Insights and Observations
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
By Henry Hinton
Greenville's MacKenzie still
does it his way
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MacKenzie never attended East Carolina University, although former ECU
football Coach Steve Logan once begged him to suit up and handle the place
kicking for the Pirates.
In spite of
not being an alumnus of the school, MacKenzie's Greenville upbringing in a
passionate Pirate family and his involvement with ECU football coach Skip
Holtz should make the PGA golfer a favorite of those wearing purple and
Willie Mac, as he is now affectionately known on the PGA Tour, has become
the favorite of many who follow golf around the world. When the new season
began just four weeks ago in Hawaii, MacKenzie became the biggest story in
Not only did
he lead the first two rounds of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, he grabbed
the attention of the media, particularly the Golf Channel — which was
covering the event live in prime time — by surfing the Pacific waves before
every round and hanging out with the fans and media after he was off the
anchors Kelly Tighlman and Nick Faldo could not get enough of the “Willie
Mac” story. Unconventional in every way, MacKenzie was hitting the waves in
the morning, then hitting the lengths in the afternoon. And he was playing
some of the best golf among the participants, all who had landed in Hawaii
by virtue of winning a tour event in 2006.
Faldo even invited MacKenzie to stay in the booth and do analysis of the
remaining events of the day. Faldo, one the greatest golfers in PGA history,
had joked earlier that, since one of MacKenzie’s odd jobs along the way
included working security, he could be his security guard at home.
All in good
fun, MacKenzie said Tuesday on Talk 1070’s Talk of the Town. [Replay
Windows Media Archive...]
“I had to
hit him in the chest a couple of times,” he said of Faldo. “We’re totally
cool. I don’t mind people poking fun at my lifestyle. I know he sort of
talked junk about me being his butler, but if he pays me right I might go do
it a couple of weeks.”
that MacKenzie will be have to be anyone’s butler from this point forward.
2006 win at the Reno-Tahoe Open put him on the course with the likes of
Vijay Singh and Charles Howell, III, in Hawaii the first week of January. In
fact, MacKenzie’s laid back style in the press conferences each day
contained banter about such things as eating Vijay’s unfinished pasta at the
became an instant favorite among fans in Hawaii and golf fanatics watching
on television around the world. MacKenzie’s openness on international
television actually became a problem when he gave his room number at the
Ritz Carlton Hotel over the air.
the Golf Channel air personalities about his background, which included
living in his Toyota van for over a year while he traveled the country
trying to make the big time, MacKenzie said, “I won’t be sleeping in my van
tonight; I’ll be in room 7006 at the Ritz.”
mistake,” MacKenzie reported in the press conference the next day.
MacKenzie’s phone rang all night with calls from around the world. In
typical Willie Mac style, the third year PGA pro said he met some really
nice people on the phone, including a former police officer from Wilmington
who had been injured in a near-fatal automobile accident and a gentleman
from Australia who claimed to be his cousin.
32, is one of the hottest names on the PGA tour now, but had he chosen
football it is entirely possible he would have been a star kicker at ECU.
Logan once referred to MacKenzie as one of the best kickers he had ever seen
in high school.
after graduating from Rose High in Greenville, MacKenzie’s free spirit was
yearning for less structure. In spite of urging from Logan and some begging
from his father — an ECU alum and avid Pirate fan — MacKenzie headed for the
beach instead of the practice field.
a prominent Greenville businessman, had hoped to see Will wear purple and
gold, but the young man many people call the best pure athlete they have
ever seen decided to give up organized sports — at least for the moment.
Will says he
had even burned out on golf after falling in love with it at an early age.
always used his athletic skills, but after high school it was living it up
snowboarding and kayaking in places like Colorado, Utah and Jackson Hole,
Wyoming, then surfing the warm weather months in places like Costa Rica.
Willie Mac was taking a respite from his world travels, visiting his parents
in Greenville, when Payne Stewart won the US Open at Pinehurst. He had
watched the final round on television with his late father Mac and become
'Dad what do you think? I want to go tee it up,' recounted Willie Mac.
So he headed
out to Greenville Country Club where he had spent many warm days as a
teenager and realized he had the fever again.
One sad part
of MacKenzie’s success is that his father tragically passed away four years
ago after contracting a rare virus that suddenly cut off his breathing. By
that time Will had started to gain success on the lower circuits like the
Hooters and Nationwide Tours, but Mac never got to see his son tee it up on
the big tour.
It was in
2005 that MacKenzie qualified for his tour card and made it to the big
leagues, the PGA Tour.
was the middle of last season, his second on the tour, that MacKenzie
finally struck golf gold by getting his first PGA victory at Reno.
MacKenzie is off to an incredible start with a Top 5 and a Top 20 finish in
just the first three weeks of the season. The first three events of the year
netted the Greenville native $336,427 in winnings. His career earnings (58
PGA events) total $1,491,921.
when you win an event on the PGA Tour. MacKenzie can now play in nearly any
event he chooses. On Thursday he will tee it up at the FBR Open in
Scottsdale, AZ, an event he has never been able to get in before.
also continues to give back to the community that he says has given him so
much. He has become friends with the ECU coaching staff and was a hit at
last year’s Drew Steele-Skip Holtz Golf Classic.
joined one of Coach Holtz’s best friends, former PGA golfer Doug Martin, for
a free clinic at Ironwood Country Club. It was all part of the effort to
raise funds for special needs children.
father’s death, MacKenzie’s likable style and legendary golf skills on the
local Greenville courses were enough to attract several prominent local
folks to pitch in and help him get started a few years back.
professional athletes, success does not seem to have changed Will one bit.
“I thank all
the people in Greenville,” MacKenzie said Tuesday. “A lot of people there
have helped me a lot. A lot of men and families stepped up and helped me out
when I need it. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
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This page updated
04/21/08 07:05 PM.