It was only five feet. A length of putt that Mackenzie Hughes had made thousands of times before. On the last hole at Dundas Valley Golf and Country Club as a kid. Among his wins at two Canadian Amateur Championship. At Kent State during his college days. On the Mackenzie Tour. On his way to winning a PGA TOUR event in 2017 where he capped the victory with a putt three times as long.
But this one meant something a little extra.
Hughes started his latest campaign on the PGA TOUR with nine missed cuts in eleven events.
Despite that, he did not panic; he stayed true to his path. But it was hard.
His patience paid off with a 2nd place at the Honda Classic, a tie for 3rd at the Travelers Championship, and it was rewarded once again on Sunday.
The 29 year-old’s season came down to one putt on the final green at Olympia Fields at the conclusion of the BMW Championship.
Make it and move on. Miss and it was time to go home.
Hughes, well known for his prowess with the flat stick (he’s 19th in Strokes Gained Putting for the season) delivered as he curled in the putt and earned his first trip to the 30-man Tour Championship.
Golf fans agonized as the drama played out on television, but nobody was more exuberant about the result than Hughes himself. After the ball rolled into the cup he threw his hands up in the air as if he had won, rather than only catching a piece of tenth place.
One short putt but impactful on his career, and he knew it. He was aware he needed a par on the the last hole to determine his fate. After hitting his approach into the greenside bunker on the last, he had left the agonizing distance he would need to overcome to keep his goal on track.
Five feet, but so much more.
“Yeah, that was some of the most pressure I’ve felt in a long time.” shared the Dundas, Ontario product when asked about the situation just moments after he left the 18th green. “You know, I’ve contended to win some tournaments this summer, and that kind of felt like the same kind of intensity on that putt. I really woke up today with a pretty bad neck and really struggled tee to green. Didn’t have my good stuff at all, and somehow found a way to grind it out. I made it pretty hard there down the stretch, but just really thankful and relieved to get it done.”
With an extra week left in his season Hughes now looks ahead to playing among the elite of the PGA TOUR at East Lake, with a $15 million prize on the line, and, at worst, $395,000, the stipend for the 30th place finisher.
Starting at the bottom in a field staggered by strokes to begin, the Canadian will have nothing to lose in Atlanta, and he knows it.
“It’s kind of a freeing feeling,” he shared on his outlook for next week. “I’m obviously not expected to go do anything at the TOUR Championship, but I’m 10 back, and yeah, you never know what could happen. I know you can’t win if you’re not there, so step one accomplished, and I’m excited for the week.”
No matter how the Tour Championship turns out, the effect on Hughes’ career will be greater than one week alone.
For earning his way into the field he will receive other significant benefits. He is assured of his spot in the field at the 2021 Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship (and likely the PGA Championship), entry into the WGC-Mexico Championship, a spot in various Invitational level TOUR events, and this year due to Covid-19, The Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Basically it adds up to many more opportunities to make a pile of dough and the potential to lock up more benefits that could solidify his career for some time.
Not bad for one short putt, but really, a reward for all the work that went into having the opportunity to hit it.
A lifetime’s worth.