Q&A with Will Wilcox on island living, mom's influence and more
January 28, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Will Wilcox has recorded back-to-back top-16 finishes to open the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
It has been quite the professional golf career for Will Wilcox, and in some ways, it’s just getting started – again.
Wilcox is back on the course after eight months of sitting on the sidelines with an injured wrist. He’s also newly engaged, fresh off of three months living and trying to work on his game at the stunning Carambola Golf Club on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands thanks to General Manager Michael Wysocki and Director of Golf Kevin Ferris.
A former TOUR player, Alabama amateur star, winner on both the Mackenzie Tour (2010) and Korn Ferry Tour (2013), and member of both the 59 club (final round, 2013 Utah Championship) and the ace club on the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass’ PLAYERS Stadium Course, it has been quite the ride for Wilcox over the last decade.
But now it’s time to see what’s next, and how he can get back to the biggest stage in golf. Through two events on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour schedule, he’s showing no signs of lingering pain issues, after finishing T16-T13 at the two events in the Bahamas.
Wilcox, who in the spirit of living the good life is attending Tuesday night’s Tool concert in Atlanta before flying to the Panama Championship on Wednesday, spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to chat about returning from injury, his recent engagement, his inspirational mom, and more.
You’re coming back from a long time away due to injury. How are you feeling?
Starting the year on a medical is always nerve-wracking. But in September I had a plan to go to St. Croix, again, which had always been my recipe for success. In 2013, the year I got my Korn Ferry Tour card, I spent 90 days there, and (in 2019) I spent 100 days there. I was in St. Croix training and living on an island … it was all about preparation.
Before, I got my card and I became a couch potato. I got my card and I got lazy. I had some good years being lazy (laughs) so I thought I could continue that, but now that I’ve started to work hard, my game is back and I’m hitting it as good as I ever had and I’ve only had two three-putts (this year). I knew if I worked hard, the nerves of having not competed since May would be less.
It all comes down to how bad you want it.
What was the injury that caused you to sit on the sidelines for as long as you did?
I have arthritis and I have a cyst. There’s still a pretty significant … it looks like a horn on my right wrist, if I flex it. Just favoring the thumb a little bit. If I eat the wrong foods, it gets inflamed. You’ll get inflammation if you’re not exercising. All I was doing was hitting balls, so that was putting a ton of pressure on my hands. I wasn’t doing the off-course things to keep an injury like that at bay. It was so painful towards the end and I went and got it checked in Atlanta. I didn’t have a lot of padding in (my wrist) anymore, it was almost bone-on-bone – the cartilage had been reduced drastically. Once I got a cortisone shot and started doing rehab on it and working on my body, the inflammation went down, and luckily I didn’t have to have any procedures.
I took a good bit of time off, but in September I resumed getting after it.
Your mom is the longtime women’s golf coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham; how much impact has she had on your life?
She’s since had a career change; she now works in administration at UAB, so now she doesn’t have to travel as much. But she was the women’s coach for 17 years from 2001 to 2018. She started the year Graeme McDowell left, in 2001. She had a good run but before that she managed a golf club and ran junior tournaments in Alabama and the southeast. First I was playing in all the tournaments and then I was running them with her. She’s always kept an eye on (my swing) and she’s the reason I play.
What is your relationship like now?
She’s the reason I play golf. I think about my hometown and both the courses I grew up playing are now closed. It’s very scarce for the county I lived in – there’s no way to cultivate a talent from there anymore. I’m just so fortunate that my mom ran the only 18-hole course in the county and that was from age 6 to 17, so all I did was ride with her to work every day. Literally, that’s all I did. Summertime she was out the door at 6:45 and I was in the car. I got free golf in a place that no longer has golf. Had I been born 10 years later, from where I grew up, I would have never had a chance to do anything in golf. She’s the reason for everything.
When did you know, after growing up playing so much golf, that golf was a career path you could go down?
When I got a full ride, a (Division I scholarship). I know that’s not the be-all, end-all but I was really small and I was competing against kids like Patton Kizzire. He was 6-4, 200 pounds when we were 18 and I was probably 5-8, 105 pounds. I was the smallest kid on the golf team by a mile. I won nine times in two years (at UAB; Kizzire played at Auburn) and then I won the Alabama Amateur. A great friend of mine, Tim Jackson, approached me about backing me. I won the Alabama Amateur in 2008 and Tim came to me that summer and said (he’d back me) after my senior year, at 22; I knew I was at least able to play for four years and give it my best run. That’s a huge opportunity. That guy took me to golf tournaments as a kid – I’ve known him my whole life.
Why and how did you decide on St. Croix? Can you describe the relationship between person and place?
I played the U.S. Youth Games there in 2000 and I got seven days to go down to St. Croix, of all places. It was a basketball showcase, but they have a golf team. It’s very poorly run, the golf tournament side (laughs) but the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said they were going to make a golf team that year and bring the best junior in the area. I was 15 at the time. I really liked it. The course is a Robert Trent Jones design. In 2005 my best friend, who caddied for me last week – it’s his dad who has been my lifelong banker – and he moved to St. Croix after he graduated from Alabama. He lived there for six years and I turned pro shortly after. I needed to get out, get away, and just focus on golf and I had a free place to stay (in St. Croix). The golf course was free. This offseason, they hardly made me pay for a Gatorade. I probably played 100 rounds there this offseason. They love me there – my golf bag is in the pro shop. There are only 90 members so everyone knows me and it’s cool; there’s a sense of pride when I come down there.
You just got engaged. How did you guys meet and what’s the story of the engagement?
I met her last November. I played golf with Shelby (Wilcox’s fiancée), Vince Covello, and Spencer Brown – a friend of his. There was a connection through the Peach Belt Conference. It was kind of a blind date, but via a round of golf. That was the foursome. A kid named Jack Clark had played golf at Clayton State while (Shelby) played golf at Columbus State and they became friends through just playing golf in the same conference and living only 80 miles apart. Jack walked THE PLAYERS Championship in 2016 with me, he was inside the ropes, and he came back and was talking to her and was talking me up. He was saying I was a nice guy! When a past relationship didn’t work, I hit up Jack and asked, ‘Where is Shelby at?’ (laughs). We decided to play a round of golf. She’s got a master’s (degree) and is a really good golfer in her own right. We have a lot of things in common and I proposed December 23 and she’s pretty excited. It wasn’t an elaborate proposal; I’m not too much of a romantic.
But she said yes, and that’s all that matters.
Oh yeah, we’re on the same page.
Describe what a perfect day looks like for you?
I’d be in St. Croix. Wake up early, because the sunrises are ridiculous. Go out to the golf course and play, then hit all the spots on the island – which is kind of what we do. I don’t do it every day, but a day we’d do that and see friends and hang out and (go to) restaurants. You have to throw some beach in there. Golf course, straight to the beach to chill out and have a beer or two, then we’d do the restaurant circuit.