Mackenzie Hughes is teeing it up at the RBC Canadian Open for the sixth time this week and realizes this is the PGA Tour debut of countrymen such as Brendan Leonard of Cambridge, Ont., Max Sekulic of Rycroft, Alta., and Johnny Travale of Stony Creek, Ont.
Actually, Hughes was in a similar position as Sekulic, who won last year’s Canadian Amateur title,
“My first tour event was Hamilton in 2012. I remember that one being pretty cool for me because I grew up 10 minutes from there and I was playing as the Canadian Am champ from the year prior,” recalled Hughes, who won the national amateur title in 2011 and 2012.
“A lot of build-up for that one too because I had won in August of the year prior and I knew I was going to play that next July, so a lot of time to think about it, but it was really cool,” he said.
“I think that the advice I would give to those young guys is to, first and foremost, enjoy it, try to learn from everything that you can this week, but I think that it’s easy to kind of get your head looking around a lot and seeing a lot of cool things, seeing a lot of players that you watched on TV,” he said.
“Keep your head down and try and play good golf, I think that you’ll like your chances for the week,” said Hughes.
“I know that my first time playing I was fighting that a little bit too because I would be hitting balls on the range next to someone that I grew up watching on TV and I thought that was really cool, but when you kind of get past that, I think it helps you kind of get into your own game and just play golf and have a good week,” he said.
Hughes actually had a Canadian Open moment as a youngster growing up in Dundas, Ont., when he has the opportunity to caddie in a pro-am in 2004 at Glen Abbey.
One of the players in that pro-am was Mike Weir, who Hughes will play with in the first two rounds this week in an all-Canadian trio that also includes Adam Hadwin.
“It will be fun. I think that any time you get to play with Mike is an honour. He’s basically my biggest golfing hero,” said Hughes.
“When I was 13 at the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, this was 2004, so he had just won the Masters the year prior, he was a rock star in Canada and I was caddying in the pro-am in his group,” he said.
“I caddied for one of the ams and I just did a horrendous job caddying that day because I was so intrigued by just being close to Mike and trying to ask him a question here and there and just kind of hearing the stories he was telling,” he added.
“Then my player would be over here in the rough and I’m like, ‘Oh, sorry,’, just nowhere near him, so it was like a really cool day,” he said.
Hughes is considerably more seasoned since his experience at Glen Abbey, or even his Canadian Open debut in 2012.
He arrives at St. George’s with three top-10 finishes this year, including a second place finish at last November’s RSM Classic, where he opened with a 63 and closed with a 62. It was at the RSM Classic in 2016, when Hughes got his first tour win.
He’s expecting friends and family this week, not to mention Canadian fans around the all-Canadian trio for the first two rounds.
“I think the one thing that you have to try to learn a little bit is that you can’t say yes to everything,” said Hughes.
“That’s tough to do because I feel like I want to make everyone happy and appease everybody, but there’s a lot of people pulling you different directions and you need to have your energy for Thursday morning when you get ready to play,” he said.
He also needed time to familiarize himself with St. George’s.
“My first time playing the course was actually Monday, so I’ve never played the course until this week. I love it. It’s great. It’s right in front of you. Obviously, the rough is incredibly difficult to play out of so hitting the fairways this week will be paramount,” said Hughes.
“I love it. It’s very old school, traditional, kind of feels like a very Canadian golf course,” he said.
“I don’t know what that really means, but I just feel like it’s a Canadian golf course because when I walk around and just the way it looks, the tree-lined, old-school greens, a lot of pitch in them, feels very much like a target golf course, not meant for a bomber by any means,” he added.
“Any kind of player can win this week, which is kind of fun. It should be a great test of golf,” said Hughes.