Published: Friday, August 7, 2020
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN
BANDON-BOUND: Temple resident and 2018 Belton graduate William Paysse, shown practicing at Wildflower Country Club in Temple, will play in the U.S. Amateur Championship on Monday and Tuesday at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. It's the first U.S. Amateur appearance and second USGA event for the 20-year-old Paysse, who earned first-team All-SEC and honorable mention All-American honors as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. Paysse's older brother Andrew will be his caddie at Bandon Dunes. (Photo by Greg Wille/TempleBeltonSports.com)
Perseverance, improvement at Texas A&M lead Belton grad
William Paysse to first U.S. Amateur trip at Bandon Dunes
By Greg Wille
William Paysse produced a successful career in junior golf.
As a Belton High School sophomore in 2016 he qualified for the Class 6A state tournament as an individual and tied for 19th place at Legacy Hills in Georgetown, then two months later the Temple resident made the cut and finished 49th in his first Texas Amateur at Oak Hills in San Antonio.
One summer later, Paysse competed in the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National in Kansas and played his second straight Texas Amateur at Lakewood in Dallas. He also recorded several high finishes in American Junior Golf Association and Texas Legends Junior Tour tournaments.
But after Paysse reported to the Texas A&M campus to begin his college golf career in the fall 2018 semester, what he initially experienced with the Aggies wasn't exactly smooth sailing. And that was despite having a good general idea about what to expect considering his older brother Andrew played four years for A&M's golf team from 2014-18.
“The fall I got there was just a huge I guess you could say wake-up call for me,” William Paysse said this week at Temple's Wildflower Country Club while preparing to compete in his first U.S. Amateur Championship next week at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. “Coming out of Belton and being one of the better players here, it was kind of the standard situation of going to a big college and going, 'Wow, there's a lot more guys who can do this.' They were certainly better (than I was).
“I think my qualifying scoring average that fall was the second-worst on the team, like ninth out of 10. So it was a wake-up call of, 'I've got to start working harder than those guys to catch up,'” he added. “My swing mechanically wasn't very good or wasn't working, and coming to A&M, school was a lot harder. It was a lot of things – maturity and just that new experience for me took a while to get used to. The 6 a.m. workouts, study hall, everything takes a toll at the beginning. It still is (a wake-up call).”
However, as the 20-year-old Paysse travels to the southwestern Oregon coast to contend in the most prestigious tournament of his golfing life next Monday and Tuesday and perhaps through the weekend, he's a much-improved player and more mature person than he was as an 18-year-old A&M freshman.
In fact, as a redshirt freshman during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season, Paysse earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition and honorable mention status on PING's NCAA Division I All-American Team. He recorded his first college tournament victory, added two third-place finishes and tied A&M's single-round record with a 63 at the Dye's Valley course at TPC Sawgrass while posting a 71.62 stroke average in seven tournaments.
Taking his game to the West Coast
The 120th U.S. Amateur will feature two of Bandon Dunes' five 18-hole courses – the original Bandon Dunes layout and Bandon Trails – for 36 holes of stroke play to trim the 264-player field to 64 for match play competition, which begins Wednesday on the Bandon Dunes course alongside the Pacific Ocean.
Playing in his second USGA championship and with brother Andrew alongside as his caddie, Paysse will tee off Monday at 11:57 a.m. PDT at Bandon Trails, the 2005 Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that's the most inland, wind-protected course on the sprawling property.
For the second round, Paysse will tee off at 7:44 a.m. PDT on Bandon Dunes, the 21-year-old rugged links track that ranks No. 7 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (Bandon Trails is No. 14). Paysse's playing partners are Henry Shimp of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Ben Sigel of Deephaven, Minnesota.
For Paysse, advancing to the 64-man match play battle – less than 25 percent of the competitors will make it – is the top priority in his first visit to Bandon Dunes.
“Your first goal is to get inside that cut line,” he said. “It's a different process. To get my mind right, I'm trying to win stroke play, but in the back of your mind you know you don't have to. It's just trying to eliminate huge mistakes. In that format, cutting it to so few players compared to how many guys there are, one stroke here or there is huge when it comes to the end.
“I'm excited. Once you get to match play, it's just one (opponent) at a time and just see how far you can take it.”
Paysse will be joined by two Texas A&M teammates in the U.S. Amateur. Walker Lee is No. 72 in the world amateur rankings and Sam Bennett is No. 124. Also competing is incoming Aggies freshman Daniel Da Costa Rodrigues of Portugal, ranked No. 52.
Taking on the amateur elite
The U.S. Amateur is the culmination of Paysse's busy summer schedule of elite tournaments.
In early July at the North & South Amateur Championship at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, he shot 3-under-par 67 on the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course and 2-under 68 on the No. 4 course to tie for fourth in stroke play. In the opening round of match play, Paysse built a 2-up lead on Gordon Sargent through 13 holes, but Vanderbilt commitment Sargent won three of the next four holes and staved off Paysse for a 1-up win despite Paysse's 2-under score.
Paysse struggled in mid-July's Southern Amateur at Maridoe in Carrollton, missing the 36-hole cut with a 10-over 154. Playing last week's Western Amateur at Crooked Stick, the brawny Pete Dye design in Carmel, Indiana, he rebounded well with a 2-under 70 in the first round to share 16th place. However, uncharacteristic three-putts hindered Paysse during a second-round 75 and he missed the tournament's first cut by one stroke.
“It's been up-and-down with my playing,” Paysse said of his summer. “It's the learning curve of junior golf to college golf, and then I'd never played in those (top-level amateur) tournaments before. There's another step to take when you're playing 156 guys in the Western Am who are all very good golfers. They're all going to compete and they all played really well to get there, so it's more of a learning process for me.
