Dartmouth’s Williamson sets new Ivy standard

Dartmouth's Peter Williamson after winning the 2011-12 Ivy League Championship

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Editor’s note: This feature appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of Golfweek. On April 29, Williamson became the second Ivy League player to win three conference titles.

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Dartmouth students are known for their intelligence and creativity, so perhaps it’s no surprise that a few nights per week in his quaint dorm room in Hanover, N.H., Peter Williamson unfurls a putting mat on the worn-out carpet and strokes 800 consecutive 8-footers during the cruel winter months. The entire exercise takes about two or three hours. His neighbors pass by, incredulous. “I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “I want to be able to know I can make that putt.”

Apparently top-50 players can matriculate at Ivy League schools: Williamson, a senior, is on the verge of becoming the conference’s first three-time Player of the Year; he has made Dartmouth’s golf team nationally relevant for the first time in decades; and he also has found enough time to study Chinese, double-major in geography and studio arts, and carry a 3.3 GPA. He is 43rd in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

It has been an unusual journey. Under-recruited as a junior player, Williamson set his sights on Stanford, applied early but wasn’t accepted. Another Ivy League coach didn’t even bother to show up for an interview. So Williamson finally settled on Dartmouth, the school only a mile from home, though not without some uncertainty.

“I’d never even seen him hit a shot,” coach Rich Parker said, sheepishly, “and I told Pete, ‘If you think you want to play the PGA Tour, Dartmouth probably isn’t the spot for you.’ ”

Williamson, meanwhile, had another vision: “I wanted to go where I could make a program thrive for four years.”

Certainly, he has accomplished that, while also becoming one of the conference’s most colorful characters. Consider these eccentricities:

For years, Williamson built an 18-hole miniature-golf course in his backyard out of snow, a nod to a possible career in golf-course architecture.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 165 pounds, he dresses head-to-toe in Nike garb, even using specially ordered golf balls.

He mimics his idol, Tiger Woods, with fist pumps, club twirls and leg kicks.

He always wears pants, even when the mercury rises. (Actually, he doesn’t even own a pair of shorts.)

He uses a 3-wood that hit stores in 1999.

He swings the club with a 10-finger baseball grip.

He sometimes hits only a 3-iron during practice to improve his ballstriking.

But Williamson always seems to play well, with a short game so deft that Parker marvels, “you’ve never seen a player putt like this, even in the highlights.” Which only lends credence to Williamson’s dorm-room sessions.

He was named the Ivy League’s Player of the Year in 2009, his freshman season, which included a dramatic victory for the individual conference title. Williamson followed that up with another hardware sweep in 2011 (Player of the Year, league title) and is in line for yet another this season after a victory and four other top 4s in five fall starts, giving him a mind-boggling head-to-head record of 411-5-6.

More importantly, he has made Dartmouth noteworthy: The Big Green, No. 104 in Golfweek’s rankings, closed the fall with consecutive victories – the first time since 1999 the program has won a tournament other than its home event.

Said Harvard coach Jim Burke: “Peter is by far the best player I’ve seen in my seven years in the league.”

Such high praise only underscores Williamson’s transformation, from an afterthought to arguably the most accomplished player in league history. The ambitious spring graduate’s next goal is to become one of the few Ivy Leaguers to play the PGA Tour.

“How can a kid that good sneak through the cracks?” Parker said. “I don’t know, but it’s everybody’s loss. I only hope Peter gets what he deserves.”

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