Playing first and final ANWA, FSU’s Amelia Williamson is one of a kind
Amelia Williamson was practicing alone on the short course at Seminole Legacy Club, Florida State University’s home facility, in early January when she received an email from Augusta National Golf Club. Williamson, of course, knew what it was for; she had been monitoring the World Amateur Golf Ranking for months, and at No. 37 in the year’s final ranking, the 22-year-old Englishwoman was well inside the top-30 cutoff for international players who would receive invites into the fourth edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
When she read her official confirmation, she immediately sat down on the grass and dialed her parents, Mark and Tracey, back home in Norfolk County, England.
“I didn’t cry,” Williamson said, “but I had to try very hard not to.”
As formal invitations began arriving in the mail a few days later, Florida State head coach Amy Bond asked Williamson and her teammates Charlotte Heath and Lottie Woad, fellow English players who are also in this year’s field, if they’d mind waiting to open them in her office, so that Bond could get their reactions on video.
Heath and Woad, first-timers as well, couldn’t wait to unwrap their tickets to Augusta National.
But Williamson, a fifth-year senior who a year ago thought her ANWA dreams were over after falling a few spots shy in the rankings, told Bond that she’d gladly hold off a few hours.
“I felt like I owed it to her,” Williamson said of Bond. “She’s helped me through tough times, when I was homesick. It was like opening it in front of my mom really. I felt a little shy doing it on video, but I wanted to wait because she had done so much for me.”
AMELIA JANE WILLIAMSON HAILS from Norfolk, a rural city about 3 hours northeast of London. She’s the daughter of a pig farmer and hairdresser. She learned to plow at age 10, and on Christmas mornings as a kid, she’d wake up early to help her dad on the farm so she could open presents quicker.
Hard work, one could say, is in her D.N.A. So, too, is athleticism.
Williamson reckons she played just about every sport growing up. She was a talented swimmer and part of a record-breaking British junior rowing team. She also started skiing at 2 years old and for eight years frequented the bristle slopes or indoor centers in England mixed in with a dozen trips with her family to find real powder in France and Switzerland.
At age 10, she hung up her skis and traded poles for golf clubs, the sticks of choice for Williamson’s parents. Mark Williamson was a longtime captain of the Norfolk men’s team while Tracey has won multiple Norfolk County championships. She and Amelia teamed up to win three straight Royal Mid Surrey Mothers and Daughters’ titles when Amelia was in high school.
Amelia’s older sister, Victoria, was an aspiring Olympic track cyclist before being severely injured and nearly paralyzed in a crash during a race in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in January 2016. She was bedridden for about six months and had to relearn how to walk. Miraculously, she returned to the sport three years later before switching to high-level bobsledding.
Amelia Williamson, 15 years old at the time of her sister’s accident, had already known adversity well. She deals with epilepsy, and though she hasn’t had a seizure since freshman year of college, she experienced them frequently as a young kid and into her late teens.
Tiredness and stress exacerbate the issue, but Williamson had always been determined not to let her epilepsy affect her golf. She once lost consciousness for three hours the morning of a junior event in England. After waking up, she opted to compete anyway, and with tournament organizers switching her tee time from first out to last off, she played 36 holes and broke the course record at Bury St. Edmunds.
That kind of resiliency, grouped with her raw talent and infectious personality, helped put Williamson on Bond’s radar.
“If you spend 5 minutes with her, you fall in love with her,” Bond says. “And we really felt her golf hadn’t quite reached the potential that it could be, so we were really hoping we could get her on campus.”
The Seminoles ultimately won the Williamson sweepstakes, and she joined what is still easily Bond’s best recruiting class – Frida Kinhult, Beatrice Wallin, Puk Lyng Thomsen and Williamson.
“I went from a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a really big pond,” Williamson said. “And I wasn’t prepared for that.”
WHEN WILLIAMSON ARRIVED ON campus in the fall of 2018, Bond recalls a young woman who lacked confidence, joked around, but was otherwise reserved and comfortable just blending in.
“She was quiet, wouldn’t say anything in team meetings, would just go through the motions,” Bond said. “And on the course, she might start off on fire, but she’d always seem to find her way back to even par.”
Added Williamson: “I was out of my depth.”
Williamson battled homesickness, and her seizures. She notched zero top-10s in her first two seasons. While Kinhult and Wallin quickly ascended to first-team All-America status, Williamson was a role player who averaged north of 75 strokes per round as both a freshman and sophomore.
“As time went on, I realized that I was spending too much time worrying about other people,” Williamson said, “and that it was important for me to be my true, confident, happy, talkative self. I’m not able to switch it off – my happiness very much impacts my golf – so to be myself on the course, I needed to be myself off the course.
“Without Coach encouraging me, I couldn’t have done it. She helped me come out of my shell.”
