Whether they like it or not, athletes are entertainers — not too different from musicians or actors. While many onlookers like to think that the sports world stands alone, its players are ultimately enveloped by the cavernous umbrella of the entertainment industry. Rabid fans, inquiring media and the relative fame that can be gained simply by being an athlete starkly demonstrate this reality.
Some players revel in the spotlight, the attention. Others shun the notoriety. Although there may appear to be more of the former than latter, there exist a select few athletes who genuinely do not care for such attention, don’t read what is written or said of them and have an uncanny ability to slip and slide away from the bright lights. Count Stanford men’s golfer Cameron Wilson to be among that select group.
The only senior in head coach Conrad Ray’s lineup, Wilson will not, in all likelihood, read this piece. Wilson claims he doesn’t follow golf media, and when once asked, had no knowledge of any Stanford Athletics articles written about him.
A simple Google search will demonstrate how tough it is for Wilson to avoid himself, and understandably so. The Rowayton, Conn. native — who has been featured by Golf Digest, USGA and GolfWeek — is currently 15th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and has compiled an impressive résumé that includes 15 top-10 collegiate tournament finishes and a qualification for the 2012 U.S. Open. Despite the success, Wilson draws confidence just from his precise preparation, which he is always in the process of fine-tuning.
“There’s a difference between practicing a lot and working hard, and working hard on the stuff that is directly correlated with you getting better,” Wilson said. “I know plenty of golfers who go off-track working on stuff that isn’t closely enough related to hitting better shots, as simple as that sounds. I’ve just done a really good job lately of focusing only on the things I need to focus on.”
Indeed, Wilson has taken “a more numbers-based approach,” focusing on the technical aspects of his game and pinpointing exactly what is necessary to hit the ball farther and with more accuracy. This process certainly falls in line with Ray’s statistical methods, and Wilson has improved his game by leaps and bounds as a result.
“He’s really matured as a player over the last four years, both physically and technically,” Ray said. “I think he’s become a real student of the game, which is neat to see. He loves to hear new theories about swing mechanics, different ways to play, and he’s done a great job of figuring out what his method for success is…he really is a great, efficient worker at the game.”
Particularly at a school like Stanford, efficiency is the name of the game. Class and schoolwork commitments along with practice and competition time tend to fill, if not completely overflow, a student-athlete’s schedule.
And it’s this aspect of balancing — a term deeply embedded in the student-athlete vernacular — athletic and academic interests that Wilson points to as the most challenging thing he’s had to overcome as a Cardinal, even tougher than a back injury that plagued him during the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons.
“I think the hardest thing about playing collegiate golf here is the time commitment is huge [for academics],” Wilson said. “I’m sure every Stanford athlete can commiserate with this, but the people we’re competing against have way less time commitment for their schoolwork, and so that can be a hurdle sometimes…And I think balancing all of that [academics and athletics] is well worth it but it’s a tough thing to figure out in the beginning.”
But Wilson did have to wade his way through the complicated process of aligning class schedule with practice and tournaments early on, as Ray immediately thrust the freshman into the starting lineup. Wilson, for his part, played as well as one could have expected from a first-year player, recording the fourth-best scoring average on the squad while notching two top-10 finishes.
He has improved those numbers every year since, a steady ascent that culminated in his first NCAA individual victory in September at the Illini Invitational. This year especially, though, Wilson has not just developed his own game, but also his leadership acumen — filling the void left by veterans Andrew Yun and Steve Kearney.
“I’ve enjoyed being the lone senior, which is kind of a weird thought,” Wilson said. “I feel like I have a good amount of knowledge to impart on the younger guys and I’ve played most of these golf courses…I’m not afraid to give them a kick in the rear end if I think that’s what they need. But I hope that my devotion to the details rubs off on them.”
Wilson’s mastery of all the so-called “little things” has not gone unnoticed to Ray, who always has high praise for one of Stanford’s most consistent, cool, calm and collected players in recent memory. And the coach hopes that his senior’s last postseason go-around is finally fruitful.
“We’re excited to have a good run here at the end of the year and I know Cameron’s really motivated to do what he can do to be a major part of a national championship run,” Ray said.
At the end of the day, though, hoisting a trophy in late May will not define Cameron Wilson’s marvelous career as a Stanford golfer. It won’t make or break his overall experience on The Farm. That’s because Wilson — unlike a majority of his athlete peers — does not yearn for personal recognition. Instead, he wants to be known as a player who took every opportunity to better himself for not only himself, but also the greater good of the team.
“I want to be remembered as a hard worker and a guy that explored every avenue to get better,” Wilson said. “Didn’t leave any stone unturned; trying to find more information or new ways to practice or new ways to look at my game. I just want to be known as a guy that explored all his options and did some innovative things to play my best.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.