Coming off clutch putt, Canada's Hughes looking forward to Tour Championship debut
Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm enter as favourites at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta
Mackenzie Hughes pumped his fist when he drained a five-foot putt on the 18th green on Sunday at the BMW Championship to move into the top 30 of the FedEx Cup rankings. After retrieving the ball from the hole he threw his hands into the air as much out of relief as excitement for the future.
Making par on No. 18 at Olympia Fields Country Club meant that Hughes, from Dundas, Ont., tied for 10th at the tournament to move eight spots up in the rankings and qualify for the exclusive Tour Championship, which tees off on Friday.
The Tour Championship, held at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, sees the top 30 players on the PGA Tour play four rounds of golf. Top-ranked Dustin Johnson starts at 10 under, No. 2 Jon Rahm begins at 9 under, and so on, with Hughes in a five-way tie for 26th at even par.
"I know I'll start with long odds, but that's why you play. There's no guarantees," said Hughes. "I'm excited to be there and to have the opportunity and I'll go and try to make the most of it."
WATCH | Hughes sinks clutch putt to qualify for Tour Championship:
Finishing the PGA season in the top 30 has other perks for Hughes, including making three of golf's four majors, as well as the Players Championship and the Tournament of Champions.
Hughes said he's excited for what the 2021 season holds, but returning to storied Augusta National Golf Club has long been a target after missing the cut in 2017, his lone appearance at the event.
"Going to the Masters again has been on my radar ever since I went my rookie year. I was just really disappointed with how it went the first time around," said Hughes on Monday. "I just wanted to have another chance at it someday.
Hughes had a difficult start to the 2020 season, missing nine of 11 cuts until the Honda Classic where he finished second on March 1.
He credits caddy Jace Walker and coach Ralph Bauer — who he started working with this summer — in helping him turn his season around. In particular, Hughes thinks mental toughness and creating a positive vibe with Walker when they're on the course has made the difference.
"I'm a pretty gritty and determined player," said Hughes. "If I keep my head on straight and think clear in tough moments I think that's a big asset of mine. That's been a huge strength in the last year."
WATCH | Rahm's ridiculous playoff putt seals BMW Championship win:
That fortitude was put to the test on Sunday when Hughes was on the 18th fairway and a spot in the Tour Championship was on the line. After hitting a drive to the fairway, Hughes's approach shot landed in a greenside bunker.
"My thought was 'what the heck are you doing, man?' I was not super pleased with myself there," said Hughes. "Obviously, made a bad swing at the wrong time after hitting a great drive too."
Hughes and Walker spoke as they walked to the bunker, clearing the golfer's head and leaving the bad shot behind on the fairway.
"I just told myself I had to make an up-and-down out of the bunker and I do that all the time," said Hughes, who did make the clean out to set up the five-foot putt.
After the BMW Championship Hughes flew home to Charlotte, N.C., to sleep in his own bed and take advantage of the Tour Championship's Friday start. He's pleased that his support system will be even broader at the season's finale as his wife Jenna, their son, and her parents will be able to come to the Tour Championship after the PGA loosened its COVID-19 protocols for the tournament.
"I think with anything you do in life that's good it's more fun to do with the people that you love and be able to share with people," said Hughes. "It's going to be great to have them all there with me."
$100M US pledge to racial, social injustice causes
What started as the "Return to Golf" has yielded to "Crossing the Finish Line."
Twelve weeks after the PGA Tour ended its longest stoppage since World War II because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it marked progress with two slogans that brought equal measures of satisfaction and a sigh of relief.
"I was confident that we had the right plan," Commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday. "But I was uncertain as to whether or not, like everybody else, you'd be able to get to this point."
That point would be the Tour Championship for the 30 players who made it through two FedEx Cup post-season events to reach East Lake and chase the $15 million US bonus that goes to the winner.
Monahan also brought up another monetary figure — a projected $100 million over the next 10 years for tournaments to donate to racial and social injustice causes in their markets.
"In essence, how do we use the platform that we've established over the past 80 years to make deeper and more specific commitments around social justice efforts in our communities?" he said. "The work may never be complete, but as we close out this season of change, I felt it important to reinforce our commitment."
And what a season it has been.
The week the PGA Tour signed a new media rights deal said to be worth more than $7 billion over nine years, the coronavirus led to golf shutting down for three months. Tiger Woods, who won his record-tying 82nd tournament last fall, played only twice before the shutdown, four times after. He did not make it to the Tour Championship.
A record five players already have taken turns at No. 1 in the world.
The Tour Championship is the end of the season, but not the end of the year, or the concern.
Spectators still have not been allowed to return, with no indication when that would happen. Monahan said the plan was for pro-ams — a big part of a tournament's revenue — to resume in the Dominican Republic in three weeks. Pro-ams already are in place on the PGA Tour Champions and the Korn Ferry Tour.
Monahan thought back to Friday the 13th — in March — when he announced the next four tournaments had been cancelled, starting with The Players Championship.
"As gut-wrenching as that day and the weeks to follow were, as we ultimately cancelled or postponed nearly 30 per cent of our season, the adaptability, innovation, and collaboration that has brought us to this week is incredibly gratifying," he said.
With files from The Associated Press