Insider: At 25 years old, Wilcox making a comebackJuly 20, 2011
John Dell, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
As far as comebacks, Will Wilcox doesn't mind falling into that category, even if he's just a 25-year-old rookie on the Nationwide Tour.
Wilcox isn't that far removed from his time of washing dishes and helping cook at a restaurant after dropping out of college at Alabama-Birmingham. He was on a golf scholarship and ready to take the fast track to stardom, but it didn't quite work out that way.
"I was 18 or 19-years-old at the time and had some freedom and it didn't go too well for me to say the least," said Wilcox, who lost his scholarship after being arrested twice for driving under the influence and dropped out of school. "I just kind of went wild and lost my scholarship and went to too many parties and it cost me."
After leaving Alabama-Birmingham, Wilcox, who was born and raised in Birmingham, ended up working at a restaurant and living with his sister, Sarah, at Auburn University making $5.15 an hour. During that time, he nearly sold his golf clubs because he needed the money more than he needed golf.
"If somebody would have offered me $100 I would have sold them," said Wilcox, who wasn't playing much competitive golf because he couldn't drive because of a suspended license.
He lost his desire for the game during that time.
"I bet I played about once a month or so for about a year and half and that was it," he said.
But his luck changed when Clayton State, a Division II school located in Morrow, Georgia, was looking to build its program and looked to Wilcox. He matured, stayed in school, and also got his game in shape.
Wilcox thinks back to those times of living with his sister and sleeping on a cot as the biggest learning experience of his life.
"I don't think I was even making $200 a week," he said about the time he was out of college in 2006 and most of 2007.
Fast forward to 2011 and Wilcox has come of age, thanks to an early-season breakthrough. He Monday-qualified into the Stadion Classic at the University of Georgia and tied for third. Since then he's done enough to earn full playing privileges for the rest of the season.
Wilcox heads into this week's Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational at Ohio State ranked 11th on the money list having played in just six Nationwide Tour events.
Having only been a pro only since September of 2009 he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he has played some on the Canadian and Hooter's Tours. He's every bit appreciative of where he's come from.
"It's what I dreamed of way back when," Wilcox said, "and now it's extremely cool what I'm doing and it's exciting."
Seeing him succeed at a high level has his mother, Kim Wilcox, excited as well. Wilcox, the longtime women's golf coach at Alabama-Birmingham, says her son has done a much better job of doing the things necessary to be a good pro golfer.
"He's taking care of himself more with his workouts and he's eating properly," Kim said. "We are just so proud of what he's done, and it's really an amazing story because it could have gone so bad."
It wasn't until January of 2010 that Wilcox started to work out, and he's kept at it ever since.
"I wasn't much of a work-out guy, but I realized I had to change and become a little stronger if I wanted to be successful," Wilcox said.
Wilcox admits he's matured since his early college days and says that without his break of landing at Clayton State, where he wound up being a three-time Division II All-America, he's not sure what would have happened.
"My dad runs junior tournaments and the coach from Clayton State at the time (Barry Harwell) was recruiting at one of the tournaments and my dad just started talking to him," Wilcox said. "They were looking for a good player and I was available so it worked out."
Harwell, who is no longer at Clayton State, took a chance on Wilcox. In 2008 he helped Clayton State to a 10th-place finish at the Division II National Championships.
Kim Wilcox said it was probably best that her son got away from their hometown of Birmingham. "I just think the new environment there at Clayton State was just what he needed," she said. "And he took to it right away and played very well for Clayton State as soon as he got on the team."
Not only has Wilcox thrived on the Nationwide Tour, where he is fifth in driving distance at 313.6 yards, he also went through qualifying and was good enough to make the field for the U.S. Open at Congressional. He missed the cut, but got another big dose of experience.
"I really appreciate everything a lot more now," Wilcox said.
Wilcox also appreciates the competition he is facing week in and week out on the Nationwide Tour. One of the problems he is facing is the long season, something he's not used to.
Having been a pro golfer for less than two years, this is the most golf he's ever played, and it takes some getting used to.
He also admits that he's never putted this good in his life.
"I've had some really good stretches where I've had five birdies in six holes or something like that and my bounce back from a bad hole is a lot better than it used to be," Wilcox said. "I've never made as many putts as I have this year."
He's also never made this much money before, but says he's been frugal so far. He did buy a nice watch, but he's putting money away.
"I've got some going to retirement and I'm making sure my taxes are paid as well," Wilcox said. "I haven't gotten really crazy with buying anything big."
Because of his success his goals have changed a little bit. He tries not to think about the possibility of being on the PGA TOUR come next season.
"I have so much to learn about pro golf," he said. "I'm really just focusing on this season on the Nationwide Tour and if I'm out on the Nationwide next season that's fine too. I just want to keep learning."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 18 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.