Ancaster, Ont. — Mackenzie Hughes is only 21, new to the PGA scene, and so willowy you wonder where he gets the power behind his swing.
But he will have one benefit at the RBC Canadian Open at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club this week: home advantage.
The club is in Ancaster, Ont., and Hughes is from Dundas, Ont., about a 10-minute drive away. After years of playing Hamilton’s twisty, classic holes, he knows every knoll, bunker and fairway.
He figures he’s played it about 33 times. This year alone, he’s played the club 12 times. “I’m familiar with the place,” he said Monday, finding the shade on a toasty morning practice on the driving range.
“This is probably as picture perfect as it could be, playing in Hamilton, so close to home,” he said.
Perhaps Hughes is the newest version of Adam Hadwin, the young Canadian who finished in a tie for fourth at the Canadian Open last year at the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, near his home in Abbotsford, B.C. Hadwin is back this year.
Hughes is one of a handful of promising young Canadians who Golf Canada believes could make a mark on the PGA Tour.
“I like his chances,” Derek Ingram, head coach of the Canadian men’s national amateur team, said of the six-foot, 165-pound Hughes. “He’s a smart guy. He really works hard. He does all the right things. He’s super talented as well.”
Hughes qualified for the Canadian Open by winning the Canadian men’s amateur championship last year in Winnipeg, but he didn’t know at the time that the Canadian Open was at the Hamilton club.
Last year, he also played in a qualifying event for the U.S. Open, winning a regional qualifier but failing to make it through a sectional division. Along the way, he learned some important lessons. He realized that to do well, he had to keep his emotions in check, to be patient, to take one hole at a time. He learned that although the competition was stiff, he could compete with a lot of the top players. He feels he’s not far off.
His plan this week is to do the same: Don’t think about playing in the Open or it “could be overwhelming,” he said. He’ll focus on standing bravely at the first tee and take it from there.
He began to play golf at six when his parents, Jeff and Sandra, took up the sport recreationally. He played with a cut-down putter and driver. “My parents thought it was easier than getting a babysitter,” he said.
He was 16 when he played for the Canadian under-22 team. Then he was off to Kent State University in Ohio on a golf scholarship. At Kent State, he won two individual titles, including the Bank of Tennessee Championship, winning by seven strokes, and also won academic awards with a 3.78 grade-point average.
Hughes graduated this past spring with a degree in business administration, and he hopes to be one of three Canadians chosen for the world amateur championship in Turkey in October. After that, he will attempt to turn pro, he said.