She came out of her shell alright.
Bond jokingly calls it Williamson’s “mid-life crisis.” Williamson laughs out loud at that description, but it’s not inaccurate. During her junior year, when she shaved more than two shots off her stroke average, Williamson figured it was finally time to let loose.
She added a few more piercings.
But she also grew up, shed her reservedness. She met her current boyfriend, too.
“She matured a hell of a lot in those first three years, and noticeably,” Mark Williamson said. “I remember her coming home for Christmas, and we’re like, ‘Is this the same Amelia that went away like 10 weeks ago?’”
Oh, and she got some tattoos. Seven of them.
“I wish I could say they all were meaningful,” Williamson said with a chuckle, “but they aren’t. Some of them are heat-of-the-moment decisions.”
The noteworthy ones include a reminder of her dog, who died last year, on her ribcage. On her other side is the saying, Little by little, one travels far, along with an airplane to signify the Englishwoman’s journey to college in the U.S.
Perhaps most significant is recent ink on her left arm that says, Dream big, work hard.
“My parents always told me growing up that I should dream big because you never know,” Williamson explained.
The summer before her senior year, Williamson set a goal to qualify for last year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Despite being ranked outside the top 100 in the world, she was suddenly filled with confidence. She reached the semifinals of the English Women’s Amateur and added a third at the English Women’s Stroke Play before rattling off a few college top-10s in the fall to make a run at an ANWA invitation.
The invite never came, as Williamson, No. 81 in 2021’s final world ranking, was just outside the international cutoff.
“It was annoying to be so close,” Williamson said, “but I put it in the back of mind. I knew if I continued to do what I’d been doing, things would work themselves out.”
She finished her senior year with seven total top-10s (including an emotional first victory at FSU’s home event), a 72.04 scoring average, second-team All-America designation and a bachelor’s degree in sport management.
And she wasn’t done.
BOND HAD NEVER ROSTERED three players from the same country. She had yet to welcome a player back for an extra year of eligibility. But that all changed when Williamson, knowing some money had become available after a player transferred in January 2022, asked Bond if she could play a fifth season for the Seminoles.
Bond had Woad coming in to join Heath atop the starting lineup, but she couldn’t say no.
“I’ve always thought based on her confidence being so low as a freshman that if she ever asked and I could do it, that’d she’d be the one who I would say yes to,” Bond said. “And here she is. She wasn’t quite ready last spring to turn pro, and I’m glad I’ve had another year with her.
“She’s such a beacon of light for our program, she brings people together, and now, she doesn’t stop talking!”
Williamson, a co-captain along with Heath and pursuing a second degree in economics, hasn’t been quite as sharp this season, though she still has a sub-73 stroke average. She went through the first two stages of LPGA Q-School last fall to secure Epson Tour status this summer, and then, as planned, she bowed out of Q-Series to remain in school.
Now, Williamson enters her first – and final – ANWA fresh off her best finish of the season, a T-5 at the Florida State Match-Up, the tournament she won last year in which she broke down in tears in Bond’s arms on the final green.
The emotions are sure to be running high again this week as both parents are in attendance to watch their daughter compete, a rare occurrence on this side of the pond; they last both watched Amelia at last summer’s Curtis Cup at Merion. Before getting to Augusta on Sunday, Tracey squeezed in as many appointments as possible while Mark worked long days on the farm to get ahead.
Amelia’s 90-year-old grandfather will keep an eye on the pigs while they’re gone.
“We weren’t going to miss this,” Mark said. “This is a trip of a lifetime for our family because this is it, we’re not going to come back here.”
Tracey normally caddies for Amelia, but with the physical demands of hilly Champions Retreat and hillier Augusta National, the Williamsons thought it’d be best if Mark would don the white jumpsuit and carry the bag.
“It was a hard decision,” Amelia said, “but they both know my game really well, and they both know how to fill me with confidence.”
As Williamson has learned, that’s most crucial.
So, too, is enjoyment.
Bond believes Williamson can play well if she trusts her recent swing changes, gets hot with the putter, and doesn’t put too much pressure on herself.
Williamson knows this is her one and only chance at Augusta glory, but she also is aware that if she’s stressed, if she’s not herself, it will only hurt her performance.
“I owe it to myself to have fun,” Williamson said. “I worked a year and a half for this, and I’m not going to let a bad round or bad hole stop me from having a smile on my face. … This tournament is going to mean a lot. It’s weird to think that I’ve given my parents an opportunity to walk around kind of inside the ropes at Augusta National. It doesn’t really feel real to me. I think I don’t quite realize how special it’s going to be.
“I think I’m building it up in my mind, trying to play it down … but I think when I get out there, I’ll realize how big of a deal it is.”
So big that she’ll try, but this time, she probably won’t be able to fight back the tears.