Mount Vernon’s Zach Williams learned an important lesson this year … a short memory equals lower scores.

Williams has always had the physical tools to compete on the golf course, but he’d carry a bad shot or a missed putt with him for several holes. Armed with a new attitude this year, the Mount Vernon senior went under par in three of his final four rounds.

He shot 78-70 at the Class 2A state tournament, finishing tied for 12th. For his efforts, Williams has been named The Southern Illinoisan’s Boys Golfer of the Year.

“From his freshman to his junior year what I tried to work with him a lot is the mental stuff,” said Mount Vernon coach Quinn McClure. “Ability wise, he’s always been able to play. He’s really a fierce competitor. Sometimes that got in his way. He flipped the switch this year and was able to do a lot better on that side of the game. In my opinion, that kind of helped him get over the hump.”

“I think that is one of the huge things about golf,” Williams said. “You’re going to hit one bad shot a round. I think the way someone deals with that is crucial in how they play, especially in an 18-hole round. It really is a grind. If you’re upset and worried about how you missed a three-foot putt 10 holes ago, you’ll probably be missing a lot of 3-footers.

“It’s taken me 6-7 years to be able to get to where I am now. I still struggle with it. It’s such a mental game. I used to get very mad, I used to get very upset with myself.”

Finding that competitive balance has been a chicken-and-egg exercise for Williams.

“I think just playing more and more, I think that helped the most,” Williams said. “Just realizing you’re going to hit bad shots. And, my golf game has gotten better and that’s given me more confidence. I can make some birdies to make up for those bogeys.”

That certainly showed up in the postseason this year.

Williams shot a 70 at Hickory Ridge to win the Carbondale Regional. He topped that with a 70 at Salem Country Club to earn sectional medalist honors. At state, Williams posted a 78 in the first round and came back with a final round 70.

His play around the greens was the key to success, particularly in the postseason.

“He putts real well,” McClure said. “It seemed like every time he missed the green up there (state), he got up and down. He chips and putts well. I think we counted on Saturday, he had 23-24 putts.”

“I didn’t have a long game,” Williams said. “I was really struggling. I was putting really well, that right there, is what kept the scores down. That was the key to my success at the very end.”

Part of Williams’ struggles on the fairway may have been the result of serious tinkering with his swing in the past year.

“Me being small (5-foot-8), kind of had an impact on how I swung when I was younger,” he said. “I was trying to get as much power as possible. I used to move my head a lot. I had to change my swing. I’m still short. It’s still going to hurt, but there are some pretty short guys on tour. That’s one of the reasons I like golf. There are all kinds of people.”

Williams plans to play somewhere at the next level. He’s entertaining offers from a variety of schools.

“I would say, honestly, I need to get everything better, even my short game needs to get better,” he said. “You really have to get up and down at that next level. I really need to hit more fairways and greens. I only hit like 17 greens at state, and that really hurt.”

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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