Mack Seeks to Make Most of His Major Debut

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Jun 13, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

Mack Seeks to Make Most of His Major Debut

At age 35, with countless practice balls, highway miles logged and, yes, nights spent sleeping in the back of his car between tournament rounds, the time is now for Willie Mack III at the 124th U.S. Open Championship.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Mack, a native of Flint, Mich., and a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University and various mini-tours. “I think this is my time to play well. Hopefully I can play well the next couple days.”

Mack might not have loved the way he finished his first round in a major championship on Thursday at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, with bogeys on three of his last four holes. However, he had to be satisfied overall with a solid round of 1-over-par 71 that gives him an opportunity to make the 36-hole cut with continued good play on Friday.

“It means a lot; it’s a special week for me,” said Mack, who was among the leaders in red figures for much of his morning round. “I lost in a playoff in [U.S. Open] sectionals a couple years ago.”

Mack’s road to Pinehurst wound through Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., where he shot 5-under-par 67 on April 24 at the Mission Inn Resort & Club to earn co-medalist honors in local qualifying; and Jupiter, Fla., where he prevailed in a 3-for-1 playoff to earn the last available spot at The Bear’s Club on June 3. That two-round day began with 73 players vying for one of five spots in this week’s field.

The much longer route he traveled here began when he first picked up a club at age 6, and continued on to college at Bethune-Cookman, where he helped the Wildcats capture a pair of PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championships. Mack also became the first Black player to win the Michigan Amateur in 2011.

His pro career has survived several lean years, including times when he couldn’t afford a motel room on his mini-tour odyssey. “It was embarrassing, and it’s probably the only time in my life I lied to my mom,” Mack told Andscape of the back-seat bed he employed in his 2013 Ford Mustang. “My dad was the only person who knew.”

Success on the Advocates Professional Golf Association, which was founded in 2010 with the mission to provide competitive opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds, led to opportunities on the PGA Tour (he has made two cuts in seven starts), PGA Tour Latinoamerica (two starts, one made cut), and one season on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he made 10 cuts in 24 starts in 2023, failing to retain full status for 2024.

Mack made the turn on Thursday at 1 under, thanks to birdies on Nos. 13 and 15, and he stood at 2 under after a birdie on the par-5 fifth hole before hitting some turbulence en route to the clubhouse and settling for a round of 71.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I probably was before playing in some PGA Tour events,” said Mack. “Playing a full [Korn Ferry] season last year, I guess it got me ready for this type of situation. It’s still the U.S. Open, so you got to focus, put your head down and hit some great shots.”

In true U.S. Open fashion, Mack noted, “Every bogey I made, I hit a good shot. I played solid the whole round.”

He also made what he considered a highlight-reel shot that – being the U.S. Open and all – led to a par on the 528-yard, par-4 fourth hole, which played as the second-toughest in Round 1.

“I hit the fairway with my tee shot, but it rolled into a fairway bunker,” said Mack. “I had 235 yards and I hit 4-iron. It was probably the best 4-iron I ever hit. It went over the green, and I putted it on and left it short about 6 feet, but I made that for par. I told my brother [Alex], after that second shot, I deserve a par.”

Now the focus turns to sticking around for the weekend for the former Wildcat from Bethune-Cookman, the Daytona Beach, Fla., university whose website carries the motto, “Where nothing is impossible.”

“I’ve played in some big tournaments before, but not as big as this,” said Mack. “I feel like if your preparation is good and you stick to your game plan, all you got to do is execute. I think I did pretty well with that today.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.