Micheala Williams had every right to feel intimidated. In her first year playing varsity golf, Williams was paired with three of the top seniors in Class 5A at last year’s sub-state golf tournament. All three went on to play collegiate golf and Williams gave them all they wanted that day.
She was 13 years old.
“The first six holes she was right there with them,” Athens head coach Janet Latham said about that day. “Everybody stood up and took notice of her right then. They knew she had arrived on the scene.”
One year later and the Athens eighth-grader is playing the best golf of her young career heading into next week’s state tournament at The Robert Trent Jones course in Opelika. Williams shot a 76 Monday to qualify as an individual for the toughest tournament Alabama high-school golf has to offer.
The state tournament doesn’t intimidate Williams either. She has played against some of the best high-school golfers from around the country and, in some instances, the globe, on the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour and the Alabama Junior Golf Association tournaments.
Playing against the best competition year-round has prepared Williams for anything at the high school level, something her coached immediately noticed in the eighth-grader’s second year on the varsity team.
“She is hitting the ball farther,” Latham said. “Her strength training program has made a big difference, but where she separates herself from anyone else is her approach shots and her ability to focus.
“She has distance control and that’s very unusual for anyone at this level. She can actually determine exactly how far to hit a ball. A lot of other players are not at that point in their game.”
Williams’ strength program has allowed the 14-year-old to switch from junior clubs to men’s clubs in her second year, but it hasn’t been easy. Williams works out with her mother before school every morning.
“She’s always been active, always been one to give 100 percent,” Williams mother, Nora, said. “She wants to be the best at everything she does.”
And that includes academics. As good as Williams is on the golf course, the honor student is even better in the classroom.
Williams began playing golf with her father when she was around 10 years old at Canebrake, near the family’s home. While Williams says she never kept score, it soon became obvious she had a natural talent for the game.
“On the weekends, when I’m just playing around, I still don’t keep score,” Williams said. “I probably play better that way.”
When she is keeping score, Williams routinely shoots in the 70s, with her best round coming at Canebrake earlier this year when she shot a 33 through nine holes. At an invitation tournament last year, Williams went toe-to-toe with the two-time defending Class 6A state champion, Janie Jackson of Huntsville.
“I’ve played with her twice,” Williams said. “I tied her once. She probably didn’t pay attention at first because I bogeyed the first few holes.”
Williams birdied five out of the last six holes to shoot a 69 and tie Jackson, who has signed a scholarship to play golf at the University of Arizona next season.
Williams was the first middle-school student to play for the varsity golf team, but she’s not the only one. A fellow eighth-grader, Taylor Keene, is contributing this year as the team’s No. 3 golfer.
“I’ve been coaching 27 years and last year was the first year they’ve let me have a seventh-grader,” Latham said. “She leads by action. When you have the drive that she has and the confidence to go out and do things, people will follow. The focus she has spreads to other girls.”
Although the team did not qualify for the state tournament this year, Williams will have a chance to represent Athens as an individual qualifier Monday and Tuesday.
While college scouts have already noticed Williams’ ability, she said she is most interested in Auburn, where she attended golf camp last summer. There should be plenty of scouts at the state golf tournament Monday. Will it affect how she plays?
“It’s not really any different,” Williams said about playing at Robert Trent Jones. “I just walk off the yardages. It’s all the same to me.”