stroke-play portion of the SEC Fall Preview.
Williams wasn’t a factor in any of it.
While Williams’ family and friends tried to soften the sting of riding college golf’s proverbial bench – the Commodores, after all, are arguably the deepest team in the country – Trolio didn’t sugarcoat things.
“I don’t really care what people are telling you, you should be making that lineup,” Trolio told his pupil.
“I thought that was good perspective,” Williams said.
That wasn’t the first time that Williams’ perception was influenced. Two years ago, after opening the 2021 Junior PGA Championship in 67, he missed almost two months of action when he broke a finger and sprained his left wrist while shooting hoops during a rain delay. Williams slipped on wet pavement during a rebound attempt, and he wouldn’t hit balls for about six weeks.
“I would wake up every morning and struggle to find something to do because I couldn’t go to the golf course,” Williams said.
These days, Williams doesn’t take the grind of the game for granted. Sticking to a rigid practice plan, Williams went to work this past winter break. The focus was mainly on putting because, as Williams would admit, he had become something of a three-putt machine.
“If you would’ve seen me in the fall, you would’ve thought I was three-putting every other hole,” Williams said.
When he returned to campus in January, Williams got through the first qualifier. He made his college debut at the John Hayt Intercollegiate last month, and he tied for 11th. He followed that with a T-14 finish at the Watersound Invitational. The Commodores won both events as a team.
As veterans such as Davenport and senior William Moll, two players who could probably start for just about any other team in Division I, were being left out of the lineup, Williams was busy solidifying his spot.
“When he came to campus, I think he was, I don’t want to say starstruck, but this was probably the first time he’s been in an atmosphere where there’s a bunch of guys competing for spots and you’re not necessarily the man,” said sophomore Gordon Sargent, the top-ranked player in Golfstat. “Obviously, every freshman experiences that and adjusting to college is a huge jump – not that he struggled in the fall, but it was tough. He was really open to other people, picking their brains and asking questions, something that you don’t see from most freshmen; they usually think they have it all figured out. He’s matured a lot since he’s gotten to college, and he and [assistant] coach [Gator] Todd have done a great job walking through this spring and learning how to really play golf courses.”
Williams’ most recent challenge: Twin Dolphin Club, site of the Cabo Collegiate, easily the stoutest field Williams had faced in his young college career – nine other teams in the top 25 of Golfstat, and nine top-25 individuals, including Sargent and second-ranked Michael Thorbjornsen of Stanford.
Williams wasn’t fazed. Fueled by a second-round 65, Williams shot 10 under to capture the 54-hole event by five shots. In tough scoring conditions, he carded just four bogeys, including only one over his final 36 holes. Just as important, he had only two three-putts.
“We had a really good strategy,” Williams said of he and Todd, “and we executed it pretty well and made some putts along the way.”
Vanderbilt won for the third straight time this spring, posting 18 under for the 12-shot win over Ole Miss. With Sargent and senior Matthew Riedel leading the way, the Commodores, who won despite a T-35 showing from recent first-team All-American Cole Sherwood, continue to showcase elite depth. After Williams' breakthrough, they showed they're even deeper than we thought – four Vandy players have won individually this season.
Williams, though with just three starts to his credit, is now ranked fourth in Golfstat.
And he figures to be in Vanderbilt’s lineup for the foreseeable future.
Said Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh: “He keeps taking steps to show he belongs on this stage.”