For most of his life, hockey was the sport Colton Willms focused on.
However, when he was 13, Willms was diagnosed with a heart condition that forced him to hang up his skates. He picked up a golf club instead and, after some encouragement from friends, dedicated himself to that sport.
All the work and dedication he has put into golf during the last few years has now paid off for the 18-year-old Brandonite as he has committed to join Northern New Mexico College’s golf team in the fall.
"I picked golf up pretty quickly," said Willms, who will receive a scholarship covering half his tuition. "My buddy Kolby Day looked at me one day and said, ‘Colton, you have to take it more seriously,’ and ever since then I started playing in some tournaments and picking up my game. To be where I am now in three or four years, it’s pretty surreal."
Willms sees a lot of positives in moving to Espanola, N.M., the biggest one being that he can play all year.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Crocus Plains student has always found it frustrating to be peaking just before the snow hits and the courses in Manitoba shut down.
Playing virtual golf at the Shilo Country Club and putting in his living room during the winter months don’t live up to the real thing, and Willms, who was taught the basics by his dad but hasn’t had a full golf lesson in his life, can’t wait for the chance to play year-round.
"It’s going to be awesome," he said. "… It’s going to be a big difference, especially the extra play is going to be huge to hone my skills for a full year instead of getting in the swing of things and hitting a block when winter hits and having to start over again. To be able to play all year I think I’ll be able to excel and work on a lot of facets of my game."
Willms is coming off a couple of solid seasons on the links. He placed third at a Maple Leaf Junior Tour event in Winkler last season and was the runner-up in the junior boys’ event at the annual Tamarack tournament at Clear Lake. He was also a part of the provincial high-school champion golf team from Crocus in 2012.
He hoped his credentials would be good enough to land a scholarship at an NCAA school, but he’s satisfied with going to one that competes in the NAIA. That doesn’t mean he’s giving up his goal, as he would like to move up to an NCAA school in a couple of years.
"It’s pretty good golf," Willms said. "It’s the same calibre that (Shilo golf pro) Dave Scinocca played, when he was a little older than me, at West Palm Beach, Florida. It will be nice to start off at the NAIA and get a grasp for the tournament play and the ability to play all year and get into the swing of things and hopefully get recruited by a Division 1 team in a year or two would be the dream."
Willms isn’t sure how many events he’ll be able to play in this summer as he plans to work full time to have some money for his first year of college, in which he will study business administration. However, he plans to play in the CN Future Links Prairie Championship at Shilo and the Maple Leaf Tour stop in Winkler for sure.
Willms knows this summer will also be his last opportunity to hang out with family and friends before he ventures south of the border, and he hopes to make the best of it as well. While he knows he’ll be leaving them behind, he’s also quite excited for the journey that awaits him in New Mexico.
"I think it’s going to be awesome," he said. "Everyone I talk to says it’s going to be a great opportunity and I have to take it by the horns and do it because I might not get another chance. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime and I’m not going to miss out on it, that’s for sure."