" Houston has opened up the scholarship field for college golf," says one coach in the southern California area, a locale where the colleges would like to give Houston a few golf lessons but find they just can't compete. "One year Houston had 25 kids try out for five freshman places. Mike Riley, one of the good young players from the Los Angeles area, shot a 72, finished about 14th and came right back home."
Remarks like these led the NCAA to investigate Houston's golf activities. The findings presumably were that Houston does not coddle its golfers—either academically or financially—any more than most institutions lavish special care on their football players. The school was not censured.
Houston's prosperity does stem from tangible things, but not exactly those its detractors cite at such length. It has a salubrious Gulf Coast climate that permits daily practice throughout most of the year; four scholarships (per four years, not per year) that Coach Dave Williams cagily keeps split up 12 to 15 ways; free access to the city's numerous country clubs; its own invitation tournament, the All-America Intercollegiate, which nets as much as $9,000 in profits; terrific competition among the players themselves (over the years four national junior champions have left the campus disenchanted and consistently beaten); and, of course, that infectious winning tradition.
More important than any of these is Dave Williams himself. Williams is a persuasively friendly man of 44 who has kept his wavy hair and quick smile. He still wears a dark suit and white shirt, the uniform of an associate professor of engineering, which he was, and he still has the assertive forwardness of an insurance salesman, which he was not. His salary, $9,000, would make a football coach blush for shame, his car is a Chevrolet, not a Cadillac, and his six-room home is paid for by Williams, not Houston. What he is isI a golf fanatic and a Houston fanatic. He laughs off his critics as merely envious. "Old Labron [ Harris] is always saying things to hurt us," Williams says, "but he's a competitor and I respect that."
Harry Fouke, the University of Houston's athletic director, assesses Williams well. "I firmly believe that if you look closely behind any successful collegiate spring sport program you'll find a character," says Fouke. " Dave Williams is a character, but a very likable one. You know, he seriously believes that it means more to Houston to win a national championship in golf than in football. His attitude rubs off on his golfers. They believe it, too."
Williams insists, "All I've ever tried to do besides win is raise college golf to a higher level of appreciation. I wanted us to be recognized as athletes, because that's what we are. You might notice that our letter jackets are just like the football team's."
It is no bargain playing for Williams, unless one happens to like a closetful of silverware. Houston golfers may not smoke during a competition round, a restriction that would set Arnold Palmer and L&M back a century. Neither may they smoke on the campus. They may not relax in the 19th holes of the clubs in Houston where they practice. And though they may be the Yankees of golf, they travel like the Ponca City Mudhens. Williams loads six or seven players into the rear of an old station wagon, plops a mattress down for them to sleep on, and drives off into the night. He gives them $3 per day for meal money—most Houston golfers are lean and hungry-looking—and he headquarters at modest motels.
Houston plays a limited schedule of six or seven tournaments a year, and no dual matches. But Williams takes his freshman team on trips to Florida and New Mexico, journeys he doesn't hesitate to mention when recruiting.
"I'm strict," Williams says proudly. "My boys can't play in the National Open, not as long as it comes so close to the NCAA championship. [This year they actually conflict.] If Jack Nicklaus had played for Houston he would never have gone to the Open. We're a team. We think like an athletic team, and we work like one. Why, I don't care about any of our kids winning the NCAA individual title. It's nice, but we're there for the team championship. Our job is not to make any double bogeys."
His players, in turn, appreciate both his scheduling and his attitude. The Williams schedule limits the times that his boys must compete in match play. This lets them concentrate on stroke competition, which they will have to play if they become professionals and thus prefer. The Williams attitude develops the mental stamina, determination and willingness to practice that are musts now on the pro tour.