Earlier this summer, a great many golf fans became acquainted with the seemingly miraculous story of Mackenzie Hughes. The introduction was almost as fortuitous as the culmination of circumstances that led the young Canadian to an entry at the U.S. Open in his first year as a professional.
The underdog may not have triumphed on the course at the Merion Golf Club in mid-June, but Hughes gave us something for which we could have little difficulty cheering: an upstart long-shot whose sense of awe at his own proximity to golf’s superstars was something that we might possess if we were to ever warm up for a practice round beside Tiger Woods.
There is an “everyman” sensibility about Hughes, far from the silver spooned prodigies we imagine to infect the professional circuits of an upper-class sport. His start in golf was a matter of convenience. As a four-year-old, his parents – Jeff and Sandra – would go golfing on the weekends, and take their son along with them.
His father explains, “It was just easier to take him with us than to find a babysitter. We had a cut down driver and putter just to entertain him so we could play. The rest is history. He was a natural.”
The natural may have been a bit out of his element at the U.S. Open – where he didn’t make the cut – but at The Canadian Open, which begins on Thursday, the Dundas, Ontario, native should feel right at home. This year’s tournament is being held at Glen Abbey, a 30-minute drive from his hometown, and it’s expected that the two-time Canadian Amateur Champion will receive ample support from the galleries.
Of course, this represents a different sort of pressure from what Hughes experienced after qualifying for his first major, but it’s something he’s learning to take in stride. Following his U.S. Open experience, Hughes missed the cut at his first three PGA Tour Canada events, but this past weekend at the Players Cup in Winnipeg, the 22-year-old finished 14 under par. It was good enough to tie for third place, and provide a much needed confidence boost heading into the Canadian Open.
As a vicarious experience, sports are only as good as the capability of our imagination to experience something through the actions of another person. Typically, this takes some negotiation. Elite athletes are often shaped and shifted in an unrecognizable mold. The way with which Hughes carries himself – as though he’s appreciative of every experience he’s collecting – makes it much easier for his supporters to bridge that gap. Hughes is an easy athlete for us to applaud because he comes across as being just as we would be in similar circumstances – only with much more talent and determination.
Just as he was at the U.S. Open, Hughes will be sponsored by theScore during this week’s tournament. He is scheduled to tee off on Thursday at 8:50 AM ET, and once again, we’ll find ourselves cheering for him.