A special week for the APGA Tour
February 11, 2020
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- February 11, 2020
- Willie Mack III won the first APGA event of the season at 8 under. (Felix A. Marquez)
It was Saturday, Jan. 25, at Torrey Pines. While the PGA TOUR pros were playing at the South Course in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, another group of pros were playing the North Course – 16 members of the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, a non-profit organization created to bring greater diversity to the sport.
It was the end of a busy and exciting week for the APGA Tour, which was starting its 12th year by celebrating a new diversity initiative with the PGA TOUR and the Farmers Insurance Open.
Earlier in the week, APGA pros Willie Mack III and Tim O’Neal were participants at the Rickie Fowler TFT Clinic.
Two days later, the APGA held its first event of the season at the Crossings at Carlsbad. Mack, who played a few PGA TOUR Latinoamerica events in 2018 and was the APGA Tour’s Lexus Cup winner last season, emerged as the winner of the 27-hole event, shooting 8 under.
It was a positive moment after a recent brush with tragedy. Two months earlier, Mack was driving on a Florida highway when his car engine mysteriously shut off; he pulled off the side of the road just before the caught on fire. He managed to retrieve his golf clubs but lost his personal belongings when the car burst into flames.
One day after his win, Mack joined another APGA pro, Kamaiyu Johnson, during a media session. It was an opportunity to gain some publicity for the APGA Tour, and both players – who once teamed up to win a two-man event in Florida -- were glad to provide their thoughts. Meanwhile, O’Neal appeared on PGA TOUR LIVE.
At the press conference, Mack was asked about his interest in golf.
“I started when I was about 5 or 6,” Mack said. “Like most of us, Tiger got me. I started with my dad. First couple years, it was rough, not a lot of golf courses where I grew up, so there was a lot of backyard swinging. When you got to the course, you had to make sure you used the facilities and got your practice in that way.”
Eventually, Mack’s golf skills were good enough to make him a college golfer. Seeking warmer weather than his home state of Michigan, he played at Bethune Cookman in Florida – and won 12 times during his collegiate career.
“After the 12th tournament, I probably started thinking maybe I could try to get on the big tour and see what I can do as a professional golfer,” Mack said.
As for Johnson, his start in golf was much later than Mack’s. He played baseball while growing up. It was by chance that he received an opportunity to play golf.
“I had literally just got back from a 2006 Dizzy Dean World Series baseball and it was a summer in June,” he told the media. “You know, I had literally just moved onto this municipal golf course. I had never been on a golf course in my life until I was probably 13. I was just intrigued by the golfers and said I wanted to do it. So I literally went outside and this lady from Hilaman Golf Course in Tallahassee [Florida], she saw me swinging and she was like, ‘Hey, do you want to go hit some balls?’”
Interestingly, Johnson wasn’t swinging a club at the time, though. He was simply swinging a stick.
“She saw me, that I was doing that and she just took me in and took me under her wing and charged me a dollar a day to play golf,” Johnson said. “It pretty much changed my outlook on life and the world. Pretty much had a big part in saving my life.”
And now here they were, with an opportunity to play Torrey Pines North that Saturday, a course set up with PGA TOUR conditions.
O’Neal was the winner this time. No surprise there. O’Neal was the 2018 APGA Tour Player of the Year, has won three times on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, and last year received the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption at the Genesis Invitational. (This year’s recipient is Joseph Bramlett, a former APGA player who also received the honors in 2011.)Tim O’Neal at Torrey Pines North the Saturday of the Farmers Insurance Open. (Felix A. Marquez)
But for all 16 players that day, it was a chance to test their games – not just against each other, but against the TOUR pros who had played the course the previous two days.
“Just being able to play these golf courses and shoot good scores on the same golf courses that these guys play is also very motivating, to see if your game can travel and take it to these courses,” Johnson said.
So if they make the PGA TOUR, what can we expect from them? Are there any players they have modeled their games after?
“Probably Phil [Mickelson],” Mack said. “I play aggressive.”
“I would say Adam Scott,” Johnson said. “I try to copy his game, for sure. I've been watching him, I wouldn't say before I started watching Tiger but probably pretty much around the same time, 2006, 2005.”
The distance between PGA TOUR dreams and actual realities can sometimes feel enormous. But for one week in January, it felt much closer.