Billy McWilliam was one of Australia’s most famous golf coaches and when he passed away this week he left a legacy that had touched golfing careers going back to the likes of a young Greg Norman and stretched to more recently guiding Sarah Kemp on the path to LPGA success.
McWilliam was aged 87 when he lost his battle with cancer on Sunday. He will be long remembered for his efforts in encouraging young people to play golf.
McWilliam was the PGA club professional at Sydney’s Beverley Park Golf Club for 33 years and is credited with helping to launch the pro careers of not only Norman, but also David Graham, Bruce Devlin and Bruce Crampton.
McWilliam also coached well-known professionals Len Woodward, Len Thomas, Dennise Hutton and Australian Amateur Champion Kevin Donohoe.
“I’m always thinking like a winner which is what Mr Mac tells me to do all the time”
McWilliam was 86 last year when new protégé Sarah Kemp won her US LPGA card and she credited him for much of her success.
In early 2006 a newly turned professional Kemp said of her then 84 year old coach: “I didn’t know turning pro and winning tournaments could be so much fun. I am very positive, I’m always thinking like a winner which is what Mr Mac [McWilliam] tells me to do all the time.”
McWilliam was famous for encouraging children to play golf and was the first person to stage state and Australian school championships.
Although his playing career was brief, McWilliam was the winner of the 1940 NSW PGA Championship and he also set a world record in the 1947 Australian Open.
He shot a then world record nine under the card 65 in the first round of the Open at Royal Queensland Golf Club, which had a standard scratch par of 74.
In 1974, Greg Norman was thrilled when McWilliam agreed to employ him as a PGA Assistant at Beverley Park and wrote in his biography of his “unbounded delight” at being apprenticed under “one of Australia’s most famous golf instructors”.
“My day to day routine as an apprentice under Billy McWilliam was gruelling,” Norman wrote, saying his day started at 4am and ended after midnight.
“I was delighted that my first steps in professional golf were to be guided by such a man as Billy McWilliam,” Norman wrote in his biography. Their relationship was unfortunately cut short after a few months when Norman returned to Queensland because of dispute with state authorities over his eligibility to play in tournaments.
In June 2004, McWilliam was awarded a Medal (AOM) in the General Division of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his services to golf. He was also a PGA of Australia Life Member.
The funeral service for McWilliam will be held at 11am on Friday August 29 in the South Chapel at Woronora Crematorium at Sutherland.