Sean McWilliams, a 2002 graduate of Canandaigua, recently won a golf event in Arizona and is hoping it's a start to something bigger
While most of us spent last Sunday bracing for a winter storm that never happened, Sean McWilliams was bringing his own kind of thunder.
McWiliams, a 2002 graduate of Canandaigua Academy, didn’t just win the Tempe (Ariz.) amateur golf championship, he obliterated the field with his round of 10-under par on Sunday. There are plenty of ways to dissect the round of 62 he shot to win the title, but we’ll start with the bottom line.
McWilliams moved to Arizona in 2009 to focus on his golf career. And after a bit of a layoff to focus on other priorities, he’s back on the links today with a renewed passion and drive to ride this game as far as it will take him.
Most certainly, Sunday’s victory helps.
“This is my first win at this level of golf in Arizona,” he said by telephone this week. “And right now, I’m where I thought I would be. I am where I want to be.”
And why shouldn’t he think that? He started the two-day tournament with a 71, 1-under-par, which means he came into Sunday five strokes off the pace. So not only did he erase that deficit, he stormed past it with a Sunday round that included 11 birdies and one bogey to tie the Ken McDonald Golf Course record. On Saturday, he had just three birdies and two bogeys.
“I always knew this was possible,” he said. “It was just a matter of when I was going to do it.”
To be sure, it has not been easy.
McWilliams, who played baseball and golfed at CA, didn’t play much golf when he went to play baseball for the University at Buffalo after high school. Three years after finishing at UB, the golf bug bit him hard and the cure was moving to Arizona, where he could play year round.
But not long after, the priorities shifted and he was focused on work. Too focused at times, he said.
“Monday through Friday, I’d be sitting in a classroom,” he said of his work in sales. “Eventually I realized that the work/life balance wasn’t in check.”
So last year, McWilliams was back at it. He played regularly and polished his game to the point where it was time to enter the Tempe event. But there was a waiting list, and the odds were not in his favor.
“I was 14th on the list,” McWilliams said. “But I got a call and they told me a couple of guys bailed and they asked if I wanted to play. I hadn’t even touched a club in about one-and-a-half weeks, but I figured I might as well. It’s good experience, it’s good competition, and it’s golf.”
Saturday’s 71 was a pedestrian round, but it set the stage for Sunday’s charge that provides stories around the dinner table for years to come. He can start with how he birdied four of the first five holes, the only demerit being a bogey at No. 3.
From there, though, it just got better. He made the turn with a 32, then carded birdies on four of seven holes before closing with consecutive birdies for the 62. It put McWilliams at 11-under for the tournament and a one-stroke win.
“It was wild, pretty crazy,” said McWilliams.
McWilliams, who returns to the area frequently with his wife, Mary, who is from Fairport, wants to believe there is much more golf coming his way. And not just any golf. He wants great golf, and while the physical skill on the course is important, there are plenty of mental hurdles to clear as well.
“The key is to keep it in the present and I've been able to do that," he said. "Golf is at an interesting point for me. A good point … And the win was just the cherry on the top.”
That’s quite a cherry considering how well 2016 treated McWilliams. He ended the year ranked No. 5 in the Arizona amateur golf rankings, served as captain for Team Arizona in its Ryder Cup-style event against Team Utah, was a quarterfinalist in the Arizona Amateur Championship and won the City of Phoenix Two-Man Team Championships with Trey Martin.
That’s why McWilliams is so confident when he promises there’s more to come, on a more visible stage.
“I always knew I could do this,” he said. “You just have to believe you can get to this point.”
Chavez is sports editor at The Daily Messenger. Contact me at email@example.com, or follow me @MPN_bchavez