Roy Williams makes rare trip to Kansas

MAYETTA — Roy Williams doesn't get back to Kansas as often as he'd like. And, when he has been able to return, he hasn't exactly spent a ton of time hobnobbing with KU fans in a public setting.

Maybe laying low was by design. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, Sunday morning's celebrity Pro-Am skins game, staged to bring attention to the grand opening of the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation's Firekeeper Golf Course, was going to be revealing with Williams and Bill Self on competing teams.

The conditions were freezing cold — or, at least, they felt that way given the date of May 15 — so only a couple hundred people showed up to watch as Williams and Randy Towner, the former pro at Alvamar Country Club in Lawrence who is now the pro at Firekeeper, took on Self and Notah Begay III, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, with $10,000 on the line for charity.

Williams, carrying a North Carolina golf bag and wearing white and Tar Heel-blue shoes, gave his old buddy Towner just enough help to put Self and Begay away four skins to two. During the two-plus hours it took to play the back nine, one thing was plainly clear to Williams, whose good shots were met with cheers and whose one-liners drew hearty laughter all day long.

"Time heals a lot of things," Williams said.

Eight years ago, after Williams left KU to return to his alma mater, a soft landing for him in the Sunflower State wouldn't have been possible. Heck, for many Kansas fans, the sting that came with Williams' decision to leave after he'd said he'd finish his career in Lawrence didn't go away until Self's Jayhawks pounded Williams' Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four on the way to the national championship.

"It did for me," said Kevin Langdon, a KU fan from Abilene who watched on Sunday. "I think we let bygones be bygones. You can't blame a guy for wanting to go home. He brought a lot of good things to KU, that's for sure."

Of course, the fact that Self has a 237-46 record and a .837 winning percentage in leading the Jayhawks to seven straight Big 12 regular-season titles and a national championship has gone a long way toward mending the wounds. Williams has won two national titles at North Carolina, in 2005 and 2009, but it's been easy for KU fans to see what they've got in Self.

"A blessing in disguise," Langdon said.

Williams and Self are different — that's been obvious from the start — and their personalities show through in how they view the pursuit of golf as a hobby. Williams takes the game seriously and admitted that he was playing to win on Sunday. To Williams, golf is fun because he's in control.

"You get to do it yourself," Williams said. "I try a lot. I like to compete. I don't mind having a little heat on when I need to make a putt. That's a fun feeling for me. In the game of basketball, we coach, but it's still the kids that are the ones competing. We feel like we're competing because we're living and dying with every possession, but it is nice to be able to come out and do something on your own, too."

Williams is a 10 handicap who says his golf season runs around 14 weeks. He wants to play as often as possible during that time.

Self is a 12 handicap who has enough skill to hang around with the pros, but he's more interested in golfing for fun with his friends like he did last week on a golf trip to Oregon.

"If I was better I'd probably be more competitive in golf," Self said, "but I was just out here to have a good time. For me, I actually played pretty good, only had a couple miss-hits. Golf days for me are few and far between."

Self and Williams both seemed to enjoy the outing. For years, they've run into each other on the road recruiting, but in that competitive arena, there isn't much time for chit chat. As the only two men who've sat in the big chair on Naismith Drive during the last 23 years, they share an understanding that few others can have.

"It's still a great place," Williams said. "And you can't beat Allen Fieldhouse."

Williams, 60, says he plans to coach anywhere from six to 10 more years. And he will continue to not schedule Kansas as long as he's the Tar Heels' coach, saying that he would prefer to play KU in the national title game "because that means my two favorite schools are having better seasons than anybody."

Williams' public forays in Kansas are unlikely to become any more frequent. But on Sunday, he was treated like a welcome face among Jayhawks.

"It's good that Roy's here," Self said. "He did such a great job at KU when he was here those fifteen years. He deserves the pat on the back that fans give him when he's around. To me it was a good day."