Crockett, Texas, is a speck on a map that even the eyes of Texas would have trouble locating, its historical ties notwithstanding. It took its name from the king of the wild frontier, Davy Crockett, who played through on his way to The Alamo.
A remote stop on blue highways, as mapped roads less traveled are known, Crockett is in East Texas, 120 miles north of Houston and 112 miles east of Waco. Fewer than 7,000 live there, but it is Crockett’s good fortune that one of them is William Holcomb V.
Holcomb is a golfer of some repute, a surprise U.S. Amateur semifinalist at Pinehurst last summer, who came close to earning a Masters invitation that would have given him the larger audience that his outsized personality surely deserves. In a game of clones, he is one of a kind.
“If he makes it,” said Brandt Kieschnick, his coach at Sam Houston State University, “he’s going to be a television dream for anybody.”
A senior at Sam Houston State, Holcomb is a character living in a country western song, maybe Alan Jackson’s “Small Town Southern Man”:
And he bowed his head to Jesus
And he stood for Uncle Sam
And he only loved one woman
He was always proud of what he had
Or Josh Turner’s “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy”:
Well, I grew up wild and free
Walkin’ these fields in my bare feet
There wasn’t no place I couldn’t go
With a .22 rifle and a fishin’ pole
Faith and family come first for Holcomb, trailed closely by hunting and fishing. As for golf, well, its purpose in the world according to William is its potential as a means to an end by providing him the wherewithal to hunt and fish whenever the mood moves him, the frequency of which seems to be 365 days a year. Except for leap years.
Hunting animates him like nothing else, not even a Masters invitation that ultimately eluded him when he lost to John Augenstein, 3 and 2, in the U.S. Amateur semifinals in August. “I never even thought about playing the Masters,” he said.
Hunting versus golf is a mismatch, as indicated by his answer to the question of whether he’d rather play golf or hunt for a living, if doing the latter were possible.
“If I had to do one for a living, I’d hunt for sure,” Holcomb said. “I’d rather kill ducks and geese for a living. The love I have for chasing birds is so much. I don’t know why I’m that way. I love getting to watch my dog work, and hanging out with people and talking while hunting. I just love it.
“Honestly, it’s my dream and goal to move back [to Crockett]. My wife [Graycie] and I love it there. I love the people. I love that area of Texas. The only way I can describe it is home. Our goal once I get established as a professional and get some status on the PGA Tour, we want to move back there and have some land, have a little ranch close to the golf course, to hunt and fish.”
Goals are admirable and everyone should have them. But as a good hunter knows, aim too high and you’ll be needing to buy dinner on the way home. It is too early to know whether Holcomb is aiming too high in his quest to bag a PGA Tour exemption, but one magical week in the Sandhills of North Carolina does not erase the fact that he arrived at Pinehurst 328th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Kieschnick discounts Holcomb’s pre-U.S. Amateur ranking as an indicator of his professional prospects. Instead, consider the success he has had in college golf. During his sophomore and junior seasons, his stroke average was 71.81 (with 38 of 70 rounds at or below par) and he had eight top-10 and 18 top-20 finishes in 24 starts. In five starts this fall as a senior, he has had three top-five finishes, including his first career win at the Bentwater Collegiate, and shot a career-low 64.
“I think rankings are relative in a sense,” he said. “It’s the guys who play good, shoot under par every day, and he’s been groomed to do that. He plays very good in big events. I think he’s got a great game to get through Q school and a phenomenal game to win a U.S. Open.”
That is not one small step, but a giant leap to suggest a man who has won only a single college tournament has the game to win a national championship. Still Kieschnick insisted Holcomb’s game fits the profile of good U.S. Open players.
“He hits it really straight,” he said. “He’s got a great short game. He grew up on a little nine-hole course with small greens. That short game was honed from little Spring Creek Golf Club [in Crockett]. He doesn’t make very many mistakes. He usually makes about 15 pars.”
Holcomb’s short-game prowess, a television highlight at Pinehurst, and his pinpoint accuracy are helpful, of course, but neither is a factor in assessing whether he has the patience for the grind necessary to succeed.
“I don’t really have expectations,” he said. “I expect I’m going to grow up a lot and turn into a professional. But I don’t want to be out there for 10 years chasing it. The mini-tours don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to be struggling. That doesn’t sound fun to me. It doesn’t sound all that great chasing it and chasing it and not making it.
“That will be one of the bigger struggles for me, to not expect it too fast, to be very patient. I’m not OK being away from my wife for a long period of time. I hope that never hinders my potential or holds me back in any way. I don’t know where God’s going to call me or what I’m going to do, but whatever happens I’ll be just fine.”
Holcomb intends to turn professional the moment he graduates, and he does not have a plan B, at least nothing that doesn’t involve successfully mining the PGA Tour to fund his fish-and-game habit. “He wants to play a lot of golf so he can be like Boo Weekley,” Kieschnick said. “Make a lot of money on the PGA Tour so he can hunt.”
Ultimately, Holcomb said, he would like to open a Christian hunting camp for boys. “I’d like to have some houses they could come to on weekends and have a hunting guide-service, run as a business and a hobby, Christian-centered, because I’m a Christian. I want golf to platform that. Have young men come in and have different kinds of Bible studies. I just love duck hunting so much. I want to make that part of my life. That’s my end goal, to do what I love and incorporate some kind of ministry.
“I’d much rather play pro golf. I want to do that. I love competing. I know the money I could make, what I could do with it, the people I could help and the change I could make in the world, that’s what motivates me.”
However it works out, Holcomb won’t be alone. His personality is infectious, at it proved at Pinehurst. “It was awesome having everybody support me when I’m out there,” he said then. “I mean, it’s just a blessing to have so many friends. I’ve definitely met over 300 here.”
What’s not to like? Nothing, Kieschnick would reply.
“He’s a little small-town kid, who almost wins the U.S. Amateur, just a good ol’ boy who says ‘yes sir, no sir,’” he said. “He’s married with a commitment to his wife. He’s a Christian with a commitment to his God. He’s hard-working. He’s just the salt of the earth.”