Former Central-Phenix City, Auburn golfer Haley Wilson to play in U.S. Women's Open

jerickson@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 1, 2012 

Haley Wilson always has been the calm one, a steady, unflappable golfer whose demeanor never seems to change, whether she's 5-over-par and struggling or tearing up the course at 5-under.

Her dad, David, has plenty of emotion for both of them.

For years, he has walked the course and watched his daughter, living and dying with every shot, wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

He has to rein in those reactions now. Wilson, a former standout golfer at Central-Phenix City and Auburn, is headed to Kohler, Wis., this week to play in the U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run, a 6,812-yard grinder of a course.

Her dad will be on the bag.

"That's the hardest thing for me to realize," David said, "that what she's playing and what she's doing, we can bump fists when she hits a good shot, but, if it's a bad shot, you can't grimace. You can't do that as a caddy."

Wilson's career at Auburn ended this spring.

Her goal, though, always has been to take the game of golf beyond college.

It's a plan her family shared. Her dad played college baseball. Her mom played college softball. A brother, Luke, won a state championship as a wrestler last year.

And ever since Wilson picked up a golf club, her family's life has revolved around her and Luke's pursuit of their athletic dreams.

"That's what we do," David said. "All of our vacations, all of our time off, have been planned around her golf tournaments, his wrestling. That's what we love to do."

When Wilson made her pro debut two weeks ago at the Texas Women's Open, choosing a caddy wasn't difficult at all.

At every step of her career, Wilson's dad has been there. Two years after she started playing, he quit playing golf

himself, instead deciding to focus on helping his daughter improve.

"David Wilson's a fantastic father," Mike Gill, the director of golf at Maple Ridge Golf Club and Wilson's longtime coach, said. "And I say that because he's done everything in his means to give Haley every opportunity."

Of all the tournament rounds Wilson has played, David estimates that he has missed only 20 or so throughout the course of her career.

So it only made sense that he take the bag for her first pro appearance.

Nobody knows Wilson's game better.

"It's nice to have a familiar face out there," Wilson said. "He knows my game. He's been watching me play since I was 11. To have that person with you, it's nice not having to bear the burden of thinking about every shot."

Wilson placed 16th at the Texas Women's Open, but the task will be tougher at Blackwolf Run against a field full of the world's best women golfers.

To some degree, however, the course will play to Wilson's strengths. Extremely accurate off the tee, Wilson should be able to avoid too many trips into the rough, which is expected to swallow golf balls by the dozens.

More importantly, playing in the U.S. Open will get Wilson ready for the pressure of Q School, which begins in September, lasts three rounds and promises an LPGA Tour card at the end if a golfer plays well.

Wilson is only a newcomer to the pro game, but she already knows she wants to pursue a career hard.

Her livelihood now depends on how she plays.

"It adds a little pressure to it, but it's still a game, something I love to do," Wilson said. "It kind of frees me up, because now I have a chance to go out and have fun, doing something I love to do."

Unlike a lot of other golfers, though, Wilson doesn't have to face her first couple of professional rounds alone.

When she tees off in Wisconsin, her entire family will be there.

And her dad will be right by her side.

"I'm not going to call myself an expert on golf," David said. "I may be an expert on Haley, knowing what she's going through and her emotions."

That might be all the help she needs.

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