LA QUINTA, Calif. – During his penny-pinching days on the mini-tours, Lee Williams quickly learned that if you want to compete, you have to make birdies. Lots of birdies.
That’s certainly true here too at the Humana Challenge, where the 36-hole co-leaders are at 14 under par, the Saturday cut likely will fall around 9 under, and the winning score has been at least 24 under each of the past two years, when the tournament was reduced from a 90- to 72-hole finish.
Through two days Williams has carded 11 birdies, an eagle and a lone bogey, yet he still trails Roberto Castro and James Hahn by two shots heading into the weekend. Which isn’t unlike what Williams experienced while toiling on the mini-tours.
“If you don’t make a lot of birdies at that level,” he said Friday, “you don’t succeed. You run out of money.”
The go-low mentality may be the same, but Williams, a 31-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour, is finally enjoying all the spoils of the world’s elite circuit.
Back when he was playing the NGA Tour, Williams spent no more than $30 on food. He bid on hotel rooms, trying to get each under $50, and still shared the space with his fellow competitors. He competed in fishing tournaments at the golf course. He thought $100 for a pro-am was steep. He drove everywhere.
“I had a good time then too,” said Williams, a former two-time U.S. Walker Cupper who played at Auburn. “It wasn’t like I was living in poverty. I just hadn’t had any luck yet.”
His fortunes began to change in 2011, however, at PGA Tour Q-School. Though he was struggling with his game that week, Williams was in position to lock up full status on the Web.com Tour. Needing to play the final four holes in 2 under, he reached that number and sank a 10-foot par putt on the last green to secure his playing privileges for the following season.
Last June, he won the Web.com Tour’s Mexico Open and eventually finished 16th on the money list, enough to earn his PGA Tour card for this season.
Now, two starts into his PGA Tour career, he finds himself in a tie for third with two rounds to play.
“I just wanted to give myself chances to win out here – that’s all you can ask for as a rookie,” he said. “I’ve been all over the place, and being out here just makes it even sweeter.”