HANOVER -- From the middle of Hanover Country Club's second fairway last Wednesday afternoon, Peter Williamson struck a 4-iron purely. His ball rose to a towering apex above the elevated green, all over the flag from takeoff to touchdown.
Like his approach shot, Williamson's amateur golf career is reaching impressive heights, and as he strives to reach the PGA Tour, his performance has been right on target.
A 2012 Dartmouth graduate, Williamson recently won his second prominent amateur title of the summer, capturing the Southern Amateur in Little Rock, Ark., on July 21. The victory, which followed his triumph in the prestigious North & South Amateur at storied Pinehurst No. 2 earlier this month, established him as one of the nation's hottest amateur players and a golfer to watch at next month's U.S. Amateur Championship.
Shortly after winning the Southern Amateur in a playoff over Bobby Wyatt, a highly touted University of Alabama golfer who's the 11th ranked amateur in the world, Williamson was medalist at a U.S. Amateur qualifier in Hudson, Mass., shooting 68-67 early last week to advance to the U.S. Golf Association national championship at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver.
A Hanover native, Williamson took a one-day breather at home last Wednesday before resuming his travels the next day. After a trip to Texas for a club-fitting session with a major equipment manufacturer, he landed in Chicago for the Western Amateur, where he played a practice round Monday in preperation for today's opening round. After the Western, it will be back to Hanover for a few days and then off to Denver, where the U.S. Amateur commences Aug. 13.
Based on his recent form, Williamson likes his chances both this week and two weeks hence.
“With two wins under my belt, I'm not going to call it quits,” he said during an interview on Hanover's clubhouse porch. “I'm just going to keep on doing what I've been doing. I feel like my game is in a good spot. It can get a lot better, I know that.”
Established in 1899, the Western Amateur is one of golf's most historic and grueling tests, featuring 72 holes of stroke-play qualifying after which the top 16 scorers advance to match play. This year's edition is at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill., and the tournament's past champions include Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
The U.S. Amateur, which dates to 1895, features 312 players competing in 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, after which the low 64 scorers advance to match play. Its past winners include Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Mickelson and Woods. Moreover, this year's venue, Cherry Hills, has hosted three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship.
Williamson, who turned 22 on July 23, is making his Western Amateur debut but will bring two years of U.S. Amateur experience with him to Cherry Hills. After failing to qualify for match play in 2010, he advanced to the round of 32 last year at Wisconsin's Erin Hills Golf Club.
That experience and his victory at the North & South Amateur, where he prevailed in match play, give Williamson confidence that he can win amateur golf's crown jewel.
“I feel like if I can get into the field of 64, I can be a significant threat,” he said.
A lithe 6 feet 4 and 170 pounds, Williamson calls himself a self-taught golfer. Although he attended junior clinics at Hanover, his home course while growing up, he's never taken a formal lesson, he said.
Instead, he has observed the best and integrating their methods into his game.
“I'll look at how people like Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson) play the game and why they're successful, and kind of take bits and pieces from each person,” he said.
A three-time Ivy League champion at Dartmouth, Williamson has succeeded with a grip that most would consider unorthodox. He holds the club with all 10 fingers rather than overlapping or interlocking his right pinkie and left index finger, as right-handed players are commonly taught. And his grip is weak, meaning that the crease between his right thumb and forefinger points toward his left shoulder at address, rather than toward his chin.
Although some have suggested Williamson change his grip, the golfer is hesitant to alter what's made him successful.
“I've got to be convinced that it will affect my game in a positive way,” he said.
After graduating from Dartmouth in June with a degree in studio art, Williamson set out on the amateur circuit with an eye toward turning pro and entering the fall PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, better known as Q-School. But his success this summer has complicated his plans somewhat.
By winning the Southern Amateur, Williamson earned an exemption into his first PGA Tour event, the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational, a limited-field tournament that golf legend Palmer hosts at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando. The rub, however, is that the exemption is contingent on Williamson playing the tournament as an amateur.
As a result, Williamson is leaning toward entering Q-School as an amateur. “It's nice to know that my conundrum is between turning pro and playing in Arnie's tournament,” he said.
Even so, pursuing a tour card as an amateur has a financial drawback. Although the PGA Tour permits amateurs to compete at Q-School, they cannot earn prize money, said Tour spokesman Colin Murray.
Contested at several sites around the country, Q-School starts with a 54-hole prequalifying stage for first-time competitors in mid-September. Two 72-hole stages follow in October and November, and those who advance to the 108-hole final at California's PGA West will vie to finish in the top 25 and ties come Dec. 3 to earn tour playing privileges for 2013. An amateur who finishes among the top 25 and ties must turn professional to accept a tour card, Murray said.
With his Southern Amateur victory, Williamson moved to No. 14 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. If he remains in the top 20 as of Aug. 22, he would earn an exemption into the first stage of Q-School, allowing him to bypass prequalifying.
Of course, it's likely Williamson would forego this year's Q-School if he wins the U.S. Amateur, given that champions typically receive invitations to the next year's Masters, U.S. Open and British Open if they remain an amateur.
“If I can find a way to win the (U.S. Amateur), I don't think it's any decision,” Williamson said. “I think I've got to stay amateur and play in those events next year.”
Regardless of when he decides to turn pro, Williamson has been talking with potential agents and equipment sponsors, and he plans to move to Florida in late August, he said. Through his Dartmouth coach, former touring pro Rich Parker, Williamson has struck up a relationship with Olin Browne, a Champions Tour player who won last year's U.S. Senior Open. Browne plays out of The Medalist, a Hobe Sound course that's the Florida base for Tiger Woods and several other tour pros, and with Browne's help Williamson hopes to secure playing privileges there, he said.
In the meantime, Williamson remains a favorite son at Hanover, where the regulars have reveled in his recent victories.
“We're all happy for him,” said Alex Kirk, the club's PGA head professional. “I think we all knew he had the talent, but to put his mark out there,... these are major tournaments. I think he's definitely taken it to the next level.”