“I tend to beat myself up about results sometimes, but I obviously played good golf to get there, so I know I'm capable of it. It's just trying to play well at the right time.”
Seasoned brother on the bag
With Paysse never before having seen the Bandon Dunes courses, he could have chosen to use a local caddie for the U.S. Amateur to pick up some insider advice. However, he's grown comfortable and confident with his brother Andrew – who turns 25 on Monday – carrying the bag. After their father, Kenny, caddied for William in the North & South Amateur, Andrew took over for the Southern and Western Amateurs.
William Paysse sits at No. 205 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, down from a career-best 95th earlier this summer. Andrew, who won the 5A individual state championship as a Belton junior in 2013, reached No. 162 in the WAGR and as an amateur placed fourth in the 2017 Texas State Open at Trinity Forest in Dallas.
Andrew had some success playing professional golf after graduating from A&M in 2018, shooting a final-round 62 in the Texas State Open at Tyler's The Cascades Club to finish as runner-up and earn a $22,500 check. He then played 10 tournaments in Canada on the PGA Tour-sanctioned Mackenzie Tour before returning to Temple to work for his father's insurance agency along with oldest brother Jonathan, 27, a former multi-sport standout at Belton who's also a skilled and avid golfer.
With so much competitive experience under his belt, Andrew now finds it rewarding to caddie for William and watch the youngest Paysse's game make large strides.
“It's fun. It's been really cool to see him play in prestigious tournaments like this,” Andrew said. “It's fun for me being on the other side. It's easy for me and I've enjoyed it. He's pretty good. He's definitely learned a lot the last few years with his course management and strategy. He's thinking what I'm thinking most of the time.”
William said it's been a gradual progression for he and Andrew to form a strong on-course partnership.
“I used to not like Andrew on the bag as much, just because we'd kind of butt heads when I was younger. But I think we've both maybe matured, or whatever it is. It's gotten a little bit easier and he knows my game pretty well now,” said William, who will turn 21 on Oct. 20. “Last year I played the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Mira Vista (in Fort Worth) and he caddied me for all 36 holes. I played really well and got second alternate. As far as his caddying, that led me to think it could keep working and we'd keep doing it.”
Planning for Bandon
William was scheduled to play one practice round each at Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes this weekend and said he and Andrew were planning to get some helpful tips from a local caddie they've contacted. William said he's studied Google Earth images of the Bandon courses to develop ideas for strategy.
The biggest adjustment might be transitioning from playing in hot, humid conditions to the cool, windy weather at seaside Bandon Dunes, where temperatures Monday and Tuesday should be in the low-50s to mid-60s.
“I'm not a big pants guy,” William said, laughing. “It'll be a little bit of an adjustment. Luckily I'm getting there a few days before. But the ball certainly won't travel as far as it does here when it's 100 degrees.”
Paysse said his straight driving, steady putting and ability to control his ball's trajectory in the wind all give him confidence that he can score well on the Bandon courses.
What a difference a year makes
After Paysse and A&M coach J.T. Higgins – whom he described as a motivating force – mutually agreed to have him sit out the 2018-19 competitive season as a redshirt (the Aggies tied for fifth in the NCAA Division I national tournament), a determined Paysse dedicated himself to putting in the work and time to a become a standout performer.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Paysse has taken full advantage of A&M's strength and conditioning program, notably improving his legs and core. He began to see major improvement midway through his redshirt year as he continued to compete in A&M's tournament qualifying rounds, then he came into the 2019-20 season hungry and better prepared to make his mark.
Late last October, Paysse recorded his first college victory in the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate by posting a 7-under 209 total for three rounds, sharing co-medalist honors with UCLA's Eddy Lai.
“Finally winning a big tournament did a ton for me, finally thinking, 'Yeah, I do belong and I'm good enough to play at this level and do well,'” Paysse said. “It was at the end of the (fall) season and I went into the offseason feeling pretty good.”
“He's more consistent now and has a better grasp of what he does well. If he's struggling, he knows how to correct things,” Andrew Paysse said, assessing William's emergence. “Talent-wise, he's better than he was. His golf swing got better since (his redshirt year).”
Paysse's mother, Becky, has been a constant traveling partner throughout William's golf career and was in Georgia to witness her youngest son's first college triumph. She'll also be Paysse's one guest permitted to watch his U.S. Amateur rounds in person at Bandon Dunes.
“My mom has traveled with me to so many places all over the country, so that was so cool (for her to see the win in Georgia). She's been with me in Abilene and Brownwood and all those places, so it's really rewarding,” Paysse said, adding about his parents: “It's awesome. They've both always been extremely supportive of us. It's definitely not cheap, so it's a sacrifice they make.”
With a sport management major and business minor, Paysse has earned spots on the SEC Academic Honor Roll two consecutive years. He's on track to obtain his bachelor's degree in the fall 2021 semester and plans to pursue a master's degree.
In an interesting twist, the NCAA's COVID-19-based decision not to count the 2019-20 season against the eligibility of spring sports student-athletes means Paysse still will be considered a redshirt freshman in 2020-21, so he'll have four years of eligibility remaining. Incoming Belton senior Dallas Hankamer is committed to join A&M's golf program for the fall of 2021.
As he prepared in the hot Texas sun to play his first U.S. Amateur, Paysse took stock of how far he and his game have come since those trials and doubts he experienced as that 18-year-old A&M freshman.
“It's definitely not for everybody. That was the thing my freshman year. There's a lot of, 'Do I even want to do this?'” Paysse explained. “You really have to love it and be able to devote your time to it, or you're just going to get lapped. But it pays off, certainly.”