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Mackenzie Hughes (PGA Tour Canada)

Mackenzie Hughes

(PGA Tour Canada)

Rubenstein: Mackenzie Hughes trending in the right direction Add to ...

All eyes in Canadian golf have been on Graham DeLaet in recent weeks, because he tied for second and then finished third in the first two FedEx Cup playoff tournaments. The Weyburn, Sask. golfer is in Whistler, B.C. Monday, where he’s doing a morning outing for BMW. He’ll then fly to Chicago for this week’s BMW Championship, the third in the four-event playoff series. DeLaet is fifth on the points list. Should he maintain his position in the top five through the BMW, he can win the FedEx Cup and the $10-million bonus that goes with it if he takes next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta – no matter what any other player does. That’s the final FedEx tournament.

Meanwhile, Canadian eyes might also focus on another golfer who has been playing excellent golf. That’s Mackenzie Hughes, the 22-year-old from Dundas, Ont. and the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Canadian Amateurs. The rookie professional won the Cape Breton Celtic Classis on Sunday at the Lakes Golf Club in Ben Eoin, N.S. Hughes had tied for second and for 10th in his previous two PGA Tour Canada tournaments. He’s won his card for the 2014 Web.com Tour, one of the main prizes available to PGA Tour Canada players in its inaugural season.

It’s been quite a year for Hughes, a thoughtful young man who has been taking great care in how he’s planning his career. He got into PGA Tour Canada events at the start of the season via sponsors’ exemptions. He missed the first three cuts. Now he’s leading the tour’s Order of Merit, having won $52,114.29 heading into this week’s Tour Championship at the Sunningdale Golf and Country Club in London, Ont.

“After I missed those first three cuts, I was just hoping to keep my card for PGA Tour Canada next year,” Hughes said in a phone interview Monday morning from Cape Breton, where he had been billeted during the week of his win. He wasn’t putting well, which was hurting his scores. He hoped to turn things around and at least finish in the top 60 money-winners to secure his PGA Tour Canada card for next season.

Hughes was showing plenty of promise even before the PGA Tour Canada season really got going. He qualified for the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn. last June. Never mind that he missed the cut. He gained confidence and experience by being there.

His recent surge has been the result of hard work with his coaches Scott Cowx in Hamilton and Team Canada coach Derek Ingram. He’s also maintained close contact with Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, a University of Manitoba graduate and mental coach. They worked together when Hughes was a Team Canada member; he was on the team for three years. He and Leslie-Toogood continue to speak frequently.

“Tapping into those resources,” he said, “has made the transition to being a pro easier,” Hughes said. He’s kept up the relationships he developed with Team Canada, which is part, of course, of Golf Canada’s development program. Hughes was quick to give Golf Canada credit for the progress he’s been making.

That doesn’t mean it’s been an easy ride for Hughes. He had tried to set up a syndicate to finance his rookie season. Potential investors were contacted in his home area. The plan was to get 25 investors to each put up $25,000; they’d get a return on their investment if Hughes succeeded. They numbers weren’t reached, but Hughes said he did get enough funding so that he didn’t have to worry about expenses this year.

John Levy, the president and CEO of theScore, Inc., was one of the potential investors approached. He lives in Hamilton – Hughes country these days, shall we say. I happened to play recently with Levy – he’s a keen golfer with a fluid and powerful swing. Levy came on board to help Hughes with a sponsorship during the U.S. and Canadian Opens. Hughes wore a cap showing an affiliation with theScore.com. Its mobile app is best in class, as my young friend and fellow golf writer Adam Stanley was telling me recently.

Stanley, by the way, caddied for Hughes at The Great Waterway Classic in Morrisburg, Ont. last month. That’s where Hughes tied for 10th, and started his stretch run leading to his win in Cape Breton. Stanley was impressed with Hughes. Hughes said Stanley is “just a really positive guy. He has a lot of energy.” That was Stanley’s lone outing at Hughes’ side. I’m sure I’ll be reading about it in ScoreGolf magazine, one of the publications for which Adam writes.

Danny Fritz, the CEO of the new SportBox Entertainment Group in Toronto, is also impressed with Hughes. SportBox’s clients include DeLaet, David Hearn, and Mike Weir, among other top Canadian golfers. Hughes isn’t a SportBox client, although Fritz has been helping him out this year.

“Danny and I talked about signing a contract,” Hughes said. “That hasn’t happened yet, maybe later in the year.”

Fritz said in an e-mail this morning from Whistler, where he was with DeLaet, that Hughes has “a ton of potential,” and that he’s smart on and off the course. From what I’ve seen, I agree.

Hughes demonstrated his golfing intelligence and presence of mind over the last nine holes in the Cape Breton tournament. He had started the final round six shots out of the lead, and then birdied five of the first six holes. But he started to think of what a win would mean – Web.com status, for one.

“I had a lot of different emotions on the back nine,” he told me. “I knew the implications of a win. I told myself to get back into my routine. If I lost focus, I’d let the opportunity go.”

Hughes snapped his mind back on what he needed to do. He holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the 14th, and a 40-foot birdie putt on the 15th. He birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 66 in the last round, and ended up winning by a shot. Still, he knows he has lots of room for improvement.

“I’ll try to follow in Graham’s footsteps,” he said, thinking about DeLaet. “He’s been pretty inspiring. I’ve never met him, and I don’t know him. Hopefully, I can be playing with him soon. I’m trending in the right direction.”

That’s for sure.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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