Journeyman golfer Willie Mack III has revealed his harrowing path to the PGA Tour, saying he was so desperate to save money for tournament fees that he lived in his car for 18 months.
Later he lost most of his possessions when another vehicle he owned exploded on a Florida interstate in 2018 but thankfully for Mack he managed to save his golf clubs.
Mack made his PGA Tour debut last month and is preparing for his second tournament this week.
‘At least if I had my clubs, I could make a few bucks,’ said the 32-year-old who has been pocketing prize money in recent years playing at small tournaments.
He nearly died in the 2018 blast because he hadn’t realized his 2012 Kia’s engine was on fire under the hood – he had replaced the Kia’s engine only days before the fire, due to a factory recall.
Another driver alerted Mack, giving him time to rescue his clubs before the explosion, but he actually needed a friend’s GoFundMe page to help replace the clothes and everything else he lost in the fire.
His previous ride, a 2013 Ford Mustang, served as his primary residence for 18 months as he drove from tournament to tournament in hopes of getting his PGA Tour card. Money was so tight for Mack that he once paid $100 for an entrance fee when he had just $110 in his bank account.
‘When I was sleeping in the car, I actually won the [Florida Pro Golf Tour] money list that year, so I was making some money, but you have to make a decision to either get a hotel and spend some extra money or play in the next tournament or eat,’ Mack said.
‘I still know the dollar menu at McDonald’s to this day from that. Yeah, it was rough.’
— Doug Smith (@DouglasFresh8) November 17, 2018
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 16, 2021
Things started to improve for Mack in 2019 as he won more tournaments and began garnering four- and five-figure purses, not to mention a Florida Pro Tour Player of the Year award.
However, his 18 months of homelessness are not easy to forget.
‘Sleeping in the car and having the hotel security come and tell you [that] you got to move or you can’t sleep here,’ he told reporters over video conference call. ‘Sometimes it got rough, but I always went back to what my dad said and never gave up. Unless something tragic happened, I was never going to give up.’
Mack, an African American, is this year’s recipient of the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption, which is given to a deserving minority golfer chosen by the Tiger Woods Foundation. The exemption allows Mack to play in this week’s Genesis Open.
Sifford was the first African American to play on the PGA Tour.
Mack was scheduled to make his PGA Tour debut at The Genesis Invitational this week until he got a surprise call just days before the Farmers Insurance Open last month. Fellow Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour player Kamaiu Johnson was forced to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 test, opening a spot.
Mack quickly called his father, a mental health counselor, to tell him the good news.
Mack II, who had encouraged his son to chase his dreams on the links, responded by crying, which was fitting, giving everything the single father had given up to help his son reach the PGA Tour.
‘Just knowing that my dad gave all his money and his time to put into something that his son wanted to do, so I didn’t want to give up, but for him and my family also,’ Mack III told reporters.
‘Everybody goes through tough times. I just went through a different one than most people. But I’m glad I got through it. And hopefully the future will be a lot better than that.’
A 65-time winner on the mini-tours, Mack hurried from his home in Orlando to Torrey Pines in San Diego, where had had an up-and-down tournament before missing the cut last month.
He shot 74 and 75 on a course he didn’t know well, but took the experience and headed north a few hours to prepare for The Genesis Invitational.
He said he played 27 holes at Riviera Country Club the day after missing the cut at Torrey Pines and another 27 over Monday and Tuesday of this week.
‘I really like this course a lot better than Torrey,’ he told reporters Tuesday.
Mack admitted he didn’t tell the story about his financial struggles until recently sharing them the Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner because it was a bit embarrassing to him personally.
‘But I’m glad I went through it and it made me a better man and a better golfer today,’ he said.
On Thursday he will tee it up against one of the premier fields on the PGA Tour in an invitational tournament that includes eight of the top 10 players in the world.
‘You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t get the opportunity to show your skills and your game to the world, it’s kind of blah,’ he said. ‘So hopefully I can come out here this week — I had a better preparation for this tournament than Torrey — and hopefully I can come out here and play well.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Alex Raskin