In a quiet moment on Sunday after he finished hoisting the trophy, posing for photos and accepting the giant “Happy Gilmore” cheque — OK, they don’t actually do that last part on the PGA Tour — Mackenzie Hughes realized how close he came to not winning his second title.
Not because of the tough competition or heart-pounding situations in which the Dundas native found himself at times over the four days at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
“I was kind of back and forth whether I would play or not,” he says. “Because my brother-in-law had a bachelor party in Cabo.”
Amazing how one decision changes everything.
Without knowing it, a relaxing weekend in Mexico could’ve cost him a $1.422-million (U.S.) payday, an invitation to The Masters and the PGA Championship, a full tour exemption through 2025 and enough FedEx points to qualify for the playoffs at the end of the year.
Plus something even bigger.
Lots of people have won one PGA Tour event. There are 379 one-timers. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Or that there’s luck involved. Anyone who would try to tell you that someone could fluke their way into being the best of a professional field for even a single weekend has never played the game.
But a second win to go with the tournament he won in 2016 …
“I think that definitely validates it for me,” he says. “I don’t think for me personally, I needed the validation. But I think it’s different company when you say you’ve won twice on the PGA Tour.”
No kidding. There are just 140 of them. So, wise choice to go to Mississippi instead. And then to demonstrate some unbelievable poise to survive and eventually win in a sudden-death playoff. Exorcising some ghosts in the process.
If you’ve been following Hughes’ career, you’ll know all about the close calls. Since he won six years ago, he’s finished second four times, third twice and elsewhere in the top 10 another nine times. He’s been right there again and again. Yet somehow, something always happens. Difficult moments sure. Bizarre bad luck? Yeah, that, too
Everyone hits a tree now and then. His ball stayed in the tree in the final round of the U.S. Open a couple years ago. That just doesn’t happen. Not to someone who’s in the final group.
“You start to wonder a little bit, when’s it going to happen again and when am I going to get back to the winner’s circle?” the 31-year-old says. “Those things weigh on you over time.”
So when his tee shot on 18 went way left on Sunday afternoon and buried him in the trees — on a hole he needed to score at least a par or his runner-up ribbon collection would grow again — he admits there was a flash of doubt.
He’d been working on keeping himself in a good head space all weekend but it’s tough. Negative thoughts do work their way in at times. “Internal stuff,” he calls it. He admits getting win No. 2 was feeling more difficult than win No. 1.
And don’t let his calm demeanour fool you. The nerves were real.
This time, he conquered them. And the course. And the field. Then got to have a moment he’s dreamed about.
His kids weren’t born last time he won. Now he has two boys. When his final putt dropped, they ran onto the green and he was able to pick them up, hug them and celebrate with them.
Who knows what the future will hold? But his sons got to see him win a tournament on the PGA Tour.
“You see other players that win and their families come on the green and I just think to myself, ‘Man, that’s so cool. I want to have that moment,’” he says. “That was just unbelievable.”
Then he adds a little nugget.
“They almost didn’t come this week.”
Yup. The bachelor party.
He seriously thought about going. He just doesn’t get many opportunities to do stuff like that with his schedule. The temptation was there.
Had he been selected for the President’s Cup team — he’s talked about how disappointed he was that he wasn’t selected for the event the previous week — he says he absolutely would’ve been kicking back in Mexico to get some rest.
That didn’t happen.
“So I went to play Sanderson Farms instead.”
Of all the decisions Hughes makes over the course of his career, that may have been the best.