How the new Tiger is preparing to make his debut - aged 16... and he's getting help from Shane Lowry
He already has the same middle name as one golfing great and, on Thursday, Robin Tiger Williams will emulate another. At 16 years and one week old, the boy from Peterborough will be the same age as Rory McIlroy when he made his debut in professional tournament – and it will be in the same event as well.
The British Masters has extended one of its invitations to Williams, the top-ranked junior in Europe. He does not quite command the same fame as McIlroy did at this age in 2005, but his story is set to be recounted to a wider audience because of the exposure at Close House this week. It is very worthy of the telling.
Williams was three weeks old when his parents decided to take the less-travelled migration route from Stellenbosch, South Africa to Prestatyn, Wales. Morne, a fine batsman who was later to represent Aberdeenshire, had almost named his son after another of his sporting heroes.
“Dad has told me I was very nearly ‘Robin Sachin’,” he said. “But I’m glad he settled on Tiger. I was born the year Woods completed the Tiger Slam, so I think that made up Dad’s mind. It’s a perfect fit the way things have turned out. The first time my dad put a club in my hand when I was 18 months, I was bitten by the golfing bug.”
Morne, a dentist, remembers it all too well. “I had been a good golfer in my college days, getting down to scratch, but hadn’t played for a while,” he said. “So after watching him hit ball after ball, all day, at the range and him never wanting to go home, I took him on a short nine-holer in Rhyl. He shot a 47 and actually beat me. I thought: ‘That’s it, no more golf for me.' He’d walloped me straight out of his nappies.”
By the age of eight, the bug had consumed the boy’s life. With the family now in Aberdeen, Morne enrolled Robin at Hazelhead Golf Club. “He’d practise there and, again, whack balls all day, every day and I noticed there was a mini tournament taking place,” he recalled. “They said: ‘No, he’s too young, it wouldn’t be fair on him.’ I replied, ‘Go on, he’ll enjoy it’. He won by 20 shots.”
Morne reports that he still receives messages from that junior section leader whenever he happens upon tales of his exploits. It is fair to say, the junior leader has been in touch quite often. At the age of 11, Morne took Robin to America where he became the youngest-ever winner of a Future World Champions’ event.
“Sky Sports heard about it and ran a promotional video on him which said, “I am Robin Tiger Williams” and from that he was offered a sponsorship to the famous Bishops Gate Academy in Florida,” Morne said. “You don’t want your kid to leave home when they’re only 11, but he was so keen and it was such a great chance. Even at that age, moving away from his family and friends, Robin told me: ‘You just have to make these sacrifices, Dad.’ We’d keep in touch three times a day and I developed a computer programme where I could check his progress.”
It made increasingly promising reading. Robin went on to win multiple America Junior Golf Association titles and very soon he came up on the radar of England Golf, who pointed out to the family the benefits of returning when he reached 15.
The Williamses' concern was taking him out the US education system but they overcame this obstacle by hiring a Peterborough teacher to school him at home in the American curriculum. “It has worked out well,” Morne said. “Robin’s a bright boy and will have a good education to fall back on if it doesn’t work out in golf.”
To the boy wonder himself, however, that is simply not an option. “I will make it as professional,” he said. Sky Sports, which has done so much to resurrect the British Masters, certainly believes in him, having invited him into the tournament’s Pro-Am for the last two years. The pros were impressed and raved about him to the organisers.
Williams is playing the first two rounds with proven Tour pros Lee Slattery and Jorge Campillo and Morne is fulfilling the caddie duties. He has also been getting a few helpful tips from the likes of Ireland's Shane Lowry. As well as his own fantasy, of course. “Can you imagine?” Morne said. “We will be a few groups ahead of Rory, the crowds and the noise will be huge. I’ll definitely be more nervous than him, because, I’m telling you, he will not be intimated. It’s funny, because when he was eight I had a little Claret Jug made with his name engraved on it as ‘Open Champion, 2020’. Back then he would say he would win that particular Open over and over and it’s still there on the mantelpiece, acting as motivation. Just to play in that major would be amazing and I always tell him: ‘If you dream it, you can believe it.’
“You know, we are blessed to be in Britain and to have these opportunities and the help from Sky and England Golf and, of course, the academy has been fantastic. Believe me, there would not have been those chances for us ‘Cape coloureds’, which we are classed as back there. Robin doesn’t understand apartheid because he never went through it , but I tell him this is an incredible dream and you just to have run at it. Who knows where it will end, but I wouldn’t put anything beyond him. I notice he is 1,000-1 with one bookie ...”