For the past 11 years, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams has toiled in the trenches season after fruitless season.
He has made five trips to the Pro Bowl — in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 — but Buffalo has made zero trips to the postseason. The Bills’ ongoing 17-year playoff drought is the longest streak by any team in the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL.
Williams, now 34 and a father to five children with his wife, Jill, could have decided not to embark on a 12th grueling autumn of playing football for the Bills. He could have spent his time playing another sport at which he excels — golf.
“He’s a scratch golfer, which is really impressive,” said PGA golfer Andrew Loupe, who started playing with Williams when Williams was in college at LSU. “To do it at that size, it’s like, man. It’s fun to see.”
Listed at 295 pounds in his LSU biography as a senior in 2005, Williams was considered small in the eyes of NFL scouts. But in the world of golf, he might as well be Goliath. The heaviest players on the PGA Tour for the 2016-17 season — Kevin Stadler and Tim Herron — are listed at 250 pounds, about 50 pounds lighter than Williams.
“He is a big guy and an extremely strong guy,” Loupe said. “Usually when you see someone of his size, they don’t have the capabilities to rotate thoracically and use their body in a way to generate club head speed. It’s just hard when you’re 300, 310 pounds with the amount of muscle mass that he’s moving around.
“But he really can hit it a long way. Just a natural, fluent golf swing. He really surprised me the first time and continued to do so in years to come.”
Williams is a member at Squire Creek Country Club near his hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, where Brad Pullin is the course’s director of golf. Pullin coaches Sam Burns, who will turn pro in September after being named the NCAA player of the year as a sophomore at LSU this past season.
A few years ago, Burns played his first round with Williams. After watching Williams play a couple of holes, Burns turned to Pullin in amazement.
“This guy is really good,” said Burns, who is No. 19 in the World Golf Amateur Ranking.
Logic would suggest Williams, having built his body to maul NFL offensive linemen, could use his brute strength to drive balls deep off the tee and down fairways. However, the most refined aspects of Williams’ golf game are the parts that require the most touch and finesse — chipping and putting.
“Around the greens, he has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played with a lot of golfers, professional and amateur,” Burns said. “His short game is definitely up there.”
Unofficial protocol in casual golf is to award a player a “gimme” if the ball is within about a foot of the hole. Williams is so adept with his putter that Burns will tell him to pick up his ball even if it is 6 feet away.
Not long after returning from Buffalo one year, Williams — still sore from the 17-week grind of the regular season — played a round with Loupe and shot an even-par 72.
“I remember him having probably like a 30-foot [putt] on No. 6 for birdie,” Loupe recalled. “Down the hill, sliding to the right. He made it right in the middle [of the cup].”
Williams was first introduced to golf while riding around courses in his father’s cart, but he never played on a team. He was too busy swimming and playing football and baseball at Ruston High.
“When we were growing up, Kyle was the guy in town who could hit a baseball a mile,” Pullin recalled. “He’s arguably the best athlete to ever come out of this area. Here he is playing defensive line in the NFL. He could have played major league baseball. He was that good.”
Added Loupe: “Just a natural athlete. He’s kind of got that knack for any sport that has to do with a stick or a bat, or a golf course. [He has] that natural hand-eye coordination.”
Williams is largely a self-taught golfer. After college, Williams lived in Baton Rouge and played multiple rounds per week with scratch golfers. Money was on the line, and Williams’ scores in the high 70s and low 80s didn’t cut it.
“They didn’t like giving strokes,” Williams recalled. “I was peeling off $100 and handing them $100 every time I went and played golf. It didn’t take me very long to figure out I didn’t like that.”
Finding himself stir-crazy during the slow periods of the NFL offseason, Williams would head to the driving range to practice hitting balls. Those trips would have a side benefit — helping him loosen up after workouts.
Now a scratch golfer, Williams is among the NFL’s best at the sport. Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson also has a zero handicap, while Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have handicaps under two strokes.
“I’ve played with [Bills center] Eric Wood and [Ryan Fitzpatrick] and a few other guys,” Williams said. “I really don’t know about league-wide. But I would feel like my game stacks up pretty good against anybody. I hit it long enough. I’m not crazy long [off the tee], but my short game and my putting is really my strong suit. I would feel comfortable playing with anybody.”
Williams enters the final season of his contract with the Bills but is uncertain of how much longer he will play in the NFL.
“It’s kind of hard to put a pin on that,” he said. “It’s a combination of me, it’s a combination of the organization. There’s a whole lot of variables there that you try not to predict, because, honestly, I don’t know. They don’t know. You don’t know. It just all kind of happens naturally or organically.
“What the future holds, the future holds. And I’ll be good either way. We’ll figure all that out as we go.”
Ditto for his future in golf. Pullin believes Williams could play at a competitive level when he retires, saying the USGA’s Mid-Amateur tournament could be within Williams’ reach.
“I’d love to continue to play and enjoy it with my friends, and obviously my kids and my family,” Williams said. “Beyond that, anything beyond that would be extra. We’ll kind of cross that bridge as it comes.”
Golf — as well as Williams’ other hobbies of hunting and bass fishing — can wait.
“The way that I play and the passion that I play with is evident,” he said. “I want to win and I want to be on a championship football team. I want to do it in Buffalo, and I want to do it for our fans and our organization and my teammates. It would mean everything.
“If you’re in it for contracts and fame and all that stuff, those are the guys that don’t last very long. But if you love the game and love your teammates, those guys last. You see what’s important to them by the way they play, by the way their teammates care for them and talk for them.”